With all the political posturing in Congress over the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, it’s easy to lose sight of the real issue—this pipeline is dangerous, unnecessary and would cost the American people far more than we can afford. What we're watching unfold in Washington, DC, is more than just a high-stakes political power play—it's a scam undertaken by Big Oil’s congressional puppets on the orders of oil companies that have billions of dollars at stake.
The politicians pushing the pipeline are (how can I put this politely?) lying to the American people and pandering for dirty oil money. What do we really stand to gain if this thing is rammed down our throats? Higher gas prices, more air pollution, the threat of poisoned water and enough carbon pollution to make stopping climate disruption next to impossible—but few of the jobs and none of the huge profits that Big Oil would reap.
Exaggerated job numbers play well to public concern about unemployment and the economy, but they are a hollow promise. The numbers from TransCanada—the company behind the pipeline—have already been discredited as fuzzy math for using tricks like double counting and incidental employment for dancers, choreographers and speech therapists. Here's some non-fuzzy math. The pipeline would raise gas prices across the Midwest—hurting both consumers and businesses. Ironically, the pipeline could actually destroy more jobs than it generates.
Meanwhile, our nation’s largest aquifer, which supplies one-third of U.S. irrigated farmland and the drinking water for millions, would be put at imminent risk. Although that risk most directly affects the farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods hang in the balance, every American would feel the effect of an oil-spill catastrophe in the nation’s agricultural heartland.
TransCanada has a dismal record of cutting corners, ignoring the law and spilling oil. The company's Keystone 1 pipeline spilled more than 12 times in its first year of operation, including a 21,000-gallon spill in North Dakota in May 2011 that shot a 60-foot geyser of oil into the air. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that sections of the Keystone 1 pipeline were constructed using inferior steel and defective welds.
That means we have an irresponsible company asking for permission to build a kind of pipeline that is already far riskier than normal. Unrefined tar sands crude is both thicker and more toxic than conventional crude oil. Sand in the mixture scours the inside of a pipe, and highly reactive chemicals in the crude corrode the steel. Making things even worse, the heavy, gooey tar sands has to be pumped at far higher temperatures and pressures than conventional oil.
The riskiness of piping this toxic crude all the way across America is bad enough, but on top of that, this pipeline would actually make the U.S. less secure. Retired Brigadier General Steven Anderson said it plainly:
The Keystone XL pipeline will not reduce America’s dependence on Middle East oil, or do anything to get us off oil completely, which is key to America’s national security future. Much of the oil produced by Keystone won’t go right to American gas-tanks—it is to be exported, meaning we will need to import oil the same as before.
But pipeline advocates aren't really concerned about what's best for the U.S. At least one oil company backing the pipeline, Valero, has made it clear that its main goal is to reach growing foreign diesel fuel markets. Port Arthur, TX, where the Keystone XL would end, is a Foreign Trade Zone. That means oil companies would avoid paying U.S. taxes on oil that is imported from Canada, refined in Texas, and then exported to China, Latin America or Europe. The American people get to assume all of the risk, but would see none of the benefits, not even the tax revenues.
This pipeline is a bad deal that would generate billions in profits for oil companies while leaving Americans to pay the price in higher fuel costs, energy insecurity, and polluted air and water. At a time when we need to be doing everything we can to get off oil and reduce global-warming pollution, the Keystone XL would take us in exactly the wrong direction. Tar sands oil is a gigantic climate disaster waiting to happen.
President Obama did the right and responsible thing by deciding to reevaluate this project. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is dangerous, unnecessary and would cost the American people far more than we can afford. We cannot—we must not—let Big Oil and its minions in Congress force it upon us against our will.
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To hear many journalists tell it, the spring of 2020 has brought a series of extraordinary revelations. Look at what the nation has learned: That our health-care system was not remotely up to the challenge of a deadly pandemic. That our economic safety net was largely nonexistent. That our vulnerability to disease and death was directly tied to our race and where we live. That our political leadership sowed misinformation that left people dead. That systemic racism and the killing of Black people by police is undiminished, despite decades of protest and so many Black lives lost.
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After sustained declines in the number of COVID-19 cases over recent months, restrictions are starting to ease across the United States. Numbers of new cases are falling or stable at low numbers in some states, but they are surging in many others. Overall, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of new cases a day, and by late June, had surpassed the peak rate of spread in early April.
Seven day rolling average of number of people confirmed to have COVID-19, per day (not including today). This chart gets updated once per day with data by Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins university doesn't provide reliable data for March 12 and March 13. Johns Hopkins CSSE Get the data
To Have a Second Wave, the First Wave Needs to End.<p>A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn't a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends.</p><p>But with talk of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/27/new-covid-19-clusters-across-world-spark-fear-of-second-wave" target="_blank">second wave in the news</a>, as an <a href="https://www.american.edu/cas/faculty/mhawkins.cfm" target="_blank">epidemiologist and public health researcher</a>, I think there are two necessary factors that must be met before we can colloquially declare a second wave.</p><p>First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations.</p><p>Many countries in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">Europe and Asia have successfully ended the first wave</a>. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/08/new-zealand-abandons-covid-19-restrictions-after-nation-declared-no-cases" target="_blank">New Zealand</a> and <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/08/how-iceland-beat-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">Iceland</a> have also made it through their first waves and are now essentially coronavirus-free, with very low levels of community transmission and only a handful of active cases currently.</p>
Different States, Different Trends<p>Looking at U.S. numbers as a whole hides what is really going on. Different states are in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html" target="_blank">vastly different situations right now</a> and when you look at states individually, four major categories emerge.</p><ol><li>Places where the first wave is ending: States in the Northeast and a few scattered elsewhere experienced large initial spikes but were able to mostly contain the virus and substantially brought down new infections. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/new-york-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">New York</a> is a good example of this.</li><li>Places still in the first wave: Several states in the South and West – see <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/texas-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Texas</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/california-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">California</a> – had some cases early on, but are now seeing massive surges with no sign of slowing down.</li><li>Places in between: Many states were hit early in the first wave, managed to slow it down, but are either at a plateau – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/north-dakota-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">North Dakota</a> – or are now seeing steep increases – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/oklahoma-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Oklahoma</a>.</li><li>Places experiencing local second waves: Looking only at a state level, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/hawaii-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Hawaii</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/montana-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Montana</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/alaska-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Alaska</a> could be said to be experiencing second waves. Each state experienced relatively small initial outbreaks and was able to reduce spread to single digits of daily new confirmed cases, but are now all seeing spikes again.</li></ol><p>The trends aren't surprising based on how states have been dealing with reopening. The virus will go wherever there are susceptible people and until the U.S. stops community spread across the entire country, the first wave isn't over.</p>
What Could a Second Wave Look Like?<p>It is possible – though at this point it seems unlikely – that the U.S. could control the virus before a vaccine is developed. If that happens, it would be time to start thinking about a second wave. The question of what it might look like depends in large part on everyone's actions.</p><p>The <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1086%2F592454" target="_blank">1918 flu pandemic</a> was characterized by a mild first wave in the winter of 1917-1918 that went away in summer. After restrictions were lifted, people very quickly went back to pre-pandemic life. But a second, deadlier strain came back in fall of 1918 and third in spring of 1919. In total, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm" target="_blank">more than 500 million people were infected</a> worldwide and upwards of <a href="https://theconversation.com/compare-the-flu-pandemic-of-1918-and-covid-19-with-caution-the-past-is-not-a-prediction-138895" target="_blank">50 million died</a> over the course of three waves.</p><p>It was the combination of a quick return to normal life and a mutation in the flu's genome that made it more deadly that led to the horrific second and third waves.</p><p>Thankfully, the coronavirus appears to be much more <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351" target="_blank">genetically stable</a> than the influenza virus, and thus less likely to mutate into a more deadly variant. That leaves human behavior as the main risk factor.</p><p>Until a <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-needs-to-go-right-to-get-a-coronavirus-vaccine-in-12-18-months-136816" target="_blank">vaccine or effective treatment is developed</a>, the tried-and-true public health measures of the last months – <a href="https://theconversation.com/this-simple-model-shows-the-importance-of-wearing-masks-and-social-distancing-140423" target="_blank">social distancing,</a> <a href="https://theconversation.com/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-the-science-is-simple-and-im-one-of-100-experts-urging-governors-to-require-public-mask-wearing-138507" target="_blank">universal mask wearing</a>, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces – are the ways to stop the first wave and thwart a second one. And when there are surges like what is happening now in the U.S., further reopening plans need to be put on hold.</p>
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