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Addressing Climate Change: Cleaner, Cheaper Alternatives to the Pipeline

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People from all corners of the social spectrum have been urging President Obama to stop the development of the Keystone pipeline, a $7.2 billion Canadian project to carry oil from Canadian tar sands to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico. People such as Republican politicians, the Dalai Lama and seven other Nobel Peace laureates, knowledgeable climate scientists such as NASA's James Hansen, people of religious faith and environmental values, and us.

Proponents argue that the project is safe, and will create many thousands of jobs and a safe source of oil for the US over the next two decades. A recent EPA environmental impact report found that the pipeline would have minimal environmental impact on where it was built.

The opposition notes that the history of a previous Keystone pipeline indicates the proposed one will not be as leak proof as estimated, and the new pipeline will foster further massive destruction of carbon-storing boreal forests. James Hansen has basically said the "game's over" for addressing climate change if we really do burn all the oil it will make available. Indeed, on a global scale, a former BP executive observed in 2008 that Big Oil spent $50 billion yearly hunting for new reserves, but mankind could not burn the oil contained in those reserves without heating the planet another 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit, well beyond what many scientists consider a safe limit for avoiding catastrophic climate change.

And that's where the real damage of this pipeline lies: fostering a destructive oil addiction, the real cost of which - in terms of harmful health effects from air pollution, destruction of important carbon storage ecosystems, and locking us into further, destructive climate change - is being felt by an ever larger and more aware audience of voters. These are the very real environmental impacts of this pipeline, the hidden ones that the EPA should have included in its report.

Big Oil is also an inherent drain on our economy. How? A report prepared for the Congressional House Natural Resources committee notes that:

• Despite generating $546 billion in profits between 2005 and 2010, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP combined reduced their U.S. workforce by roughly 10%, or 11,200 employees.
• Meanwhile, taxpayers will hand out nearly $100 billion in tax breaks and loopholes to oil and gas companies in the coming decades.

Remember, that's on top of the pollution and environmental destruction costs, and the huge costs of our mideast oil wars. Compare this with what the green economy is generating, according to the Brookings Institute, and as summarized by Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune:

• Today the clean economy employs 2.7 million American workers across a diverse group of industries, which is greater than the number of people employed by the entire fossil fuel industry. [The potential is far greater: the US Green Building Council alone, for example, projects that green building will support or create nearly 8 million jobs by 2013. ]
• Clean-tech has produced explosive job gains in the past year, outperforming the national rate of job creation during the recession.
• The clean economy offers more opportunities and better pay (13% higher) for low- and middle-skilled workers than the national economy as a whole.
• The green jobs revolution is at work around the nation -- the South has the largest number of clean economy jobs in total, while the West has the largest share relative to its population.

And that doesn't count the savings to be had from better health and climate if we continue to pursue this path. Which sounds like the better choice for our economy?

Meanwhile, both solar and wind power advances promise that these sources of clean renewable energy will be as cheap, if not cheaper than fossil fuels within the decade, especially if the rising hidden costs of fossil fuels are included. Indeed, the collapse of Solyndra, a solar company backed with a loan from the Department of Energy, reflected the success of the evolving solar market. Ironically, its failure was partly due to the recent plummeting price of a solar panel component, polysilicon, allowing other solar companies to outcompete it. On the wind front, the invention of a wind lens, an outer ring on wind turbines that concentrates wind through the turbine, has been shown to triple its power output, and this could make wind power equal or cheaper than coal, without subsidies.

There are some take home lessons here for our government. Back the industry that generates jobs, better health and climate, not pollution, disease, and destructive climate change. An industry that generates a half trillion dollars in profits over the past 5 years as it cuts jobs does not need tax breaks and loopholes, as Representative Ed Markey and other Congressional Democrats point out. In our free downloadable book, we propose redirecting those subsidies towards tax breaks on the profits of clean renewable energy and energy efficiency companies. Reward the winners, instead of picking Solyndras.

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