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Neil Wagner

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Tar Sands Tradeoff: Plentiful Petrol vs. Planet in Peril

Posted: 10/05/11 04:44 PM ET

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The case for building the Keystone XL Pipeline is simple. It's founded on the paradigms of the oil-driven world we've created: we have access to an energy source we know how to use well; it's available from an ally; it's affordable.

The case against constructing the pipeline -- which would carry oil from the tar sands of Canada to refineries in Texas -- is more about an uncertain, but increasingly frightening, future. Why should we, one could argue, spend $7 billion to further accelerate climate change and likely contaminate one of America's largest underground water reserves?

The two sides are presented well in this interview with environmentalist Bill McKibben and Robert Bryce.

Oil is energy comfort food. Living in a post-9/11 world, with a horrible economy and climate change breathing down our necks, it feels good to know we can build a ginormous pipeline, pump some high-carbon oil out of sand and keep living the dream. But it lies completely at odds with our own survival. The parallels to addiction are uncanny.

Unfortunately, those of us who would prefer to keep the climate from going any more haywire than necessary have more than just the pipeline to contend with: there is now talk that the tandem of North & South America will become the center of the oil-producing world -- AND QUICKLY! We're talking five- to ten-years kind of quick! There may be three times as much oil in the Americas as there is in the duo of north Africa and the Middle East.

I suspect that, as Rome is burning, our modern-day Neros will be even more persistent in their cries of "DRILL, BABY, DRILL!"

This What on Earth? comic strip has a companion cartoon at ScienceFriday.com. Check it out!