Why Cleantech Should Join the Fight Against the Tar Sands Pipeline

Why would people that earn their living in cleantech actively oppose the tar sands pipeline that President Obama will soon make a decision whether to allow?

If President Obama approves the expansion of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries in Texas, it will completely undermine the cleantech industry and it will completely undermine efforts to halt climate change.

Prosperity in the cleantech industry relies on our country transitioning to efficiency and clean energy.

That won’t happen if the pipeline goes through. Once the big investments are made and the dirty oil (double the emissions of conventional oil) has its market, well, fait accompli. The price at the pump is kept low, for another half-decade, anyway, and we can forget about the public adopting electric cars, or serious investments in renewable energy infrastructure.

"What we are planning is civil disobedience, the broadest in the history of climate activism. We believe you in the clean economy will be motivated professionally and morally to support and even join us," say Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth, and founder of 350.org, and L.D. Gussin, writer and strategist.

From August 20-September 3, thousands of people will sit-in at the White House to convince the President not to approve the pipeline later this year. Only he can approve it – he does so with a ‘certificate of national interest.’

"We will oppose our common opponent, fossil energy interests," they say. Led by the likes of the Koch brothers, and oil and coal companies, those interests annihilated US Energy Legislation last year, tried hard to kill California’s landmark global warming bill (AB32), and are doing their best to unravel the EPA and all the laws that encourage efficiency and renewables at the expense of fossil fuels.

The American Petroleum Institute and its oil lobby allies are behind a slew of fake Twitter accounts designed to prop up public opinion about the pipeline, reports Mother Jones.

Instead of growing by the speed of light, the clean economy faces layoffs, lowered forecasts, and reduced investments (with venture funding down almost 50% from 2010). Just ask any trade group to contrast where their sector is versus where it could be.

They continue:

Yet there are signs of hope and common purpose, and of the Tar Sands action being a catalyst. A number of large, politically adept industries that work in the clean economy should see it in their self interest to oppose the Tar Sands pipeline.

Canada’s tar sands hold the world’s second biggest pool of CO2 after Saudi Arabia. The oil they contain is far harder to extract however, resulting in double the emissions. Close to 1 million barrels of thick tar sands crude would flow every day at high pressure from Canada through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and all the way to Texas, threatening countless communities and over 2000 waterways, including America’s largest under ground water source – the Ogallala Aquifer.

TransCanada’s Keystone I pipeline spilled 12 times in its first year of operation, which began last May. This past summer, the Enbridge pipeline spilled a million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan and this July, Exxon’s pipeline spilled 42,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River.

The fossil fuel industry is lobbying heavily for the pipeline to go forward, of course. The same political forces that have been pinning down industry trade associations and citizen advocacy groups in state, regional and national battles around efficiency, renewables and CO2 pricing are going for a big win on this pipeline.

Who, at a business level, should want to fight this?

We think, first, that the power utility industry should, and this is very important. Until recently, it saw its interests aligned with fossil energy, but its strategy has been shifting, and it knows a move in transportation from fossil fuels to clean electricity would increase its business 50%.

We also think high tech industries will want to fight. From providing sensors to semiconductors to data networks to social networks, they are full tilt in the clean economy and very often shaping the innovations. Yet they expect fact-driven business environments, which enable planning. And developing the tar sands without accounting for CO2, is about idiocy and influence, not, surely, about facts.

Put all this together, add the many clean energy-specific industries like wind, solar and energy storage, and you have the global clean economy, potentially the biggest business ever. But fossil energy interests see their fight clearly. Support by the clean economy for this action against the Tar Sands pipeline will show that it sees this fight clearly, as well.

There is, finally, a moral case to be made, and the one we think suits people in the clean economy has a special twist. You have the education to take climate change seriously, to meet it with worry, a call for action, even fear.

But you also know, better than most, that we are fighting against time. We have at most a few decades to achieve a re-industrial program, of a size never before attempted. We don’t know if time lost now can be made up.

Here’s what Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) says about the Tar Sand Keystone Pipeline Expansion:


Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen books on the environment, a scholar in residence at Middlebury College, and founder of 350.org. L.D. Gussin, a writer and strategist, recently spent seventeen months at a venture-funded stealth cleantech startup.

Sign this petition to President Obama, which says: The tar sands represent a catastrophic threat to our communities, our climate, and our planet. We urge you to demonstrate real climate leadership by rejecting the requested permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and instead focus on developing safe, clean energy.

Follow the debate on Twitter using the hash tag "#tarsands."

Join or support the mass act of civil disobedience at the White House. Over 1500 people are already registered to join this wave of sustained sit-ins and send a clear message to the President: The People are saying NO to the 2000-mile climate-destroying Keystone XL pipeline. Sign up or learn more here:

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Comments on “Why Cleantech Should Join the Fight Against the Tar Sands Pipeline”

  1. Neal Young

    I do not support the fight against tar sands. Perspective from an energy professional engaged in automotive and fuel supply issues for 25 years. As one who daily works with most sides of energy use, emissions, supply, demand and advance vehicle technlogies – and I believe I share the environmental goals as Clean Tech – I interpret Tar Sands as greater benefit than greater disbenefit. Bottom line: it is premature to oppose any ecomically viable energy source especially for other hypothical solutions.


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