Lie To Me–Keystone XL Could Mean the End for Wolves
I’ve gotten four email alerts related to the Keystone XL pipeline from my local chapter of the Sierra Club. They talk about wolves, water quality, and toxins, but other than one reference to the Boreal Forest storing 11 percent of the world’s carbon, they make no mention of climate change. Here’s a sampling:
Russell, can you help? Wolf mothers and cubs are already cowering from helicopters dispatched to shoot them – all in the name of protecting tar sands mining sites.
The image has already been seared into my memory: wolves shot dead from helicopters to keep them away from the mines. I don’t want to see more of them dead, and I’m sure you don’t either.
Wolves are already at risk of being shot, but if Keystone XL is built, their quiet refuge in Canada will be all but decimated.
The culling of wolves is an issue related to tar sand mining, but it has little, if anything, to do with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Here’s why, from Motley Fool:
Make no mistake about it: If the oil doesn’t make its way to the U.S. [via the Keystone XL pipeline], it will still make its way out of Canada. Unfortunately, it could be on a long boat ride to China. Because let’s face it: Oil prices around the globe aren’t likely to get any cheaper thanks to Asia’s voracious demand for oil.
The wolves are being used for marketing purposes. In reality, the tar sands operations may have increased (temporarily) the number of wolves by making it easier for them to hunt caribou thanks to all of the access roads that have been cut into the forests to facilitate seismic readings.
The wolves are being culled in an attempt to save the caribou herds which are dwindling, in part, because of increased predation. It’s another of those unintended consequences that usually result when we start screwing with mother nature. Inversely, the need for a deer hunting season is the result of having eliminated natural predators of deer (two mountain lions have found their way into in Seattle’s Discovery Park since I moved here–one was shot, the other was darted).
Andrew Derocher, a wildlife biologist at the University of Alberta put it succinctly:
“It’s a Band-Aid type solution for a gaping wound,” he said. “We’ve changed the landscape so much that we’re sort of dealing with the symptoms rather than treating the disease.”
If I were King, I would not have allowed the tar sands to be mined for a number of environmentally related reasons. I support leaving our Arctic National Wildlife Reserve alone. If we one day lose that fight and, as is now the case with the Alberta tar sands oil, have to choose between oil tankers and a pipeline, well, how much would it really matter at that point? In a nutshell, fighting the pipeline is too little, too late; a symbolic gesture based on an untested hypothesis with great potential to do more harm than good. That hypothesis is not well-defined, but it has something to do with sending a message of some kind to somebody.
The Keystone XL pipeline is almost certainly the least of two evils at this juncture in time. To borrow a phrase from Andrew Derocher, stopping the pipeline would be “…sort of dealing with the symptoms rather than treating the disease.”
Finding an alternative to oil would treat the disease. See the above photo of my electric car overlaid on a picture of a parking lot oil slick. Simply forcing tar sand oil to use a more environmentally destructive path to market is shooting the environment in the foot.
James Hansen was one of the first to suggest that it is going to be nearly impossible to keep oil in the ground if you don’t have an alternative for it (and we don’t), which is why his primary goal has typically been to keep our vast coal reserves in the ground by promoting a proven alternative to it; nuclear energy. IMHO, his level of involvement with the Keystone XL pipeline, not to mention his association with the anti-nuclear Bill McKibben, is creating a growing credibility problem. What he needs is a good PR manager.
I’m much less concerned about the Keystone XL pipeline than I am about the government support of the expansion of dams, biofuels, and biomass. Roughly half of climate change is the result of things other than the burning of fossil fuels; things like deforestation and the expansion of agriculture. Not only do they exacerbate warming, but they also usurp large areas, simultaneously, directly, and immediately destroying ecosystems.
Finding a way to keep coal in the ground might also make a dent in ocean acidification (that other problem associated with excess carbon in the atmosphere that rarely gets mentioned).
And as I’ve said before, I don’t think humanity is capable of doing what it would take to blunt a warming climate. My hope is that the climate change debate will at least accelerate the replacement of coal with a combination of nuclear, wind, and solar.