Welcome to An Environmental Viewpoint

Welcome to An Environmental Viewpoint, a blog I maintain to express my opinions on environmental issues. These opinions come from the heart and are not necessarily well-researched. If you disagree with my views, please comment! I always enjoy a good argument. I maintain a second blog where I post my well-researched studies of environmental issues, The Environmental Analyst, which you can read by clicking here.

The posts here appear in reverse chronological order as you scroll down, latest post appearing first. I hope you find this blog interesting, entertaining, and informative. If you wish, you can reach me by email at mhkblogs@gmail.com . Thanks for visiting!

Sincerely,
Michael Klein

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Current Environmental Issues: Some Criticism

The Obama Administration’s environmental activism is very welcome news. It is especially satisfying to see the guts the President has in pursuing his agenda despite the momentous Republican victories last election. Nevertheless, there are two issues worth commenting on.

First, opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline is a mistake. In fact, we shouldn’t be opposing any particular carbon-based project (unless it is inherently unsafe). By concentrating on opposing individual projects, environmentalists are creating and reinforcing powerful enemies and alienating important segments of the electorate, such as a Labor. We might win this battle, but we could lose the next one, and we risk a backlash. And by tying our fortunes to a particular party, we ensure that our concerns will be ignored when our party is out of power. A much better approach would be to increase and intensify general public awareness of global warming and the damage it causes and working to build public anxiety and concern about greenhouse gas emissions. If we could do that, the politics of stopping carbon-heavy projects would take care of itself; the public itself would slow them or stop them.

While we need not oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, we should pressure the Canadian government to reduce the carbon footprint of tar sands oil production. One way would be to recycle the heat that is used to process the tar sands to extract the oil. Another would be to derive some of the energy needed to process the tar sands from renewable sources.

Regarding another issue, that of ground level ozone, the Obama Administration has just revived the EPA attempt to lower maximum ground-level ozone concentrations from 75 ppb (parts per billion) to 70 ppb. I wrote extensively about EPA’s last attempt in my Environmental Analyst blog (click here to read). It’s a good idea, but only because its benefits outweigh its rather substantial costs. But the EPA has not bothered to explain to the public what those benefits are. As a result, the new regulations seem to many people to be arbitrary government fiat, an attempt of overzealous bureaucrats to assert control. Environmental organizations should have sensed this and stepped into the breach, but they didn’t. The result is widespread public ignorance about important new regulations that are bound to meet with stiff resistance.

This matter of explaining to the public should have been done months ago. As it is, business and Republican groups are dead-set against this regulation, and it will sap much of our legislative energy to defend it against a hostile Congress. And if Republicans gain control of the White House in 2017, it will almost certainly be repealed. Environmentalists must get better at preparing the public before the government issues new regulations.

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Should We Entangle Climate Change With Other Issues?

Last night, I received an email, one of a mass mailing, from May Boeve on behalf of the organization 350.org, a grass-roots organization dedicated to fighting climate change. Here is the letter without commentary. Afterwards, I’ll tell you what think.

Friends,

We weren’t sure exactly how to write this email.

Like many of you, we’ve been doing a whole lot of reading, listening, and reflecting over the past week, and we feel like this is an important thing for us to say (even if it’s not the kind of thing you’re used to hearing from us):

350.org stands in solidarity with those in Ferguson, Missouri protesting the shooting of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown — and we call on the climate movement to stand with us. We believe unequivocally that working for racial justice is a crucial part of fighting climate change.

Communities of color and poor communities are hit first and hardest by the impacts of a climate system spiraling out of control. From those impacted by Hurricane Katrina nearly a decade ago, to the New York neighborhoods that bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy, to whole towns in the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan just last year — these communities are on the front lines of our fight in a very real way. If their voices are not part of this movement, then this movement will not succeed.

Movements for justice in the U.S. are often fractured, and powerful interests — like the fossil fuel industry — try their hardest to make those divisions wider. Choosing to stand together is one of the most important choices we can make. In this moment, that means being frank about the ongoing legacy of racial injustice in our country.

We want to honor the work of grassroots racial justice organizers around the country, and we’ve asked some of them for guidance on how folks in the climate movement can show their support. Here are two things you can do:

If you would like to donate to the family of Mike Brown or racial justice organizers working in Missouri, click here to get connected. Reading more about allyship and solidarity is also helpful — this blog post from my colleague Deirdre Smith is a good place to start.

The tensions and inequalities now dividing our world make fighting climate change so much more challenging, even as climate change threatens to deepen those tensions and divide our movements. Here at 350.org, we care deeply about confronting the climate crisis — and we also care that fossil fuels impact the air we breathe, the stability of our communities, and the ability of families to plan for their futures. We seek big, bold solutions to the climate crisis, and that takes a big, bold movement.

One way we’re building that big movement is through the People’s Climate March, which we’ve been working hard on for the past couple of months. As part of that process, we’ve had the opportunity to work with more people of color and people of color led organizations. We’re grateful for their partnership, and for the partnership of others in the climate movement who are speaking out and making these connections.

And, as ever, we are grateful to be part of building a compassionate movement with all of you.

Thank you,
May & 350.org’s U.S. team

====================================================================================================================

Now the trouble I have with this letter is that it entangles the issue of climate change with entirely different issues of social justice. First of all, I’m not even sure we should take a stand on the particular case of the Brown shooting. The investigations have only begun; we really need to wait for them to finish before we can draw our own conclusions. Police officers who treat young blacks as criminals in the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing are a real problem, a problem that society must confront. But should organizations who are dedicated to environmental issues get involved with this one?

If an organization’s purpose is to further what is known as the liberal point of view, that makes sense. But if the organization is dedicated to environmental causes, by taking stands on other issues it risks alienating people who might disagree on the unrelated issue. Most people will readily agree that the shooing of Michael Brown was a tragedy, but not everybody is sure that it wasn’t a justifiable homicide. Any organization that takes a strong stand on the Brown case risks alienating these people.

Now the letter makes the valid point that the environmental movement needs people in low-income communities to add their voices to the struggle.  The trick is to build the widest coalition possible with people with all kinds of political opinions.

I am a committed Zionist. But in the fight against global warming, I can work alongside Palestinian activists who want companies to disinvest in Israel. But if the environmental movement were to adopt the stand of these activists as its own view, I’d have to walk away. I can’t endanger my beloved State of Israel, even to fight global warming.

Here is my response that I emailed back to Ms. Boeve:

Dear Ms. Boeve:

Sorry, but I must take issue with your letter down below. It is a mistake to tie the climate-change issue with other issues such as social justice. In order to move government policy on climate change, we need to reach out to as many people as possible, including those who may disagree with us on other issues. There may be people who side with the police officer who shot Mike Brown and there may be people who were totally disgusted and put off by the violence and looting that occurred in the aftermath of the shooting. We need those people on board with us on climate change, and if we are going to tie issues together, we risk losing those people.

Concern about climate change should not be a liberal issue. It should be of concern to everyone no matter where they fall on the political spectrum.

Sincerely,
Michael Klein
Brooklyn, NY

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An Argument for a New Felony

On April 29, a man was convicted in Minnesota of murdering two teens who had  broken into his home.  The jury did not believe the man’s claim that he felt threatened and had shot the burglars in self-defense. MSN News has a story about this which you can read by clicking here.

Having not sat in with the jury, I cannot judge the case, but on the face of it, it seems rather excessive to convict a man of murder because he was defending himself from burglars breaking into his home.  He may not have been justified in shooting the two teenagers, but he was certainly justified in defending his home and property.

I propose that a new crime be added to the law, that of excessive use of force in self defense.  This crime would be charged when the perpetrator was being attacked, but used more force against the attackers than was necessary or appropriate.  There would be no minimum or maximum sentence — each judge could use discretion in fitting the sentence to the individual circumstances of the offense.

In this case, the fellow could be charged because he anticipated the break-in but failed to notify police, or that he saw that the burglars were not holding guns and could have fired a warning shot, or that he could have ordered the teen to freeze. A right of self defense certainly exists, but it does not justify all possible responses. But the law must be crystal clear about what is allowed and what is not allowed. It is very difficult for a frightened person to make subtle distinctions.

 

 

 

 

 

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Georgia’s New Gun Law

Although this is an environmental blog, the problem of gun violence shares some characteristics with environmental issues and is amenable to the same sort of analysis, which is why it is discussed here from time to time.

CNN reported that the governor of Georgia has signed into law a bill that extends the right to carry guns to various places (click here for the story).  Under the new law, there are less restrictions where people with a license to carry firearms can take them.  The law allows certain establishments, such as churches and bars, to decide for themselves whether to allow guns on their premises.

The law has stirred tremendous controversy, particularly with gun control advocates, but this might turn out to be a tempest in a teapot.  If there is no surge in gun violence as a result of this law, why be concerned?  Only people who have a license can carry guns in Georgia, and a license requires a background check.  The overwhelming majority of license owners can be trusted with guns wherever they go.  It’s a small minority that’s a problem:  otherwise law-abiding citizens who may be a little too quick on the trigger.  Perhaps Georgia can screen them out before they do harm.

So let’s wait and see.  If we see a surge in gun violence in Georgia in the coming years, then the law may be too lenient and may need adjustment.  If it turns out that heavy use of alcohol fuels gun violence, then Georgia might need to ban guns from bars, or refuse licenses to alcoholics who refuse treatment.  If there is a greater incidence of guns being smuggled onto planes, Georgia might need to ban guns from airports, and so on.

The most questionable provision in the new law is the one prohibiting police officers from asking a person to show his or her gun license unless that person is committing or has committed a crime.  In enacting this provision, Georgians are depriving themselves of a valuable crime-fighting tool.  I think New York City has benefited enormously from its stop-and-frisk policies, although those policies needed reform because they unfairly targeted minorities.  Not that people should be challenged at random, but people who are acting in a suspicious manner should be challenged, even if they are not committing a crime at the moment.  Again, we need to see how this provision will affect Georgia’s crime rate and whether law enforcement personnel say they are being hampered in their work to prevent crime.

Time will tell if Georgia’s new gun laws will have an effect on crime or not.  In the meantime, anit-gun violence activists need to concentrate on lowering the rate of gun violence in high-crime areas.  That is where they are really needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tragedy in Snohomish County, Washington State

Our hearts go out to the victims and their families of the recent mud slide in Snohomish  County, Washington State.  The high death toll of 14 is itself horrendous, but the 176 said to be missing and unaccounted is mind-boggling and is cause for grave concern.  We all hope that all who are still alive are quickly rescued, that the bodies of those who perished are quickly recovered and that their families will find comfort and closure.

I’ve found very little scientific information on this incident so far, but a discussion of the causes of this mudslide and the prevention of future mudslides like it fall under the purview of environmental science, part  of which is concerned with earth science and with land use.  The mudslide took place near the village of Oso in a rural area.  It lies near the Stillaquamish River (which flows from east to west) and State Route 530 (which runs parallel to the river, just south of it),  about due east of the southern portion of Skagit Bay on the Pacific Ocean, between  (and a little north of) Jim Creek Naval Reservation and Whitehorse Mountain. To find the location on a computerized map, trace S.R. 530 until you see the intersection of C-Post Road and 312th Street NE.

According to articles that I have read, heavy rain is suspected of loosening the mud, making it more susceptible to sliding.  I’d like to know what the terrain was like right before the slide.  What is the geology like there and what are the soils like?  Did the Stillaguamish River play a role?  How was so much mud able to accumulate in one place to make the slide possible?  Was there a vegetation cover or was the mud bare?   How much development was in the area and did that contribute in any way?  Can we identify similar sites that might also result in a mud slide under the right conditions.  Can these sites be remediated ahead of time?

I can’t research these questions right now because I am currently working on climate change.  But these questions might help us prevent such tragedies in the future.

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Can Ukraine Go Green?

Now that Russia has successfully invaded and confiscated the Crimean peninsula, it faces many challenges.  Assuming Russia does not try to grab more Ukrainian territory, it faces a possible boycott of Russian buyers for its goods if it insists on turning towards Europe.  Even worse, Russia could try to cut off its gas supplies or it could charge Ukraine high prices.  Some have proposed supplying Ukraine with gas from the United States and Europe.  I’ve heard of a proposal to introduce hydraulic fracking into Ukraine.

Soon may be a good time to introduce Ukraine to some green thinking.  Suppose it could be demonstrated to the Ukrainian government that 10% of Ukraine’s energy needs could be supplied by wind and solar power.  That won’t solve Ukraine’s problem, but it could alleviate it.  The Ukrainians would have a strong motivation to develop renewable energy, and favorable attitudes in the West could help it obtain development capital.

Right now is not a good time to broach the subject in the atmosphere of crisis that Ukraine finds itself.  But when the situation calms down, environmental organizations should contact the Ukrainian government with ideas on how the land of blue and yellow can go green.

 

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A Response to McNider and Christy

The February 19, 2014 edition of the Wall Street Journal carried an op-ed piece by Dr. Richard McNider and Dr. John Christy, professors of atmospheric science at the Earth Study Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. McNider and Christy were responding to comments by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry comparing climate-change skeptics to members of the Flat Earth Society along with similar provocative remarks. To read the article, click here.

As I understand them, McNider and Christy are not arguing that climate change and global warming are not happening, only that we can’t say if such changes will be catastrophic. I need to tread carefully here; McNider and Christy know far more climate science than I do. Nevertheless, I think I can make some observations.

First, climate change need not be catastrophic to justify increased government action, funding, and regulation. It does not even need to be certain. If there is a plausible possibility that climate change will have disruptive effects in the next few decades, even if those effects are not catastrophic, that is enough to justify government action. To justify government inaction, skeptics of climate change must show we can be confident that whatever climate change occurs, its effects will be minor with which individuals and businesses will easily cope. McNider and Christy did not do that.

Their main argument is that the scientific community’s sense of urgency is the result of computer climate models which have been consistently wrong in predicting climate. Again, I’m on thin ice. I haven’t studied climate modeling so I can’t have an intelligent opinion on the matter. But I can explain why I don’t find McNider’s and Christy’s arguments compelling.

Their article states, “From the beginning of climate modeling in the 1980s, these forecasts have, on average, always overstated the degree to which the Earth is warming compared with what we see in the real climate.” But the key phrase they use is on average. And that is the problem I have with their argument.

McNider and Christy’s article displays a chart comparing actual global temperatures to the results of the average of 102 model runs during the period 1979 through the present, with the plot representing the models runs going to about 2022. The average of the model runs temperature is much higher than the actual global temperature. But were those 102 model runs from one model or from several? If several, how many? Were all models recently updated? Are there other models that might come closer to real temperatures? The article doesn’t say.

There is an old saw that a man whose one foot is sitting in scalding hot water and whose other foot is bathed in icy cold water is on the average, comfortable. I’m not sure that an average of different models is very informative here. Some models might be much better at predicting climatic conditions than others. In that case, we might ask why we shouldn’t discard those models that don’t work so well in favor of those that do. Taking an average of all models would then be misleading.

Furthermore, their article makes climate scientists to appear stubborn, insisting on their theories in the face of contrary evidence, making excuses for their models when their results don’t square with reality. But modeling is by nature an iterative process, especially when modeling a very complex system like climate. You start with certain assumptions and your model usually is way off. You examine your assumptions and modify them to more closely conform with reality, then you run your model again. If your results are better, then you know you are the right track. The process continues as your results more closely match the real world. Different models will use different assumptions, and later models can be expected to be improvements over earlier ones. It’s not clear from McNider’s and Christy’s article if they took this into account. They must be aware of this, but why didn’t they discuss this in their article?

Finally, if climate models are all wrong, it should be possible for a climate skeptic to create a model with better results. Why hasn’t that been done? If it has been done, McNider and Christy should have pointed that out in their article.

As I continue to research climate science, I hope to learn much more about climate models and how they work. I suspect that many models are more successful than McNider and Christy are letting on. If they are, panic and desperation may not be warranted but neither is complacency. We need to move ahead on this issue and we can’t afford to waste more time, even if there are legitimate doubts about future climate change.

Not that McNider and Christy are entirely wrong. Sometimes environmentalists are too outspoken in their views: being correct doesn’t grant the right to be offensive or obnoxious. We need to be respectful of both sides of the debate, even when we feel the other side is dead wrong. After all, there are respected scientists who are skeptical of climate change. Calling our opponents flat-earthers is offensive and unnecessary. Accusing our opponents of being complacent in the face of a possible major threat to everyone’s well-being is a lot closer to the truth.

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Wolves in Idaho

Some time ago, I completed a topic on my primary blog The Environmental Analyst, entitled “Should the Wolf Be Removed From the Endangered Species List?” where I argued that environmental groups should be concentrating on establishing new wolf populations rather than fighting the Federal Government about removing gray wolves from the protection of the Endangered Species Act (to read the topic, click here. Click here for where I discuss the political situation in states like Idaho.). I was betting that state governments could be trusted to manage their wolf populations. But now with Idaho, I’m having some second thoughts. The Idaho House of Representatives will shortly vote on a bill to establish a Wolf Control Fund of $2 million dollars and a Wolf Depredation Control Board to administer it. To read the Idaho House Bill No. 470, click here. For a short explanation of the Wolf Control Fund, click here.

That’s not bad in itself. But Boise Public Radio reports that the aim is to reduce the Idaho wolf population from the current 680 wolves (approximate) down to about 150 (the minimum before the Federal Government would reimpose endangered species status, click here to read). If that is true, that would be a 78% reduction in Idaho’s wolf population. That’s not wolf management: that’s a wolf massacre. If Governor Otter signs the bill into law, then the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should immediately relist the wolf as an endangered species in Idaho. In fact, because the FWS was dissatisfied with Wyoming’s wolf management plan, it delayed delisting the wolf in Wyoming until September 2012.

Does Idaho really need to slash its wolf population by 78%? We need the appraisal of wildlife biologists. Can the elk population support the current wolf population? If it can’t, we need to worry that wolves will turn to livestock for prey, and some culling of the population may be necessary. But 78%? I doubt it! And if the current elk population is sufficient to support the wolves, then what is the problem? What justifies exterminating 78% of the wolf population?

Much of the push is from hunters unwilling to compete fairly with the wolves. You hunters are supposed to be smarter than the wolves: prove it! Learn to outhunt them! And stop demanding an unfair monopoly over a game species that belongs to all predators.

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Some Thoughts on the Zimmerman/Martin Case

Readers familiar with this blog will know that although this is an environmental blog, I occasionally discuss the issue of guns in society, because the same analytical tools that can explain and resolve environmental problems can be applied to this issue as well. I had been thinking about the recent verdict of the Florida jury acquitting George Zimmerman of the killing of Trayvon Martin on grounds of justifiable homicide, and I wanted to comment.

I have no problems with this verdict. Back in 2003, I was a juror in a murder case in Brooklyn, and learned to have enormous respect for the judicial process whenever it is run by sincere and conscientious judges and jurors. The intense desire to strive for fairness and truth was something I did not expect but will take with me for the rest of my life, and I think it was present in the Florida case as well. We don’t know what happened in that confrontation between Mr. Zimmerman and Mr. Martin, but as long as it is plausible that Mr. Martin was the aggressor, Mr. Zimmerman must be given the benefit of the doubt.

Neither is my concern racial issues, for although they are no doubt of critical importance, I am simply not qualified to comment on them. What does concern me is Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, although it has been pointed out that it really would not apply to the Martin case, because if Zimmerman was being threatened, he could not retreat safely under the circumstances.

What concerns me is that a killer should not have a claim to self defense believed automatically. In Zimmerman’s case as I understand it, the town’s police chief reviewed the evidence and decided he could not charge Zimmerman under the Stand Your Ground law, and was prepared to let the matter rest. That’s wrong. Any claim to self defense should be viewed, at least initially, with skepticism until a full and formal criminal investigation has been completed. Otherwise, too much power and too little accountability is given to gun owners, and they are set above the law. This is as unacceptable as it is dangerous to the public.

Florida has a higher-than-average rate of gun violence, and prosecutors complain that they cannot investigate many incidents because of the Stand Your Ground law. Lowering the number of shootings will be complex undertaking requiring different solutions to deal with its many facets. However, modifying the Stand Your Ground law will be an important component in such an effort.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with Stand Your Ground in principle. I’m only saying that it needs to be amended to prevent it from being abused by murderers that it should not be protecting. If you ask me how to do this, I hesitate. Prosecutors are best suited to modify this law so that they can do their jobs better. However, I do have some ideas which you can accept or reject as you wish.

Every killing in which a claim to self defense is made should be thoroughly investigated, and the results should be presented at a formal judicial hearing where the defendant, prosecutors, and the victim’s family can all have their say (this does not need to be the actual trial, and the defendant need not be charged). A judge can then rule to accept the claim and block further investigation or prosecution, or to allow investigations or prosecutions to go forward. The judge should not begin with the assumption that the claim to self defense is justified or unjustified but should keep an open mind and decide on the preponderance of the evidence. He or she should look at various factors that would bolster or undermine a claim to self defense.

Here are factors that would bolster a claim of self-defense:

  • The shooter had no previous criminal record or history of violent behavior.
  • The victim had a previous criminal record or history of violent behavior.
  • The shooter did not know the victim and had no relationship with the victim. They were total strangers to each other.
  • Witnesses claim the victim attacked the shooter without provocation.
  • The shooter had no motive to kill the victim other than self defense.

Here are factors that would undermine a claim of self-defense:

  • The shooter had a previous criminal record or history of violent behavior.
  • The victim had no previous criminal record or history of violent behavior.
  • The victim and the shooter knew each other and had a relationship, especially an adversarial relationship (this could be a relationship that lends itself to personal friction, such as landlord-tenant or manager-employee.
  • The shooter bore personal animosity towards the victim prior to the incident, or vice versa.
  • Witnesses report a confrontation between the shooter and the victim just prior to the shooting, where the shooter could have walked away or otherwise tried to defuse the situation, but refused to do so.
  • The shooter had a motive to kill the victim other than self defense.

Even with factors undermining a claim of self defense, that doesn’t mean that it should be discarded. It means that all evidence must be examined carefully to determine how likely the claim is to be true. If it is found very likely to be true, the investigation should end and the shooter should be allowed to resume his/her life. If it is found very likely to be untrue, charges should be filed against the shooter and prosecution should proceed. If the findings fall somewhere in the middle, somewhat likely one way or the other or indeterminate, the investigation should continue until a decision is reached one way or the other. We don’t want to convict an innocent person. On the other hand, we know who killed the victim, and we don’t want to let a wrongful killing go unpunished. It’s a very difficult balance to strike, and sometimes it will take the wisdom of Solomon to do it.

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Some Thoughts on Canadian Oil Sands

I’ll soon begin a new topic on this blog analyzing the controversial Canadian oil sands whose bitumen is currently being extracted. Much of the controversy here in the U.S. centers around whether to allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that will carry the bitumen through the U.S. to ports on the seacoasts. I hope to dissect the various issues involved and suggest some conclusions.

But first, I would like to make some general remarks about the oil sands and pipeline from my standpoint as an American. Many in the environmental movement are vehemently opposed to the extraction of oil sands bitumen and its transport through pipelines to the point of shipment. I certainly sympathize with their fear that carbon emissions from the oil sands, if allowed to go unchecked, could wreck tremendous damage on the climate. I would never oppose them or try to block what they are doing. However, I can’t completely support them, either.

There is a lot riding on the success of the oil sands/Keystone pipeline projects, huge investments in money, effort, and time. If the environmental movement closes down the Keystone pipeline, it may generate an enormous reservoir of anger, resentment, and ill will on both sides of the border. If large numbers of people attribute the loss of their jobs or the loss of opportunities for employment to us, we’ll be making lots of enemies that doesn’t bode well for us in the long run. Internationally, if the pipeline does not go through, a strain could be placed in U.S.–Canadian relations.

Now if we could prove that extracting bitumen from the oil sands alone will cause the planet irrevocable harm, then we’d be justified. Indeed, NASA climate scientist James Hansen has been quoted as saying that if tar sands were fully exploited, it would be “game over” for the climate. (The Guardian newspaper, “Tar sands exploitation would mean game over for climate, warns leading scientist” by Damian Carrington, May 19, 2013. Click here to read.) He may be right and I may be totally wrong. But there are many sources of atmospheric carbon out there, is it fair to single out the oil sands for special approbation?

There are powerful economic forces arrayed against us, and it is by no means certain that we can win this battle. But even if we could, we would be losing an opportunity to build cooperation between the petroleum industry and the environmental community. Now if the Alberta government was as pig-headed about climate change and as unwilling to compromise as are many Republicans in Congress, then we would absolutely need to stand and fight. But from what I’ve read, the Alberta government is willing to work to reduce the environmental impact. I think this would be an excellent time to wring environmental concessions from Alberta and from Canada, concessions that could stand as a model for future cooperation with the oil industry.

The main point we need to get through to both the oil industry and the public at large is that newly discovered deposits of fossil fuels are never an unmixed blessing, never an occasion for unmitigated joy. As we still rely on fossil fuels and are not yet ready to switch to renewables, we need to exploit new deposits of oil, but they are at best a necessary evil. If we are to exercise wisdom with this problematic resource, we need to all work together to reduce its environmental impact as much as possible. This may involve carbon capture and sequestration, recycling not only materials but also waste heat, and introducing the use of wind and solar power to provide energy to extract the bitumen. There are local effects on the environment as well, the toxins in the tailings ponds should be recovered, converted into solid waste, and either stored in a safe location or buried deep underground far from any aquifers. Finally, the petroleum industry must accept that we cannot environmentally afford to extract all the bitumen in the region. As operations continue, we must develop our renewables technology to the point where oil sands and other fossil fuel deposits become nearly obsolete as sources of fuel, and we stop burning carbon for energy.

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