The issue of creating a pipeline from northern Alberta to the Texas coast has made headlines for the past few years as environmental heroes such as writers Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry and other key conservationists have protested the concept of allowing the continued massive strip-mining of so-called tar sands in Alberta to be sent to the United States for domestic use and perhaps more importantly for export.
Tar sands are a filthy source of fossil fuels and the mere fact that we are considering such a pipeline, at a time of massive global warming, speaks to the ignorance of the Republican Party and the fear that Democrats feel at opposing the tactics of Big Oil.
The real story is not the pipeline that the president will need to decide on in conjunction with the State Department, because this crosses an international boundary. But rather are we going to as a nation signal a change in our energy production, or allow oil to continue to dominate our energy future?
The answer seems to be that the president is once again in a no-win situation. The problem remains: We are killing the planet because of our dependency on fossil fuels, oil, coal and, yes, natural gas. What’s more, the power of big oil only continues to grow with each quarter of record profits.
Republicans for their part play the role of good foot soldiers, denying that climate change is real, pushing hard to end all alternative energy subsidies, and in their usual simplistic terms making the pipeline seem like an essential part of America’s future. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.
What many cannot understand is that the president is not making an environmental decision. No in this case, the president is making a moral decision.
To allow this pipeline is to cave in to Big Oil, which is an industry that has no moral code of conduct. They are an industry based in greed, stealing our water, fouling our air, causing major health issues and showing no regard for our oceans. We have created a situation where the world is wholly dependent on it. We fight major wars on the industry’s behalf and speak about controlling countries, ports and waterways in terms of freedom, when it is simply to protect the very industry that is killing our planet.
Since the beginning, President Obama attempted to work with Republicans on issues like immigration and health care, and they defied him. Our president must understand that he must take the “go it alone route,” and in that stead, may discover he is truly liberated.
On climate change he should speak to the American people in prime time and make the moral argument that he will not allow our country to continue down a path of destroying our children’s inheritance; and what’s more, as the world’s so-called leader and moral authority we will not allow this pipeline or any other that continues to destroy our environment making us more dependent on fossil fuels and the wars they lead to.
He must make the case, as a Nobel Prize winner and a father, that building this pipeline is immoral and he should then direct the government and challenge his own party to push far more resources at renewable energy by creating a carbon tax and by cutting military spending 10 percent and putting those proceeds into a renewable fund that Congress cannot touch.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he should push the private sector, colleges and individuals who invest in fossil fuel industries to divest their holdings on moral grounds, much as we did with South Africa during the apartheid years.
We cannot live under the tyranny of Big Oil any longer, but it takes a president of real conviction to make his mark. The president came into office with real ambition, but his cautious manner, overthinking and Republicans have killed his vision.
He has only a few opportunities for success. If he believes in history he may well take this opportunity to leave a mark like no other president. In that, he should understand, this may well be his most important moment.
Bold Visions Conservation is a project of the nonprofit Center of Southwest Culture.