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2012-03-22

Bill McKibben: Winter Heat Wave Underscores Need for Obama to Reject, Not Fast-Track, Keystone XL

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As President Obama heads to Oklahoma today to announce the fast-tracking of the southern portion of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas, we speak with 350.org’s Bill McKibben. The pipeline approval comes two months after Obama rejected a proposal for the 1,300-mile Keystone XL pipeline from the Alberta tar sands oil fields to Texas after large protests by environmental groups. It also comes at a time when much of the nation is experiencing a heat wave that some scientists and meteorologists have linked to climate change. Spring only began on Tuesday, but it has felt like summer this week throughout much of the Northeast, Midwest and parts of Canada. Record temperatures have been recorded in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Buffalo and many other cities and towns. Some 36 states set daily high temperature records last Thursday. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: President Barack Obama is heading to Cushing, Oklahoma, today to announce his support for TransCanada to build the southern leg of its Keystone oil pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas. The move comes two months after Obama rejected the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline after large protests by environmental groups.

Obama’s speech promoting the pipeline comes at a time when much of the nation is experiencing a heat wave that some scientists and meterologists have linked to climate change. Spring only began on Tuesday, but it has felt like summer this week throughout much of the Northeast, Midwest and parts of Canada. In Chicago, the temperature soared to 87 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday, marking the city’s eighth consecutive day of record warmth. Record temperatures have been recorded in Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Buffalo and many other cities and towns. Thirty-six states have set daily high temperature records last Thursday.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the National Weather Service issued flood warnings Wednesday for eastern Oklahoma, much of Arkansas, parts of western Missouri, southeast Louisiana and coastal Mississippi due to a storm that has already dumped heavy rain on Texas. The National Weather Service is reporting Washington, D.C., just experienced its warmest winter on record. The capital’s famed cherry blossoms opened two weeks early. New York City had its second mildest winter. At the same time, nearly 11 feet of snow fell this winter in Anchorage, Alaska, a near record.

To talk more about the pipeline and extreme weather, we’re joined by Bill McKibben, founder of the grassroots climate campaign, 350.org, scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College, also the author of many books, including Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

Bill McKibben, you’ve been writing about, organizing around President Obama going to Oklahoma. You were one of those who was arrested outside the White House this past summer to call for the Keystone XL pipeline to be canceled. President Obama made a major announcement that you all considered a great victory, which was a moratorium on the Keystone XL. So what’s happening in Oklahoma today?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, he’s—as he said he would do some weeks ago, he is going there to praise the southern portion of this, from Oklahoma down to Texas, the kind of bottom of the pipeline. Now, it doesn’t bring new tar sands oil in from Canada. There’s no connection across the border. And the White House reiterated last night that any—if that’s ever going to happen, it’s then going to have to undergo a huge, big environmental review, and no time soon, and so on. Still, it’s unsettling, at best, to see the President standing there in Cushing in a yard full of pipe talking about how much he loves pipelines, in a state that had the warmest summer ever recorded for an American state last summer, and in a week when we’ve seen the weirdest weather that, well, meteorologists have almost ever seen in this country. You know, it’s hard—it’s almost sort of hard to figure out a kind of better setting to describe the depths of our addiction to oil than to have a progressive president in that kind of—in this kind of weather still out there saying we’ve got to build more pipelines.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But Bill, isn’t the President, in one sense, sort of trying to have it both ways, on the one hand, saying that there’s got to be—it’s undecided what’s going to happen with the entire line, yet giving the go-ahead to build a portion of it? I mean, obviously, that’s ominous in terms of what might happen after the election.

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, the portion—the portion from Oklahoma down to Texas can be used and will be used for lots of things. There’s a glut of oil sitting there. One of the ironies of this is that it may actually raise gas prices in the Midwest, because that glut of oil has been keeping prices down. But yeah, it’s plenty ominous, and, you know, there’s no great mystery as to why it’s ominous. The American Petroleum Institute said—before he vetoed the northern part of the pipeline, they said, "Do this, and there will be huge political consequences." Those guys have the resources to do that. They’re running endless ad campaigns erroneously linking the President to the price of gas and things. And so, I assume that this is an effort to kind of play defense against that a little bit. It’s tough to watch.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama calls it his above—what does he call it? His "all of the above" policy.

BILL McKIBBEN: "All of the above."

AMY GOODMAN: That’s what he calls his energy policy.

BILL McKIBBEN: He’s been saying this, that any energy source, domestic energy source, is good—oil, coal, solar, wind, whatever else. It’s not—I mean, I think it’s not an intellectually very useful idea. I mean, if I told you that I was running for president, and I had an "all of the above" foreign policy, where all of our—every country in the world was going to be considered an equal ally of ours, you might think I was a bit of a lightweight. But with energy, unfortunately, it remains politic to insist that we’re never going to have to make any choices. The weather this week, I think, is demonstrating that we better start making some choices. The temperature across America in March, as we come out of winter, the temperature is—it’s not just off the charts, it’s off the wall that the charts are tacked to.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama is going to be protested by Native Americans. One of the people who is decrying what he’s saying is Marty Cobenais of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who says, "President Obama is an adopted member of the Crow Tribe, so his fast-tracking a project that will desecrate known sacred sites and artifacts is a real betrayal and disappointment for his Native relatives everywhere." Final comments? We just have 15 seconds.

BILL McKIBBEN: Yeah, the Indigenous Environmental Network is doing a great job there in Oklahoma. And as the President moves on to Ohio, there will be protesters there, too, later in the day. You know, environmentalists never win permanent victories. That’s the thing. I guess we’ve got to keep this fight, as with many others, going strong.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, thanks for being with us, founder of the grassroots climate campaign, 350.org, speaking to us from Middlebury College in Vermont.

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