Scientists to Obama: Keystone XL Pipeline Sucks

James Hansen<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/chesapeakeclimate/5081432259/sizes/m/in/photostream/">chesapeakeclimate</a>/Flickr


The massive oil pipeline TransCanada wants to build from Alberta, Canada to Texas has already garnered criticism from environmentalists, senators, and farmers. On Wednesday, a group of prominent scientists added their names to the opposition roster with a letter to President Obama that calls the Keystone XL pipeline “environmentally destructive” and nonsensical.

“The tar sands are a huge pool of carbon, but one that does not make sense to exploit,” the letter asserts. “It makes no sense to build a pipeline system that would practically guarantee extensive exploitation of this resource.” Because the pipeline would cross an international boundary, it requires a presidential permit issued by the Department of State, and legislation (PDF) recently passed by the House of Representatives would force Obama to make up his mind by November 1.

If Richard Houghton, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Research Center and one of the letter’s signatories, has anything to do with it, the president’s answer will be a big fat “No.” “The point of government is to look after the public interest, and I can’t believe this pipeline is in the public interest,” Houghton said in a phone interview. “It seems as though a pipeline is focused on immediate needs and not thinking on a bigger scale.”

For a large group of scientists to explicitly weigh in a policy decision is rare, but the letter has no shortage of climate change luminaries: other names include James Hansen of Columbia University, who in 1988 presented some of the first testimony to Congress about the effects of climate change and was hailed by Bill McKibben as a “real hero” of the environmental movement, and Michael MacCraken of the Climate Institute, who had a hand in the landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports.

What effect the letter will have on the president’s decision remains to be seen (the White House has not yet returned a request for comment), but Houghton pointed out that the feds have a bad track record of listening to the advice of scientists on climate change. “I see Congress as really stopping the whole world’s approach to controlling carbon emissions. People look to [the US] for leadership and they’re not seeing it.”

 

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate