Keystone Extra Large

It’s a great life. You risk your skin catching killers and the juries turn them loose so they can come back and shoot at you again. If you’re honest you’re poor your whole life and in the end you wind up dying all alone on some dirty street. For what? For nothing. For a tin star.

Lon Chaney, Jr., asking Marshal Will Kane played by Gary Cooper why he goes out into the street to get shot at. High Noon.

Right now, I’m wondering why I do it. I don’t even have a tin star. In 2005, I started KRXA 540 AM to address on terrestrial radio the most serious issues confronting us. Foremost was and is global warming. I mention this unfolding human-caused tragedy nearly every day and frequently discuss it on my own or with climatologists. Nobody can legitimately dispute the fact of global burning. Our mother Earth is currently undergoing its sixth mass extinction as a direct result of human activities – most critically humans burning carbon. Yet, this truth does not appear to be accepted or well-understood even in liberal, i.e., thinking circles.

Today, President Obama did what he so often has not done in the past. He stood up to the forces of greed and destruction and said no. He rejected, for now, the Keystone XL (that’s Xtra Large) Pipeline. Here are the President’s remarks in full:

Earlier today, I received the Secretary of State’s recommendation on the pending application for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment. As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied. And after reviewing the State Department’s report, I agree.

This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people. I’m disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my Administration’s commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil. Under my Administration, domestic oil and natural gas production is up, while imports of foreign oil are down. In the months ahead, we will continue to look for new ways to partner with the oil and gas industry to increase our energy security – including the potential development of an oil pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico – even as we set higher efficiency standards for cars and trucks and invest in alternatives like biofuels and natural gas. And we will do so in a way that benefits American workers and businesses without risking the health and safety of the American people and the environment.

It’s not a terrible statement. The President actually committed to reducing “our dependence on oil.” But, there is no mention of global warming or the weaker term – climate change – that is nearly always used in media now in its stead. On my radio program, I nearly always employ the more accurate phrase “global burning” to describe our ever hotter earth.

Liberal talk show host Ed Schultz describes the President’s decision as a difficult one since it’s a choice between jobs and preventing oil spills. A progressive, if not liberal, friend told me this evening that the President was wise not to mention global warming. After all, my friend contended, why give the right-wing ammunition to use against Obama given that so many Americans are skeptical about the scientific reality of global burning. A web search of liberal defenses of the Keystone decision rarely mention the existential threat that global warming poses.

Rather than attacking the conservative movement’s thirst for immediate profits at the cost of biological diversity, Obama himself said that “Republicans . . . forced this decision” by the “arbitrary nature of a deadline that [precluded] the gathering of information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people.” (Emphasis supplied.) He also expressed a commitment to try “to partner with the oil and gas industry to increase our energy security.” Obama appears sold on the conservative lie that burning more domestic (or at least North American) carbon is a good thing and that only additional studies and oversight to ensure that the Keystone pipeline can be built without risking crucial water sources stand in the way.

The fact that construction of the pipeline will devastate Earth and likely consign her to the dustbin of Milky Way history is ignored. “Essentially, it’s game over for the planet,” if the Keystone XL is built, said James Hansen the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (The New Yorker November 28, 2011).

It is understandable that Obama would mouth right-wing platitudes about energy independence when rejecting the pipeline. He gets to have his cake and eat it too. Despite all of his failings, Obama can correctly tell those of us who love our country and planet that the only chance we have to conserve at least some of Earth’s once bewilderingly complex ecology is to reelect him. At the same time, he preserves the ability to reach out to short-timers who care only about cheap gasoline for a few more years with the claim that he’s likely to approve the pipeline sooner or later.

But why are so many liberals incapable to integrating into their psyche the need to move forcibly and immediately away from carbon energy to save some of the still extant beautiful places and animals as well as the potential for a decent quality of life for most of us. I propose three reasons:

1) It’s really really depressing to realize that we are already well on our way to destroying the island on which we live. It becomes even more unpleasant when we realize that to avoid the cataclysm we must change our lifestyle in rather dramatic ways – most particularly by abandoning the internal combustion engine – if we wish to preserve our planet. Rather than accept this “inconvenient truth,” many of us compartmentalize it. So many on the left say, “yes, we should reduce consumption but here’s a great chance to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create a few decent middle-class jobs – which we sure do need right now.” It is simply too painful to acknowledge the reality that to save our planet, we must accept draconian cuts to our consumption patterns. And, to avoid mass starvation, we will have to redistribute wealth not just from the wealthiest Americans to everybody else but from all but the most destitute Americans, Europeans, and other relatively wealthy humans to the truly indigent global majority.

2) The President is a democrat and is clearly the best realistic option in this year’s election. His failure to address global burning as a critical issue of our time means that merely by discussing it, we will be criticizing him and many on the left are loathe to do this for understandable but, in my view, misguided reasons.

3) People distrust science. Liberals are clearly more intelligent than conservatives and American scientists are among the most liberal of all U.S. citizens. Nevertheless, the majority of people who self-identify as liberal or progressive are obviously not scientists and many of us were not stellar academics. Like most mediocre students, we resent the nerdy biology major or the physics scholar and seek to knock her down to size.

The near unanimous opinion among the scientific class is that our planet is on life support and its ability to sustain billions of people may well collapse within the next forty years. At the same time, though, the unanimous opinion among the scientific class is that life has evolved on earth over the past 500 million years and yet half of all Americans reject this fact. It does require some mental work to understand and accept that burning carbon creates carbon dioxide, i.e., C+O2 = CO2, and that CO2 is the predominant greenhouse gas. Accordingly, many Americans, even many of us who should know choose not to base our political decisions on this – the defining issue of our time. Perhaps, we simply don’t want to acknowledge that the A+ student in our high school Chemistry class is, not only a harder worker, but quite simply smarter than we are.

Gary Cooper explains in High Noon that he won’t run from Frank Miller, even if nobody will stand beside him even if his Grace Kelly won’t wait for him, because he’s “got to that’s the whole thing.” Well, global burning is the whole thing. We can pretend it isn’t, or that some technological fix will get us out of this jam, or that more pressing problems require us to put it on the shelf for now. We can run away from it just as Will Kane could have run away from Frank Miller like everyone in town told him to.  But he knew that while running might buy him a few weeks or months or even years, in the end it would only mean a bullet in the back of his head.

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4 Responses to Keystone Extra Large

  1. Fia says:


    At the end of the day most people are simply too selfish, superficial, and will not take heed to the warnings that Gaia is sending out. The American spirit/psyche is severely damaged, greed and consumption has been our national credo for so long that even the most liberal, the most progressive of us cannot bear to think of going without their carbon fix. It has been embedded into most of our psyches that we need support a Dem Pres even if his policies will eventually destroy everything that we claim to love. I am saddened that this is where we are at, we need to focus,work hard and take charge and control to create alternative energies and clean karma. We must make a commitment to Gaia, we must love her and make the world a better place no matter what, every small step makes a difference. ~ Fia

  2. You said it well, Hal (and Fia). Most people in this country don’t want to admit the obvious. The reason is no different than why we don’t challenge all the other major problems we face: Money. In this case, money trumps even life on earth. We aren’t willing to make the sacrifices necessary to save the planet because we might disrupt and slow down the economic machine. Tomorrow will take care of itself, they tell themselves.

  3. Shade: Oil Spills- One if by land, two if by sea. Either way they are going to happen. says:

    Oil is a world commodity. While not allowing this particular pipeline in the U.S. might avoid an oil spill in our heartland, obtaining less oil from Canada by pipeline means only that we will be forced to get our oil by sea (with all THOSE inherent risks)! At least importing oil from Canada via a pipeline allows us to send our money to a politically friendly country, creates jobs here, & does not create an additional (financial & human) burden by requiring the use of the military to keep the oil flowing.

    Canada has already announced that if the U.S. does not allow the pipeline, they will build a pipeline to the sea within their borders & ship their oil to China. Last time I checked, Canada & the U.S. share their coastlines, so any spills in the ocean (of this particularly nasty crude) may be environmentally worse for both our countries than a land spill (that likely could be stopped & contained before reaching a major waterway). Plus as previously mentioned, not getting our oil from Canada by pipeline MEANS MORE TANKERS OF OIL ARRIVING AT OUR COASTS.

    Unfortunately, there is no free lunch on energy (or much else) no matter how you slice things. Even the solar & wind solutions you support would have horrific environmental & human consequences (if implemented on the massive scale on which we currently consume energy). I know your solution is to tax carbon-based energy more & force people to use less (& hopefully over time force innovation, which I fear would be too slow). However, neither of us really think his is going to happen on the scale you suggest. My solution? A careful, thoughtful, well balanced approach (including the gradual phase-in of a carbon-tax).

    BTW, I don’t really think Obama intends to shut down construction of this pipeline permanently. The current rejection is just a politically expedient move because the Repugs forced him to make a decision he was not yet ready to make. Obama is a corporatist at heart; he (or our next President) will eventually allow the pipeline to be built (after gaining a few environmental & political concessions). In your heart, I think you too know this is true.

  4. peter casey says:

    I think we might be underestimating replacing the carbon problem with , say solar power. I BELIEVE there are very smart people out there, and one invention, or forward movement leads to another and it can grow expotentially..I don’t beleieve you can say it would take too long, as the next best thing is just around the corner and just like anything else it can explode in technology and ideas..just look at the tech. progress from t.v’s to phones just in the last couple of years, which will be obsolete in another year or two. So, I , for one BELIEVE this can happen sooner than later. Putting a “artificial timeline” on progress in solar (among others) is unrealistic…no one knows..but one thing I do a FACT..look at the recent past developments that have drastically changed our reason to think ieas and inventions in solar cannot come a LOT quicker than presently thought.

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