The survival of the human race depends on the fate of Keystone XL and fracking
by David Atkins
One of the frustrations of being a climate activist is that far too many people simply do not understand the stakes. Climate issues are often forced through an "environmentalist" lens, wherein issues that should rightly be discussed as a matter of planetary survival are instead talked about as a matter of public health. So the Keystone pipeline becomes about potential spills and wildlife impacts. Fracking becomes about earthquakes and groundwater pollution.
That's a frustrating tragedy. Let's be very clear: if the human race continues to burn fossil fuels for the next 30 years at the rate we've been burning them up to now, our species (as well as most other species on the planet) may not survive. Most people either cannot emotionally grasp that statement, or refuse to believe it's true. But it's true.
If all of the oil in the Canadian tar sands is extracted and burnt, it's game over for the planet. That's what the fight over Keystone XL is really about. If all of the oil in the California shale is extracted and burnt, it's game over for the planet. That's what the fight over fracking is really about. Industrial spills, toxic leeching, groundwater pollution--none of it will matter. If tens of millions of Americans die early of cancer because of the toxins involved, that would still be a molehill compared to the mountain that is climate change.
Human beings are empathetic creatures. We have a hard time with large patterns and dissociated effects. It's much easier to care about kids getting poisoned by toxic ground water. But as long as the arguments are all about toxicity, they get scuttled into an "environmentalist" wastebasket, drowned out by the lure of corporate profits and increased tax revenues.
The fight isn't about whether one or two generations of Americans get cancer early or not. The fight is about the very survival of life on Earth as we know it.
A lot of politicians get upset with how "angry" and "unreasonable" climate activists are. That's the wrong way of looking at it. The proper lens is to look at how many charlatan and deluded politicians talk about the deficit and/or national security in apocalyptic terms. It's to look at how much inconvenience, exploitation and suffering we allow ourselves to be subjected to by devastating social safety net cuts in order to curb the deficit. It's to look at the outrageous expenses, unnecessary wars and violations of privacy by the Pentagon, NSA, TSA and others in the name of national security. Then to imagine that you know and understand that those are mostly phantom issues that don't constitute a real threat at all, when the real threat to humanity is one that almost no one will talk about, and that no one will do anything about if it means even a minor increase in taxes or reduction in corporate profits.
Imagine how frustrating that would feel. Imagine how angry you would become. Well, all those frustrated and angry people are right, and the conventional wisdom on these issues is wrong. Just as the conventional wisdom was wrong on slavery in 1850, just as the conventional wisdom on labor rights was wrong in 1920, just as the conventional wisdom on civil rights was wrong in 1950, just as the conventional wisdom on deregulation was wrong in 1990, and the conventional wisdom on war in the Middle East was wrong in 2003. The conventional wisdom on the comparative danger and need to act on deficits versus climate change is just as wrong today.
As with so much else, the reality of the situation will eventually prove the climate activists out. Today's climate Cassandras will be tomorrows forward-thinking heroes. But unlike with past injustices where the suffering of one generation can be corrected with policies that protect the next, by the time the world figures out that climate, not deficits or terrorism are the real apocalyptic threat to life on Earth, it will simply be too late. The damage will already have been done. There will be no way to protect the next generation.
By the time all the Canadian pipeline-driven tar sand oil and fracked California coastal shale have been burnt so people can drive from their soul-deadening jobs to their overpriced homes in order to uselessly fatten record corporate profits and bloated asset prices, it will already have been far too late.
Or, to put it another way:
That sounds to a lot of people like hyperbole. But it isn't.