The controversial Keystone XL pipeline bringing oil from Canadian tar sands to U.S. consumers will not be built for at least another year. There’s now a chance that it will never be built. If you care about the future of the planet, that’s a reason to celebrate. Is it not?
Perhaps not, for three reasons:
First, the decision whether or not to build the pipeline was simply delayed until after the election. Tapping into the same tar sand reserves twelve months later would still mean almost the same amount of global warming pollution in the atmosphere over time.
Second, this may yet turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for greens. As Michael Levi points out, the climate argument alone didn’t persuade the administration to decide against the pipeline. It was Nebraskan not-in-my-backyard thinking that did the trick. Now environmentalists are celebrating. When the same NIMBY thinking scuttles clean energy developments, most will cry foul (and rightfully so).
Third, and perhaps most important, the decision was about the pipeline, not about the tar sands themselves. They are still sitting there for the tapping. It will be more difficult to do so without a direct pipeline, but there are surely others who will gladly pay for some heavy crude. We ship oil from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Mexico. Why not send it from Canada to, say, China? And even the U.S. is still in the running. We now send oil from Cushing, Oklahoma, up to Chicago. There’s still the option on the table to reverse the pipeline and send oil on down.
It all just shows that the only way to truly get off oil is by pricing pollution, not by blocking single pipelines, however symbolic they may be.