The Journey series
This week’s Mustard Seed asks if It's time to ban oil pipelines. My short answer is No!
Identifying a problem is only the first step. If we stop there, nothing will change. We must take the next step, but that step is not immediate change; it's careful analysis. We must determine whether our concern is actually a problem or merely a symptom of an underlying issue. We must identify all the factors involved. We must separate causes from correlations. We must devise viable alternatives. We must determine the consequences of proposed resolutions . We must determine who has the ability to act, who has the authority to act and who has the responsibility to act. We must apportion both real and opportunity costs. Only then should we act. Jumping from the problem to the nearest suggested resolution without proper analysis does not serve well.
In the frenzy to ban oil pipelines, pipelines are not the problem. The underlying issue is global warming. But are we leaping in the right direction by banning pipelines?
Obviously, if people don’t have oil they won’t burn it. But cancelling pipelines won't, of itself, halt the flow of oil. Viable alternatives for fossil fuels and the associated infrastructure are not in place. Oil will simply be shipped by other methods; rail, tanker, and truck; which are more harmful and present greater risk to the environment than pipelines. Restricting the flow of oil may encourage the development and implementation of alternatives, but cancelling pipelines is a much too hasty and counterproductive means of achieving that restriction.
How will we replace internal combustion engines and oil-fired boilers? What are the environmental and economic costs of those alternatives? Our present technology of storing the hazardous waste generated by nuclear power plants has a shorter life than the contaminants. How much damage will be inflicted on the environment and our descendants when those containments fail? Should we trade our imminent problem with carbon emissions for the less immediate but much worse problem of nuclear contamination? Hydro-electric projects significantly alter water flows and usually require the flooding vast tracts of land. What will the ripple effects of that be? Wind and solar power are intermittent and and variable. They require storage capacity to balance fluctuations in production and demand. What will we do with the worn out wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries? Who will supply and maintain the power grids? Wind and solar power are renewable resources but the materials used for their infrastructure are not.
What of other uses for oil? Will we stop using all oil-based products altogether? What will we replace them with? Corn and soy crops are already being diverted to supply fuel and plastic industries. This reduces supply for the food industry. How many people even realize that the switch from oil-based to plant-based products is costing them money at the grocery checkout? I doubt anyone can calculate how much. How many people realize that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture is higher in many areas than emissions from transportation? Why not improve our farming techniques? Non-till farming may have greater impact on global warming than discontinuing the use of fossil fuels (see the links below). Our efforts may be better spent planting veggies in our back yard or community garden than in chanting and carrying signs in a protest march.
Yes, we must tackle global warming, but perhaps we need to give a little more thought to the matter before joining the ban the pipelines bandwagon. Paraphrasing James 2:15-16, “If a brother or sister has polyester clothes and drives a gas-engine car to the supermarket, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well without using oil,’ but you do not give them an alternative, what good is it?”
Next week: Protests
Peter T Elliott