Vermont Interfaith Power & Light

A faith-based response to global warming

Speak out on the Keystone XL

My Turn: Betsy Hardy

February 2, 2014

In his State of the Union speech last week, President Obama said, “But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children's children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

As a person of faith who believes that this world is God's creation, and that we are called to care for it, I am encouraged to hear these words from President Obama. He has a key opportunity to act on his concern about climate change. With advice from Secretary of State, John Kerry, the president will decide whether or not to permit the Keystone XL pipeline to be built from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast in Texas.

Last Friday, the State Department released an Environmental Impact Statement regarding the Keystone XL which concluded that the pipeline wouldn't have a significant negative impact on greenhouse gas emissions. One of the reasons for this conclusion was the assumption that Canada's tar sands would be developed and sold whether or not the pipeline is built.

The energy return on investment is five times better for conventional oil compared with tar sands oil. And the processing of tar sands uses large amounts of fresh water and pollutes the water with dangerous chemicals. The consistency of tar sands “oil” is actually more like fresh asphalt than oil. To get it to flow through a pipe, it must be diluted with chemicals, heated, and pressurized. It's the bottom of the barrel. And tar sands oil pipelines rupture at a greater frequency that those carrying conventional oil.

In the past year and a half, I've shown a documentary in churches and libraries around the state about the mining of the tar sands in Alberta. It's wrenching to see the pictures of what's happening there and hear the indigenous people's stories of their land and water poisoned by the pollution from tar sands mining. Many native people are now dying of rare forms of cancer linked to petroleum products. Other species are also suffering as the habitat is being destroyed and polluted.

The mining, processing, and burning of the tar sands produces about 20% more carbon dioxide emissions than the average. Adding this much more carbon to the atmosphere is catastrophic. If we continue mining and burning tar sands oil, we are bequeathing to future generations a planet unfit for habitation.

Over 95% of the world's climate scientists agree that human activities – especially the burning of fossil fuels – is a major cause of climate change, and that it's rapidly getting worse.

Our nation should not provide more incentive for developing the tar sands. And we should not make it easier for Canada to export this dirty oil around the world.

Many renewable energy industries are growing and thriving worldwide. If only we had the political will, we could switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It is possible – the technology exists and is already in use. If we get serious about energy efficiency, we can cut our energy use in half, transition to renewable energy, and get off fossil fuels.

Across the country, many people will be speaking out in coming weeks and months – we want to be sure President Obama hears loud and clear that we care about this world and want it to be livable for future generations. The Keystone XL pipeline must not be part of the future if we want humanity to be. Speak out! Let the president know you don't think the pipeline serves our country's interest or that of the planet.

Betsy Hardy of Richmond is coordinator for Vermont Interfaith Power and Light.

This article was published in The Burlington Free Press on Thursday, February 13, 2014.

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