Are projects that make climate change worse — like the Keystone XL pipeline — in the national interest? Not if short-term expedience creates long-term disaster. The 1,711-mile long, yard-wide Keystone pipeline would transport oil from underneath Alberta’s boreal forests to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas. The oil most likely would be exported from there.
One long-term cost of the pipeline is its contribution to raising the Earth’s temperature. Burning fossil fuel carried in the pipeline produces carbon dioxide. Dr. James Hansen, who heads NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, calculates the Keystone pipeline will carry enough tar sands oil to raise the level of carbon dioxide on Earth by 200 parts per million (ppm). Eighteen American scientific organizations support the consensus view that excess carbon dioxide, which is at its highest level in the last 800,000 years (392 ppm), is warming our planet. An increase in the Earth’s temperature causes climate change, which has many negative effects.
For example, climate change has enlarged the range of disease-bearing insects that once thrived only in warmer climates. In Africa, malaria kills a child every 30 seconds. Climate change will expand the habitat of the tropical mosquitoes that carry malaria, adding 80 million cases annually to that toll. In 1933, malaria infected 30 percent of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s inhabitants. Spraying of DDT, which no longer is considered safe, eradicated malaria in the U.S. by 1951. However, if climate change produces the warming and torrential rains that exacerbate stagnant water pools, malaria could return.
Another example of an increase in the spread of disease caused by climate change is dengue fever. Before being eradicated here, it infected half a million Texans in 1922. On the rise in other countries, dengue is expected to revisit the American Southwest and areas stretching to Chicago, where one of its carriers, the Asian tiger mosquito, has migrated.
Lyme disease — carried by ticks — is becoming more prevalent as our climate warms. From 2000 to 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported between 17,000 and 24,000 cases each year. At the close of 2009, the CDC reported 29,959 cases.
Let’s compare. The Keystone pipeline will produce 5,060 to 9,250 full-time equivalent, temporary, non-local jobs during the two-year construction phase as calculated by Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute — a realistic number lower than the inflated 20,000 claimed by Keystone supporters. Thus, the pipeline will produce $253 million to $555 million in wages. Compare that with the $534 million-plus cost of treating 6,000 added U.S. cases of Lyme disease every three years. Within three years or less, global warming-related health costs will begin to outweigh wage benefits of the Earth-warming Keystone project.
Burning fossil fuels also detrimentally impacts agriculture and fuel costs. For example, excess carbon dioxide created from burning more fossil fuels will increase dryness in Colorado. Scientists at the USDA and elsewhere note a 10 percent to 17 percent decline in wheat, corn, soybean and rice yields for every 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature during growing periods. As temperatures rise, our ability to raise food will diminish.
TransCanada, Keystone’s developer, indicates that some oil now refined for domestic production will be diverted to the pipeline for export to more lucrative markets overseas. As a result, according to the GLI, 15 Midwestern states will experience a 10- to 20-cent per-gallon increase in gasoline prices. Taken together, increases in health care and fuel costs and decreases in food production obliterate any financial benefit from Keystone pipeline jobs and local tax revenues.
Others warning of the threats to U.S. national security that climate change poses include the National Intelligence Council, Council on Foreign Relations, Center for Navel Analysis, CIA and Institute for Strategic Studies. The National Intelligence Council’s classified assessment for Congress concludes that climate change could threaten U.S. security in the next 20 years by causing political instability, mass refugee migration, terrorism or conflicts about water and other resources. So, our national interest lies in preventing use of tar sands oil, not in facilitating it.
When a State Department hearing addressed whether the Keystone pipeline was in the national interest, pipeline advocates carried pre-printed signs saying, “Reason Not Extremism.” Whose side is reason on?
Holly Wilde is an actress, adjunct professor and writer in Steamboat Springs. Russ Doty is CEO and general counsel for New World WindPower in Billings, Mont.