Environmental activist calls plan for Canada pipeline a disaster

Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben made two appearances in San Luis Obispo to sound the alarm about global climate change and lobby against a proposed oil pipeline from Canada to Texas.

McKibben spoke to a sold-out crowd Sunday at the Fremont theater and held a question-and-answer session with a group of about 50 Cal Poly students and instructors Monday. A main theme was opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would bring heavy tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico in Texas.

“If you tap the tar sands, it’s essentially game over for the environment,” he argued.

He described efforts to block the pipeline as “a rare flashpoint” that has prompted the biggest civil disobedience movement in 30 years. More than 160 protesters were arrested at the White House in August and another large protest is planned for Sunday.

The tar sands fields of Alberta are the second-largest reserve of oil after Saudi Arabia. Tapping the tar sands will continue the world’s dependence on oil and further exacerbate climate change, which is already at a tipping point, he said.

At Monday’s Cal Poly event, McKibben urged students to visit the Democratic Party office in San Luis Obispo with the message for the Obama administration that the support of young voters, which was crucial in 2008, is in question in 2012 if the president does not block the pipeline.

Because the pipeline crosses an international border, Obama has the authority to stop it without the approval of Congress, he said. Obama has said he will make up his mind on the issue by the end of the year.

McKibben called estimates that the pipeline will create 20,000 jobs “a gross overstatement.” A recent Cornell University study put the employment number at 3,000 to 4,000 temporary jobs.

A better way to create domestic jobs would be to put solar panels on the roofs of millions of homes and weatherize them.

“Nobody is going to put their house on a boat and send it to China to be weatherized,” he said.

Despite of the challenges facing the environment, progress has been made, McKibben said. Three-quarters of Americans believe in global warning, and that is beginning to affect politics, he said.

“People who don’t believe in global warming are doing so out of ideology rather than science,” he said.

One reason belief in climate change is up is due to the fact that nature keeps sending messages that it is real, he said. These include massive wildfires in Texas over the summer and Hurricane Irene in August that caused widespread damage along the East Coast as far north as Canada.