NYT is handwringing about enhanced greenhouse effect (global warming) of course but they raise one valid point: atmospheric carbon dioxide is a pretty well-travelled, well-mixed gas. Our emissions, i.e., the liberation of carbon previously lost to the biosphere, do not merely help our crops grow but those of the poor and underdeveloped regions too. We should help feed the world and save the rain forests too, by ensuring we do not waste this magnificent resource through CCS boondoggles and subsidy farming. Life on Earth depends on it.
Last month, the State Department formally invited public comment on the issues it should consider in a new environmental assessment of the Keystone XL, a 1,200-mile pipeline that would connect the Alberta oil sands to an existing pipeline in Nebraska. The review process was triggered when TransCanada filed a new pipeline application after its first proposal was rejected by President Obama in January. The department’s first environmental assessment was grossly inadequate, one of the main reasons President Obama rejected the proposal.
The department is trying to do a better job this time. It will almost certainly ask all the right questions about the impact of the pipeline on the United States — what it means for our soil, our water, our species, our cultural resources and our jobs. What is less certain is whether it will ask an essential global question that transcends borders: What is the pipeline’s likely effect on the climate?
The answer to that question may not determine the State Department’s recommendation about whether the pipeline should be built, or Mr. Obama’s decision if he is re-elected (Mitt Romney has already said he would approve the pipeline if he wins). Nor will America’s decision stop Canada’s development of the tar sands, or the sale of its oil elsewhere in the world.
But the climate question must be addressed, if only to give a full accounting of the range of consequences of developing the tar sands, an effort in which the United States will be complicit if it allows the pipeline. That includes the effect of destroying 740,000 acres of boreal forest (a vital sink for greenhouse gases); the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted in extracting the oil from the tar sands (a highly energy-intensive process); and the gases emitted by burning the oil.