The Climate Scientist and the Pipeline

Editor’s Note: William Y. Brown responds to John M. Broder’s New York Times article,

Report May Ease Path for New Pipeline

, on the 1,700 mile Keystone XL pipeline.

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline say carbon emissions make tar sands oil a “dirty” fuel, and so it should not be sent to the United States from Canada. True, the whole process from extraction to incineration produces more carbon emissions than oil from conventional reserves, as the State Department’s environmental impact statement concludes.

But what about coal? Coal gives off significantly more carbon emissions per unit of energy than tar sands oil. If tar sands are dirty, then coal is dirtier. Yet United States coal exports have soared from 50 million tons in 2006 to more than 125 million tons in 2012 — a record high, with exports to China doubling.

Earth’s climate doesn’t care where the coal is burned. A proposed pipeline may make a good target for protest, but doesn’t what we are doing with everyday coal speak more to what matters?