There’s a lot of anger and frustration toward the US State Department for its recent determination that the Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL) would not significantly increase carbon emissions. The Obama Administration promised to reject the KXL if their studies showed it would contribute significantly to global emissions. This is where science can get tricky. From the perspective that tar sands oil is being produced independently of the US and any US action on it (i.e. Canada could sell it to other countries), the State Department is technically correct. The KXL may even slightly lower emissions overall because it’s more efficient to transport oil by pipeline than by rail and shipment overseas.
But of course this is just one side of the story. The larger concern is that tar sands oil is being produced in the first place and that it’s a larger threat to climate change than many other fossil fuels. In this sense, people are justified in being upset. But is this bigger concern really the fault of the Obama Administration and the State Department? Yes and no. No, in the sense stated before: the tar sands oil will be produced, sold, and burned regardless of the KXL and American decisions. Yes, in the sense that the US could be a lot more serious about reducing our demand for oil and exerting world leadership on climate issues. Groups like Friends of the Earth, the Green Party, and so forth should think more about joining and pushing hard for movements like the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Half the Oil campaign to halve US oil demand within 20 years, which is practical and actionable. People should be talking about this like crazy because it begins to address the root problem of demand.