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Naomi Klein: Reject Keystone XL Pipeline, We Need Radical Change to Prevent Catastrophic Warming

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House lawmakers passed legislation Friday to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline to bring carbon-intensive tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast. The Senate is expected to vote this week on a similar pro-Keystone bill backed by Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu. Landrieu is facing a tough battle to keep her seat in a runoff next month against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, who also happens to be the sponsor of the pro-Keystone bill in the House. Landrieu spoke last week about her support for Keystone. We speak to Naomi Klein, author of “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.”

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: House lawmakers passed legislation Friday to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would bring carbon-intensive tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast. It has been in the works for more than six years amidst mass protests over its potential to accelerate climate change. The Senate is expected to vote this week on a similar pro-Keystone bill backed by Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu. Landrieu is facing a tough battle to keep her seat in a runoff next month against Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy, who also happens to be the sponsor of the pro-Keystone bill in the House. Landrieu spoke last week about her support for Keystone. This is a part of what she said.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU: It needs to get done on its own, because it’s standing alone—it will go to the president’s desk stand-alone—and that I believe that the president will have to make an important decision. I’m hoping that he will sign it. But if he doesn’t, that’s the process. I hope that he will, and I will be urging him to do so, because his administration, his State Department, his EPA and his Transportation Department has urged him to support this piece of legislation for the strength of our economy, a signal to our allies, to strengthen America here and abroad.

AMY GOODMAN: Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu speaking last week. Meanwhile, during a visit to Burma, President Obama was asked about the Keystone XL. He refuted claims it would create jobs or reduce the price of gas in the U.S.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My government believes that we should judge this pipeline based on whether or not it accelerates climate change or whether it helps the American people with their energy costs and their gas prices. And I have to constantly push back against this idea that somehow the Keystone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States or is somehow lowering gas prices. Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. And it doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Obama. He’s speaking to reporters last week in Burma, standing next to the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

To find out more about the Keystone XL, we are joined by Democracy Now! video stream by Naomi Klein, journalist, best-selling author—her latest book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate; her previous books, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She’s speaking to us from her home in Toronto.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Naomi. Can you respond to what President Obama just said?

NAOMI KLEIN: You know, well, I think he said some important things. The idea that it’s still up for some kind of debate whether or not building Keystone XL has a climate impact is—you know, it’s absurd. Keystone is a pipeline that is intimately linked to plans by the oil and gas industry to dramatically expand production in the Alberta tar sands. They have pipeline capacity, more or less, to get the oil out that they’re producing right now, but they have active plans to double and triple production in the Alberta tar sands, digging up one of the highest carbon fuels on the planet, with tremendous local impacts to—health impacts to First Nations people, to indigenous people living in that region, violating their treaty rights. And, of course, when that oil is burned, it has tremendous climate impacts. It also has climate impacts in the fact that it’s really, really difficult to get that tarry oil into a product that can be burned, because it isn’t liquid, because it is semi-solid. So, it takes a huge amount of energy. This is why it is so carbon-intensive to extract it and to refine. It also takes huge amount of water. So, it obviously has a climate impact, because it is linked to the expansion of the tar sands.

Now, when this debate really started heating up three years ago, the tar sands were booming, and the message was—and when we first saw the first environmental assessments out of the State Department, basically, what they were saying is Keystone doesn’t matter to climate because they’ll be able to get that expanded oil production, they’ll be able to get it out another way, whether through trains, whether through other pipelines built through British Columbia, for instance, or built eastward through eastern Canada. And what’s really shifted in three years is that that claim cannot be made now, because the tar sands are really surrounded by opposition. Everywhere they try to build a new pipeline or expand an existing pipeline, they’re facing fierce direct action as well as legal challenges by indigenous people and by other interests. So, the idea that if you don’t build Keystone, they’ll get it out anyway, is absurd. Keystone is—it’s not a drop in the bucket when it comes to tar sands. If Obama said no to Keystone now, it could really be the nail in the coffin for an industry that is in crisis on multiple fronts, because they have this huge problem of having a landlocked pool of carbon and no viable way to get that oil to the sea if they increase production at the levels they’d like to.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Naomi, correct me if I’m wrong, but this statement by President Obama seemed to be the most clear statement on his part that he wasn’t buying the general line that Republican Party and that the energy industry has been putting out about Keystone for quite a while.

NAOMI KLEIN: Look, it’s an encouraging line in that he’s challenging the claim that this is a big job creator. It’s an encouraging line in that he’s clearly stating that this is about exports, it’s not about supplying oil to the U.S. domestic market, because, of course, that pipeline is being built to export terminals. And there’s, frankly, a glut of oil in the U.S. since—because of Bakken oil, because of shale oil. And this is also something that has shifted since this debate really, you know, kicked off more than three years ago. At that time, it was sort of pre-domestic oil boom in the U.S., so the idea that that oil was needed, that argument could be made more credibly, much more credibly than it can today, because there’s actually an oversupply. You know, so he’s saying some important things.

My worry is that he’s still—it’s still a technicality. He’s waiting for yet another environmental assessment. And based on the environmental assessments we’ve seen so far, you know, I’m not holding my breath for an environmental assessment that is genuinely science-based, that takes into account all of these other challenges faced by the tar sands because of all of the resistance to the other pipelines, because of the fact that communities don’t want more oil trains coming through their towns and facing potential disasters like the one in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, or even the fact that the price of oil is now much lower. And eventually, that’s going have a real impact on the Alberta tar sands, because this is—in addition to being an extremely high-carbon extractive process, it’s an extraordinarily high-cost extractive project, that really only became viable on a mass scale when oil hit $100 a barrel. It costs so much to get it out, that the price of oil has to stay high in order for investors to keep putting money into expanding their mines and so on.

And another point that is important to mention is that investors are already getting cold feet. There are three major tar sands expansion projects. These are mines that were supposed to be built to dig up that tarry bitumen. And three of these big projects have already been canceled in the past year: Shell canceled a project; Total, the French oil company, canceled a project; and most recently, Statoil, the Norwegian oil company, canceled a massive expansion project worth more than a billion dollars. And when they made that decision to cancel, one of the reasons they cited was limited pipeline capacity. In other words, they’re afraid that if they dig up that tar sands oil, they won’t be able to get it out.

So, this is why I’m saying that if Obama said no to Keystone, it would have tremendous impacts in terms of sending a message to the market that this whole idea of digging up bitumen, digging up this pool of carbon, that didn’t used to be counted—you know, a little bit more than a decade ago, all of this oil in the tar sands wasn’t even counted as part of the world’s global carbon reserves, because the global oil industry did not believe they could get it out. And now we’re starting to get a few messages that investors are starting to reassess the viability of digging up this carbon. And that’s really important because the whole idea, from a climate perspective, of drawing the line and saying, “No more tar sands pipelines,” is about saying, “Look, we can’t—you know, when you’re in a hole, you can’t keep digging.” We need to move away from extreme energy. We need to—we can’t keep doing the very thing that is at the heart of this crisis. We need to move towards renewable energy, yes, but we also simultaneously need to stop digging up high-carbon reserves of, you know, high-carbon sources.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi, I want to get your response to comments made by TransCanada CEO Russ Girling over the weekend, speaking on ABC News to Martha Raddatz Sunday.

RUSS GIRLING: I think there’s a very high probability this pipeline gets built. You know, since we started the project, you know, the demand for it has just continued to increase. Production in the U.S. is up by about two million barrels a day, and in Canada it’s up by about a million barrels a day. The need for transportation continues to grow, and the place where these producers want to put those barrels is into the Gulf Coast of the United States. So, our shippers have not wavered one bit over the last six years. They still want this to happen. And as long as they’re there, we’re going to continue to push to make it happen.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is TransCanada CEO Russ Girling. Also, as we speak, Naomi, protesters, including members of the Cowboy Indian Alliance, are gathering outside the home of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu in Washington, D.C. One sign reads, “Sen. Landrieu: if you’re not a climate denier, don’t vote like one.” Can you talk about both Girling and the fact that it’s the Democrats now that are supporting the Keystone XL?

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, well, first of all, I think what we’re hearing from Girling is spin. I mean, he’s panicked. This is a company that has several pipeline projects that are being blocked. They’ve already invested significantly. And don’t forget that TransCanada was so sure it was just going to get an easy thumbs-up, that it went ahead and bought the pipe for the Keystone XL pipeline and has been having to pay for storage. You know, so when he says he’s sure it’s going to be approved, he’s talking directly to his backers to say, “Don’t worry, don’t panic, don’t abandon TransCanada.”

Just today, a court injunction is going to be enforced in Burnaby, British Columbia, which is just outside Vancouver, because there are protesters there opposing an expansion of another TransCanada pipeline carrying tar sands oil that would go through that—that would be carrying the bitumen west to try to get onto tankers there. [Correction: After our interview, Naomi Klein contacted us with a clarification. The Burnaby pipeline that just got an injunction is owned by Kinder Morgan, not TransCanada. TransCanada is pushing a different Canadian pipeline, Energy East, that is also facing opposition.] And it’s facing fierce opposition from local people and, most importantly, from First Nations people, from indigenous people, whose rights have been affirmed by Canada’s Supreme Court again and again and again, saying that you cannot have these massive infrastructure projects without the consent of First Nations people. So, he’s panicked, not just because of Keystone, but because several big TransCanada infrastructure projects are being legally challenged. And so, he has to send that sort of message to his backers.

In terms of the protests that are happening against Mary Landrieu, I mean, I think it’s fantastic. I think the world is watching in horror as the climate becomes this prop in this Vaudevillian piece of political theater trying to save Landrieu’s rapidly tanking political career by pushing this vote forward through the Senate—I believe it will be tomorrow—so that she looks more pro-oil. And it’s just extraordinary, and it’s really an expression of the capture of American politicians by the oil industry. She’s speaking to her backers. She’s setting herself up not just potentially to win that election, which looks very unlikely, but maybe for what she’ll do when she loses that election, which is, you know, very likely getting a job as an oil and gas lobbyist. So she wants to be able to say she pushed as hard as possible to get Keystone passed, because the refineries on the Gulf Coast want to process that dirty oil.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Naomi, I’d like to ask you about the upcoming vote in the context of the recent announcement of a deal between China and the Obama administration over carbon emissions and reduction of carbon emissions over the next few decades. Could you talk about the significance of that deal and to what degree President Obama has any ability to impact such a long-term commitment?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I think the point—the point is that Obama does have the ability to impact the commitment he made in China, which there are things that—you know, it is important to say that this deal matters, in the context, the political context, of the United States post-midterm elections, where, you know, I think there’s a tremendous amount of hopelessness in climate circles about how the Republican control of Congress is going to translate into climate negotiations. And there’s a very important climate negotiation round coming up in Paris in 2015. So, that deal was important in sort of signaling, “OK, don’t count the U.S. out. Don’t count China out, as well.” And anybody who’s covered climate negotiations, as you have at Democracy Now!, knows that these summits almost invariably descend into finger pointing between the U.S. and China as they accuse one another of being the reason why no progress is possible. So, to begin the next round with U.S. and China vaguely on the same page, you know, is moderately good news.

But if we look at it from a scientific perspective, the commitments being made both by China and the U.S. are nowhere near the level of emission reductions necessary to avoid temperature increases beyond what these governments have themselves agreed to. You know, in Copenhagen, China and the U.S. agreed to keep temperatures below two degrees—a warming below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but the emission reduction target they both agreed to will send temperatures much higher than that. So, we have this gap, really, between political realities and physical realities. What is politically possible in the context of the United States clashes directly with what our planet, what it needs to avoid destabilizing climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: Where do you—

NAOMI KLEIN: And that’s why—

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Naomi.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I was just going to say that that’s why I make the argument, you know, in my book that we will not do what we need to do to prevent catastrophic warming, unless we radically change what is politically possible. That’s why this is not just about one vote in Congress or one deal that is made between China and the U.S. It is about radically shifting the pole, the political pole, away from this extreme right-wing market fundamentalism, that dominates both political parties, and creating a sense of real political possibility. This is really a political project. It’s not some sort of technocratic challenge.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Naomi, you were arrested—

NAOMI KLEIN: If I could just add—sorry, if I could just add one more thing. I think one thing that’s important to stress is that the commitments that Obama has made are mostly commitments that his successor is going to have to deliver on. You know, even though the emission reduction targets are insufficient, the hardest ones kick in well after he’s in office. So, one thing he can do right now is not make the job of his successor harder by locking in infrastructure projects, like the Keystone XL pipeline, that will increase emissions. So, one thing he can do right now is say no to Keystone XL, to prove that he isn’t just kicking the can down the road.

AMY GOODMAN: Politics are being determined in the U.S. and Canada around oil politics. You have Gregor Robertson who was re-elected as Vancouver mayor. How significant is this? And finally, you were arrested in front of the White House, along with 1,200 other people, like Bill McKibben and others, protesting the Keystone XL, what, three years ago. Do you think progress has been made?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, you know, as I’ve been saying, that landscape has shifted dramatically in those three years. And I think it has shifted, you know, when I think about what we were doing three years ago outside the White House. And the counter-arguments at the time were, “Well, it doesn’t really matter,” as I just said, “We’ll get the oil out some other way.” And now, you know, all of the arteries that would carry that bitumen out of Alberta are facing challenges.

And yeah, the re-election of Gregor Robertson, and the fact that Vancouver stood up to a huge amount of funding that was coming from the oil industry to try to beat Gregor Robertson and also other candidates from other parties that were also opposing Vancouver being more of an oil export terminal than it already is, is an indication of the huge amount of popular opposition to all of these projects. By one poll, 80 percent of people in British Columbia oppose increased oil traffic on their coast. So, you know, despite all of the money that was spent by the oil industry to try to get their candidate in elected mayor of Vancouver, they were defeated.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, we want to thank you very much for being with us. Naomi Klein, of course, is the journalist and best-selling author—her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. When we come back, Meldown: Terror at the Top of the World. Stay with us.

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