We all heard Obama say he would turn down the Keystone XL pipeline if it causes carbon emissions to be “significantly” worse. We also know that the Canadian tar sands constitute the second largest carbon sink on the planet, and that burning billions of barrels of this crudest of crude oils will “significantly” increase the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere. So we won, right?
But wait… what was the question?
Well, we don’t know. The question we are asking ourselves is whether or not we should be tapping into a new gigaton source of carbon fuel in the form of the tar sands. That’s the real question, the one that will determine the future of Planet Earth. The answer is obvious. But Obama’s own State Department avoided that question entirely last spring in its preliminary environmental impact statement on the pipeline by asking a much simpler question: “Would the pipeline be more environmentally friendly than rail transport?” The answer to that one is also obvious: of course it would! Both answers are easy; the difficulty (and the fate of the Earth) lies in asking the right question.
So, is Obama thinking about the overall effect of billions of tons of new carbon in the atmosphere or merely comparing different ways of getting it there? By manipulating the question he can get the answer he wants.
I know what the answer is, I just don’t know the question yet.