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Greens Incapable of Picking Their Battles

Oil Boom Shifts The Landscape Of Rural North Dakota

Greens made a massive mistake by picking a fight over the Keystone XL pipeline. That’s the gist of a new piece by Jonathan Chait, who writes on the dysfunctional politics and poor strategic thought in the green movement for New York Magazine:

[Environmental activist Bill McKibben] has spent several years organizing activists to single-mindedly fight against approval of the Keystone pipeline — but Keystone is at best marginally relevant to the cause of stopping global warming. The whole crusade increasingly looks like a bizarre misallocation of political attention….

McKibben and tens of thousands of his followers are obsessed with a program that amounts to a rounding error at the expense of a decision that really is the last chance to stop unrestrained global warming….

Rather than build a movement as a means toward the end of stopping Keystone, Keystone was the means toward the end of building a movement. Cap and trade was dead, Keystone was the best thing they had, so they went with it.

Keystone is just such a, well, stupid battle line to draw. If you have the time, read the whole piece to get the full picture of this strategic mistake. It all boils down to the simple fact that Canada’s tar sands oil is coming out of the ground whether or not we build the pipeline. Trucks and trains will take it to market if Obama nixes Keystone, though at a higher cost and higher risk.

But still the green movement stumbles along, filled with confidence imbued by climate science (confidence that’s looking increasingly shaky), treating the logistics of its policy proposals as secondary to the ideals underpinning them. There are some smart green voices out there, but they’re being drowned out by the Bill McKibbens and James Hansens and jailed Greenpeace pirates.

[Construction workers specializing in pipe-laying work on a section of pipeline on July 25, 2013 outside Watford City, North Dakota. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.]

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  • S.C. Schwarz

    Sadly, I think you are misinterpreting Chait’s article. The KXL fight is a publicity stunt and a successful one at that. The real action, as Chait’s says, is over at EPA where the greens are winning everything they always dreamed of. Already EPA has mandated CAFE standards of 52.5 MPG and effectively banned any new coal-fired power plants. Those are actions that would never has passed Congress but they don’t need Congress anymore. Now that CO2 is a pollutant under the CAA the EPA can do as they like. Next up will be closing down existing coal plants, requiring only zero emission cars, etc. China of course will ignore all this and will increasingly come to dominate the world as our economy crumbles.

    Only one thing can derail this agenda: if the greens/EPA (same thing really) go too fast and the public catches on to what they’re doing, and elects a Republican President, a Republican House, and 60 Republicans to the Senate then maybe the greens can be stopped. Far fetched? Sure, but it’s the only thing that might work.

  • Brian O’Connor

    “But still the green movement stumbles along, filled with confidence imbued by climate science (confidence that’s looking increasingly shaky). . .”

    I’d argue that any waning in green confidence is minimal, that it’s the science that looks increasingly shaky.

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