Buy Local: Build the Keystone XL Pipeline

Sometime before the end of the year, President Obama should approve the Keystone XL project to extend the pipeline from the Canadian oil sands to refineries along the Gulf coast of the United States. This move will draw condemnation from environmental activists, the New York Times, and the protesters – many of whom will come from Middlebury – who plan to encircle the White House this upcoming weekend. Such a pipeline, they say, would lead to an inevitable defeat in the battle against global warming, beckoning in an apocalypse of scorched earth and risings seas. NASA climate scientist James Hansen says that the Keystone XL pipeline will be “game over” for climate change.

That’s more than a little overblown.

Would the planet and the atmosphere be better off without the additional emissions of carbon dioxide currently locked in the sands of Northern Canada? Absolutely – but that’s just not realistic; Canada has a huge pool of black gold within their national boundaries, and like anyone holding onto a valuable resource, they’re going to sell it. For better or for worse, the world economy is interconnected, and it runs on oil. If the activists and protesters succeed, and Obama does not approve the extension of the pipeline, Canada will simply load the oil into supertankers and send it across the Pacific, where China will happily take it off their hands. If anything, this will only heighten the risk of a catastrophic accident, for a spill would now be dispersed throughout the ocean, killing marine life and giving countless photogenic baby seals a new coat of oil. Meanwhile, the United States will continue consuming oil at ever-higher levels – we’ll just have to buy it from Hugo Chavez’s government in Venezuela, or our new friends in Libya.  Rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline will not lower America’s demand for oil by a single barrel. It will just restructure the world oil market to require more trips by tanker ships through fragile aquatic ecosystems. Proponents of “buying local” should understand the appeal of getting our oil from Canada instead of the Middle East.

Many of the complaints about the crude oil that we’d be importing from Canada through the new pipeline stem from the production process, where – according to analysis by the National Energy Technology Lab – the process of extracting usable oil from the tar sands produces three times more carbon dioxide equivalents than traditional Canadian crude. This sounds bad, but when the entire life cycle – including production, transport, refinement, and use – is taken into account, the relative increased emissions decline significantly. Most of the carbon emitted by oil consumption doesn’t result from production; it comes from the vehicle. The car I currently drive gets about 24 miles per gallon, which means that the total emissions of CO2e per gallon amount to about 11.2 kg. With the oil that the Keystone pipeline carries, this will rise 16 percent. But as oil becomes more costly to extract, cars will use less of it. This year, President Obama – the same President that environmental activists seem intent on labeling a “sellout” – announced new fuel efficiency standards that will push average fleet efficiency to about 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, leading to drops in emissions that more than cancel out the increase due to using “dirtier” oil. Under the new standards, a new car in just over a decade would produce a far lower 7.95 kg of CO2e per gallon, even with the dirtiest of fuel.

The activists condemning President Obama for considering the project ignore some of the most basic realities of economics. The benefits to the climate will only accrue if nobody uses the oil; that is simply not going to happen. Our global addiction to oil will not end because of a devoted group of protesters arrested behind the White House; it will end when rising prices make other options economically feasible. Last time that gas prices jumped the $4.25 mark, there was a sudden surge in interest in alternative fuel and hybrid cars. As oil supplies diminish, prices will eventually soar even higher, making clean alternatives commercially viable and economically necessary. We’ve built a lifestyle and an economy that requires quick transportation and access to electricity, and I have unshakeable faith that the American people will innovate and find substitutes that allow us to maintain that lifestyle.

In the meantime, instead of condemning a President who will do far more for the environmental movement than some Republican intent on shuttering the “job-killing” EPA, environmentalists should be building a case for cap-and-trade and for subsidies that lower the price of clean energy substitutes, raise the price of carbon emissions, and hasten the transition away from oil.

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We Killed Yamamato

Last Friday, a pair of MQ-1 Predator drones under the control of the Central Intelligence Agency fired a volley of Hellfire missiles at a convoy in Yemen carrying American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, killing him and several of his associates in what the unhealthy number of spy movies I have watched suggest must have been an epic fireball.  There was no arrest warrant, nor any reading of his Miranda rights.  Good riddance; al-Awlaki had his chance to remain silent, but instead he took to YouTube and other websites to promote terrorist attacks against the United States.

A number of politicians and pundits on the right and left have decried the assassination as unconstitutional or the start of another perilous journey for the Obama Administration down the most slippery of slopes.  How does this set a bad precedent?  Al-Awlaki had moved to a foreign country, where he began encouraging and planning acts of violence against his home country.  He celebrated when Major Nidal Malik Hassan gunned down 13 of his fellow soldiers in cold blood at Fort Hood and cursed when the underwear bomber failed to explode a plane full of innocent Americans on Christmas day, 2009.  If the attempted bombing in Times Square killed you or I, or your mother or father or little sister, I doubt al-Awlaki would have shed a tear.

Al-Awlaki was no common criminal.  He was a soldier, waging a war of words and plots against the country that brought him into this world, educated him, and allowed him a pulpit from which to spew his vile propaganda.  If the slippery slope that we have started down means that we kill those who plan and celebrate the deaths of Americans, then so be it.

In the imperfect world in which we live, the assassination of al-Awlaki was the only real option.  What kind of precedent would it send to allow him to plan attacks on the United States without fear of reprisal, just because of the passport in his pocket?  It is not as though the FBI could have gone into the desert of Yemen and served al-Awlaki with an arrest warrant.  Had they attempted such a move, it would have ended with the same result – a dead terrorist – and likely some FBI casualties, hardly a preferable outcome.  A policeman can shoot someone who aims a gun at him; by encouraging and planning violence against the United States, al-Awlaki was pointing more than a simple firearm.

If we must fight wars – and we will, as long as people see force as an effective solution to their problems – who should be the casualties?  Is it more “just” to kill the young men and women who join the armed forces of their country in order to receive an education, a steady paycheck, or a sense of discipline?  Is it more “fair” to kill the civilians who happen to live in the nation that harbors our enemies?  Or should we kill the potters; the planners; the true believers who tell young men and women of paradise and patriotism, and then send them to their deaths?

As the most powerful military in the history of humankind, we measure the results of our operations by two markers: whether we meet our objectives, and how few civilians we injure.  Terrorists like al-Awlaki measure their success by the number of body parts strewn across the sidewalk.  The world is objectively a better place without him in it.  It would have been satisfying to see him hauled in front of an American jury, but when he declared war against his homeland, he waived his right to a defense attorney.  In the 21st century, warfare has evolved.  No longer do soldiers in sharp uniforms face each other in formation, trading volleys and bugle calls.  No longer do leaders deliver formal declarations of war, listing their grievances with their foe.  The founders of America declared war with a singed document; al Qaeda declared war with a hijacked plane crashing into a skyscraper.  As the strategies used in war change, so must the rules.  Are we fighting against the poor and impressionable or against the scheming despots with their hands on the levers of power?  I would feel better about the deaths of a hundred bin-Ladens or al-Awlakis than one poor foot soldier drafted into service, looking only to feed his family.  All Americans should congratulate, rather than criticize, President Obama for taking the tough steps needed to protect innocent civilians from terrorism at home and from the lure of extremists abroad.