I support Michele Naar-Obed’s courageous opposition to the Line 3 pipeline. (She wrote the Jan. 31 commentary in the News Tribune, “Line 3 neither critical nor of public benefit.”) I support her opposition not only because of treaty rights but because Line 3, like the Keystone XL pipeline, transports tar-sands oil and extracting that oil uses five times more energy than pumping oil from a well, which adds heat-trapping carbon dioxide to our already damaged atmosphere.
Just a 0.1% increase in carbon dioxide can spread a jungle across our northern states. When that increase occurs over 1 million years, life has time to evolve. But when it is rapid, as when supervolcanoes ejected huge volumes of carbon dioxide 250 million years ago, life doesn’t have enough time to evolve. Some 90% of all species died in the Permian extinction of long ago.
Today, instead of supervolcanoes, we’ve had 250 years of carbon-spewing chimneys and smokestacks plus billions of tailpipes. Because of our human-caused increase in greenhouse gases, we now face conditions that rival those of the Permian extinction.
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we have added 2 trillion tons of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere. One-third has been absorbed by the oceans, making them increasingly acidic and hostile to the species that provide 20% of our protein and 50% of our oxygen. With two-thirds of that carbon dioxide remaining, we should be drastically cutting back on carbon. Instead, we are adding 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere every year.
As Peter Brannen recently wrote in The Atlantic, "half of our tropical coral reefs have died, 10 trillion tons of ice have melted, the ocean has grown more acidic, and global temperatures have spiked.”
Fortunately, an intelligent alternative exists. Expand safe, 90%-efficient, resource-sipping, environment-benign, carbon dioxide-free nuclear power by replacing every carbon-fired furnace at every power plant with modern reactors that cannot melt down and can convert 95% of our stored, spent nuclear fuel into electricity.
We must electrify our transportation industry, including ships, and generate that electricity with clean nuclear power. And we must stop building short-lived, resource-gobbling, hugely subsidized, 20%-efficient solar farms and 33%-efficient, bird- and bat-killing wind farms that primarily rely on carbon-burning power plants to generate most of the capacity they cannot. These expensive environment wreckers are worsening climate change — even if BP, Exxon, and Shell love them because they sell fuel to those power plants. They know that nuclear power will kill their profits.
Syncrude, one of 32 companies that mines the tar sands, is one of the largest greenhouse-gas emitters in Canada. The tar-sands complex is one of the worst air polluters in all of North America. Furthermore, the once-pristine Athabasca River, which borders the sands, now carries toxins that are suspected to be causing tumors in fish and cancers in the downstream residents of Fort Chipewyan.
We have been conned by the carbon companies and by well-paid Sierra Club "leaders" who refuse to do the math or view science-based energy presentations. As astronomer Carl Sagan once wrote, "One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we have been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We are no longer interested in finding out the truth. … It is simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we have been taken.”
The pipelines and the tar-sands industry that Naar-Obed and I despise exist because too many of us are willing to look away while the carbon companies damage our environment and accelerate climate change. Please get involved.
George Erickson of Eveleth is a member of the National Center for Science Education and the Thorium Energy Alliance. His book, "Unintended Consequences: The Lie That Killed Millions and Accelerated Climate Change," can be downloaded for free at tundracub.com.