How much human misery is it worth to reduce your carbon footprint by 2 percent? How much blood is it worth spilling to shave a meager fraction of CO2 from your lifestyle? How about…none?
Most reasonable people wouldn’t consider such a negligible difference to be worth spilling even a drop of blood over, let alone trading it for the slaughter of thousands, the persecution of dozens minority groups or the ongoing oppression and abuse of millions of women. But the anti-oil sands activists working to thwart the expansion of the oil sands? That’s exactly the trade-off they’re making. For two lousy percent.
Two to three percent, as James Coan from the Baker Institute Energy Forum reminds us in a column for the trade publication FuelFix, is all the difference that Americans will see in their carbon footprint if they open up pipelines, like the pending Keystone XL, to the oil sands, instead of importing conflict oil from the oppressive and persecuting regimes of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria.
The full-time lobbyists out to block pipelines like Keystone XL are abusing the scientific data, Coane explains, by throwing around the emissions statistics for oil sands production and refining, without taking into account the more meaningful well-to-wheels analysis:
“The CO2 numbers [in the oil sands] sound frightening when only the production and refining are taken into account…Yet once the oil is burned, a variety of sources say the total lifecycle impact of oil sands relative to the average crude used in the U.S. is much smaller, including the Council on Foreign Relations (17 percent higher emissions) and Cambridge Energy Research Associates (5-15 percent).”
But that isn’t the whole story —not once you account for what that will do to the entire American CO2 footprint. Take the most dramatic scenario: The maximum projected five million barrels pumping out of the oil sands in 2030 or so, with a CO2 premium of not 5, not 15, not 17, but 20% higher than conflict crude, and what you get is..well….a very modest difference:
“If oil sands CO2 emissions are on the high end at roughly 20% greater than average crude, replacing that average crude with oil sands would increase CO2 by roughly 2-3% relative to current U.S. CO2 emissions.”
In the most extreme scenario, Americans will increase their CO2 by a tiny, nearly imperceptible amount. But for that, they’d be trading their chance at steady supply of secure, peaceful, ethical oil for a future where they’re forced to support — and remain supply hostages of — the world’s most heinous petro-tyrannies. How many Americans do you think would consider that a reasonable trade? How many of the activists marching against Keystone XL would be willing to take the chance of offering Americans, instead of lies and distortions, the truth about that trade-off?
The fact is, as Coane points out, even that marginal difference may be overstating things: “it’s very likely that CO2 emissions of the oil sands will decline in the future, further reducing the amount of extra CO2.” And by blocking Keystone XL, the anti-oil sands crowd could well end up increasing CO2 emissions, by forcing oil sands producers to rely on tanker, truck or rail — all more carbon-intensive delivery methods than a pipeline.
Of course, you can be sure the activists haven’t thought things through the way Coane has. If they had, after all, they might realize, as he did, that “there are far larger sources of CO2″ than oil sands oil. They would be wiser, for instance, to redirect their efforts to call for more zero-emission nuclear power, perhaps, so the U.S. might close down some of its heavy-emitting coal plants. At least in that bargain, they wouldn’t have to ask Americans to trade a lousy 2% CO2 reduction for a world filled with more suffering, war and terror.