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Michael Kieschnick Headshot

President Obama, Look Out Your Window!

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I run a mobile telephone company, and expect to be arrested in Washington today just outside your window representing my customers' view on global warming. Seriously!

Your administration is soon to make a pivotal climate change decision on the Keystone pipeline bringing tar sands oil from Canada, and the few available hints indicate that you are going to get it disastrously wrong.

To help you and your advisors focus on this choice, I am going to join with many others and hold a big sign in front of the White House, for which I am likely to be arrested. Interestingly, the administration's chief climate scientist is expected to be part of the demonstration and likely to be arrested as well. It has gotten that bad on the global warming front.

For anyone wondering, I happen to like President Obama. I even have a picture in my office of the President with me and a small group of guys who challenged him to a game of basketball. It was a more cheerful moment, of course, and we never got the game of basketball.

But the much delayed decision on the Keystone XL pipeline bringing incredibly dirty tar sands oil from Canada to Texas is no game. And while there are two sides -- anyone concerned about global warming and those who profit by denying its existence -- it is only the President who makes the decision.

Here is the basic problem. Essentially all relevant climate scientists agree that the earth is warming rapidly, that human activities are a key contributor, and that dramatic change is needed to avoid disaster. It is rather unsettling that polls indicate that the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in Iowa -- Gov. Rick Perry -- is an explicit climate science denier, but President Obama says he agrees with the scientists.

Canada has an unusual source of oil -- the aptly named tar sands -- and the oil is essentially worthless without a pipeline to get it from Canada to the United States. The idea of extracting oil from the tar sands has been around for many decades. Extracting that oil involves releasing massive quantities of CO2 in addition to the damage caused by later burning the oil. The release is expected to be so large that Dr. James Hansen, the chief climate scientist employed by the Federal government, says that if the tar sands are developed, it is "game over" in the fight to slow and then reverse global warming.

That should be motivation enough to just say no.

Ironically, the pipeline proposed to deliver the oil from Canada to the U.S. requires approval from the President via the State Department. That is, the Obama Administration can simply say no. President Obama need not consult Congress. He can simply state, on environmental grounds or the national interest, that the pipeline will be damaging and reject it. Then the pipeline will not be built.

For reasons that are known only to the most senior people in the State Department and the White House, the Administration has not said either yes or no. Environmental assessments released by the State Department are grossly inadequate, provoke massive criticism on scientific grounds, and are then withdrawn for additional work. All of which appears to be necessary only if the Administration is looking for a way to say yes.

Some of the oil will spill as the pipeline leaks. Some of the oil will end up in a refinery operated by Koch Industries, well known for unrelenting funding of scientific disinformation on climate change. The pipeline will stretch from Canada all the way to Texas, home of that climate change denying presidential candidate.

What is President Obama waiting for? Is there any environmental or economic advantage that can be reaped by allowing an extremely dirty, expensive source of carbon emissions to be developed? What possible political strategy concludes that approving a pipeline that delivers a "game over" victory to your most committed opponents should even be considered?

I have written to Secretary of State Clinton. I have written to President Obama. Environmental organizations have submitted hundreds of thousands of comments. Thoughtful advocates have met with countless Administration officials. Climate scientists have written directly to the President. In a rare moment of unity, essentially every major national environmental group has written the President asking for a clear decision blocking the project. Members of my own organization -- CREDO -- have signed petitions to the President and State Department in stunning numbers -- over 160,000 and still climbing.

This is important work but clearly not enough for Mr. Obama.

I do not want the President to believe that that I or others will (as another president once said) go quietly into the night. There is no nuance or middle ground on this decision nor will there be forgiveness.

The president must decide whose side he is on. The side of the health of this and all future generations, or the side of those who would exploit the gaps in our environmental law for short term financial gain.

Monday, August 29th is my day to stand up and speak out. I welcome all those who also care about global warming and who will be in Washington to join in. It is easy to sign up at www.tarsandsaction.org.

And for the vast majority who are thankfully not in Washington but who care about global warming, I hope you will join hundreds of thousands who have already signed our letter to the President at http://www.credoaction.com/campaign/keystone_obama/?rc=homepage.

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