Brace yourself. We have something shocking to say.
Our President is inside The Big Fix, a rigged game of sorts, in which the players ultimately lose and the house takes the spoils. (‘The Big Fix’ is also the name of our new movie, which opens this week in New Orleans, next week in Los Angeles and on December 2nd in New York City – details, screening times and theaters at the end of this letter).
But back to the President – he’s in a position where he loses if he moves forward and he loses if he backs down. It’s a Catch 22 of such epic proportions that it will be remembered as a defining moment in our country – perhaps of our civilization.
As we write these words, preparations are underway to build what has become the most controversial oil pipeline in the Americas. The pipeline will span some almost 2,000 miles traversing open plains, badlands, wind swept prairies and southwestern scrub. It will sit atop the largest freshwater aquifer in the United States – the source of water for much of our nations’ crops. At only 3 feet wide and buried 4 feet below the ground, it will carry approximately 500,000 barrels of oil a day – a net worth about $50 Million – every single day. It will run across private and public property with eminent domain; no permits, permissions or concessions will be needed for the temporary work crews hired by the Canadian-based TransCanada corporation to dig trenches and lay down the sections of this massive straw to suck out Canada’s crude.
As you may already know, it’s called the Keystone XL pipeline. If you know the name, you might also know that this “gigaproject” as TransCanada calls it, is a cotter pin, on a ticking social, political, economic, resource and environmental time “gigabomb” that – regardless of whether the pin is pulled or left in – will soon explode.
The Keystone XL pipeline is a $7 Billion dollar project, the finance for which must come from somewhere. That somewhere is Wall Street – and more specifically JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup, two of the long-term underwriters of TransCanada. In 2009 (after receiving trillions in public bailouts from US taxpayers via the Bush Administration), the two banks issued a $1B bond for the oil, gas and energy company – then those same banks each bought $295M of the bond – raising not even so much as an eyebrow at the Securities and Exchange Commission. (If Martha Stewart had done this kind of inside trading, she’d be designing drapes for Folsom Prison).
This is obvious fuel to the fire of the Occupy Wall Street movement. To add salt the wound, the other entities involved in the extraction of Northern Alberta Athabasca tar sands are Royal Dutch Shell and BP – familiar names on the EPA’s ‘most wanted oil spillers’ list.
To understand the likely outcome of the pipeline issue, we need only look at recent history. First, we saw a president who committed himself to the betterment of middle and lower class Americans give the banks permission to decimate the foundation of the economy. Then after the Fukushima Diachi nuclear meltdown (which experts now believe is still spewing more radiation than Chernobyl into the atmosphere), the Obama administration stepped up its support of the US nuclear power industry. And finally, after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, taking much of the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem with it, the Obama Administration issued the first new deepwater drilling permit to a BP partnership.
This track record does not exactly inspire “Hope” for the Keystone XL issue. The question of what President Obama will do in regards to the pipeline is less a moral question and more a political conundrum. If the president does not sign the permission slip, he throws sand in the face of the largest financial institutions and the most profitable companies on the planet – right when he most needs campaign finance, media fanfare, and support from the “One Percent.” If he signs it, he goes against everything his campaign stood for – including his numerous assurances that his would be the administration to end the oil monopoly. He may also lose much of the hard left and possibly some of the center. He risks galvanizing a strong opposition of farmers, environmentalists and “Occupiers.” And finally, if he bows out of the race altogether (an unlikely but not impossible scenario), he will inevitably catapult the GOP back into power and the signing of the pipeline will be a foregone conclusion. No matter where the chips fall in this game, there is only one scenario in which the American people, the environment and the climate will not lose. That scenario is not obvious, its not easy, and its not likely. On November 6th – in a mere amount of hours, author and thinker Bill McKibben and thousands of protesters plan to encircle the White House, forming a giant ‘O’. Their demand is simple: Obama, do not sign the pipeline agreement. Perhaps McKibben and those willing to be arrested with him will win. Let us say, for argument’s sake, and for the sake of all of us who still believe in the man behind the marketing, Obama is able to defy the odds – just as he did with his rise to the presidency – and somehow he manages to both win the election and block the pipeline for another 4 years.
Surely then, its time to rejoice for we will have won a major battle. Or will we have? The harsh reality is that, protected by international treaties and billions of foreign and domestic dollars, the spiders web of TransCanada’s already existing pipelines will continue to pump tar sands sludge that will be converted to oil – that will then be converted by the banks into even greater cash prizes for a new crop of supporters in the congress and senate. Washington’s lobbyist and PR firm-lined K Street will also be drenched in “Athabasca dollars” prompting renewed support from media outlets on the left and right. In essence, we can put a chain around this tar sands beast - but it will only get stronger. And when it finally breaks free, it’s likely that nothing short of physical intervention will stop it. The real problem of course isn’t the complete lack of regulation of campaign finance or the marriage of between the banks and the oil companies. These are symptoms of a deeper cancer that has been crushing republics and replacing them with empires for over 100 years. The cancer is global demand for oil.
Despite some easing of US demand since 2007, mostly due to higher prices at the pump, global demand for liquid energy has skyrocketed. Exponential population growth coupled with rapid industrialization means the energy requirement to run our planetary experiment is growing at a step function. In essence, the United States has created its own ultimate enemy – a globe full of people who want exactly what we have. And by our own standard of capitalism, why shouldn’t they have it all? – the cars, the freeways, suburbia, iPads, supermarkets overflowing with food and Bladerunner-esque video billboards advertising our next entrainment fix? McKibben rightfully points out that America and the industrialized pockets of the world were advanced largely with energy gained by burning the oil in Saudi Arabia’s massive Ghawar field and rest of the Middle East. To industrialize another 3-4 billion people and their stuff will require a new, even greater energy source – and perhaps just as importantly – a much, much faster burn rate. In today’s game of casino capitalism, the safe bet for that energy supply is something we may soon call “’Saudi Canadia’ – The New Oil Empire.” Consider: 140,000 square miles of earth will need to be scraped away in order to fully extract the Alberta tar sands. With only about 1% of the potential oil extracted, the scar on the Earth is already visible from space. The ecological, climatological, and global consequences of this project defy comprehension. Transcanada’s sister Keystone pipeline had 14 spills last year alone. Oil spills in a pipeline with this many sections, traversing this great a distance – are inevitable.
Another inevitability is the carbon emissions. With Australia experiencing record droughts and record flooding, Thailand underwater, El Salvador recovering from flooding after Hurricane Rina, and Vermont, Nebraska and New York City digging themselves out of hurricane season, can we really afford to release as much carbon into the atmosphere again as humankind has for the past 150 years?
The Catch 22 of our thirst for oil and lack of initiative around alternatives really hit home for me and Rebecca and our team personally over the past months as we have continued our advocacy work around renewable energy. We’ve had some push back from environmentalists – many of whom feel from a logical perspective that our first priority should be to promote conservation. That’s true. That’s exactly what should be done. Logically. But the irony is that those same people who advocate for us to promote conservation are sitting in their theater seats eating a big bag of popcorn, sucking on a large soda. When the show’s over, they jump in their Subaru and head home – on gasoline. It’s an odd double standard – but it’s consistent with our generation.
The bottom line is conservation is about to happen – on never before seen national and global scale. Resource deficiencies are becoming resource crises. Shifts in weather patterns are already restricting commodity goods. Add to that the man-made disasters – spills, meltdowns, and polluted water supplies – and you have a perfect mixture for conservation – real market supply deficiencies and higher costs. In the era that’s rapidly approaching, just as in World War II, it will be quickly apparent that we have the wherewithal to conserve. What we don’t yet have, however, are the tools to live inside our modern society without fossil fuels.
While pushing the agenda of conservation of energy resources (from their coal and nuclear-powered offices in New York City and Washington D.C.), many otherwise good organizations continue to push against government legislation that will lead us toward producing alcohol fuels from hemp, algae and garbage. The situation has become so entrenched that – because of the 10% cap on blending alcohol fuel into gasoline in the United States – we export our excess alcohol fuel to Brazil. At night – tanker ships filled with American alcohol fuel pass tanker ships filled with Saudi crude oil coming into the US. We are exporting our renewable energy and importing ancient-carbon fossil energy.
The American Petroleum Institute has strategically opposed every fuel change in the United States. They figured out long ago that it’s easy to co-opt a movement when you control the information streams. It’s not surprising that most of the white papers, reports, and articles that justify the above behavior are based on outdated, false or paid-for-by-oil-company data.
A case in point is California. For all of its efforts to “be green,” California is perhaps the most backward of the 52 states when it comes to fuel. California imports its alcohol fuel for blending into its gasoline (to add oxygen and clean up the dirty gasoline) – from Brazil. The state has actually made it illegal to use alcohol fuel from the United States (which produces so much alcohol fuel we ship our fuel to Brazil). California has mandated an alcohol export / import system – based on a carbon equation that fails to account for the total shipping and fails to take into account the potential carbon benefits from sustaining domestic renewable energy sources. Indeed, as the largest fuel consumer in the United States, my current state of residence, is one of the most influential contributors to the lack of progress in liquid renewable fuels.
Other “green” states are also at fault. We need only look as far as Bill McKibben’s (and Rebecca’s) home state of Vermont. This “Green Mountain State” is the poster child for anti-corporate, rabble rousing, individualistic patriotism. But the little patch of bucolic Rockewellian America is one of the only states in the US without even one alcohol fuel pump.
So, off its off to Washington DC the protesters go – fueled by the very thing they are protesting.
From the perspective of oil companies like TransCanada and the banks that reap the spoils of their work, there must be a sweet irony in watching the protest movement – knowing the whole while, that many of them oppose alternatives – and knowing they’ll leave just as they came – in their petroleum fueled cars, trains and buses.
If we truly wish to stop the entities responsible for reckless destruction of our natural resources we must severe our dependence on those entities. Until we coalesce a genuine movement to make, buy and use energy from fuel sources other than petroleum, coal and uranium– the house will continue to take the spoils – the players will continue to lose – and we will all be trapped inside The Big Fix.
Very truly yours,
Josh Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell
& the Green Planet Team
THE BIG FIX
Showtimes and Openings
Started Friday November 4th at 7pm
Runs for one week at Chalemette Movies
8700 West Judge Perez Drive
showtimes daily at 2pm and 7pm
Saturday November 12th and Sunday November 13th
Saturday at 12noon and 2:30pm
Sunday at 12noon and 7pm
AMC Loews Broadway on the Third Street Promenade
*Q&A with the Filmmakers
NEW YORK CITY
Opens Friday – November 2nd
AMC Village 7
Check AMC web site or http://www.thebigfixmovie.com for showtimes
*Q&A with the Filmmakers