The Key to Keystone

President Obama’s decision this week to halt the controversial Keystone pipeline – a hyper-conduit for oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast – sparked predictable commentary from our friends on each end of the political spectrum.

Thomas Pyle, writing in, summed up much of the criticism against the president’s decision. Michael Brune, Sierra Club’s executive director, wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that we must not only thank the president, we must also rethink how to feed our insatiable hunger for energy. For a balanced look at the decision, we find this in the Washington Post.

Such balance is important. In much of the coverage of the (temporary, politically motivated?) defeat of the Keystone project, the notion that our economy and our ecology need not be at odds seems to have gotten lost. We must reclaim and proclaim this ecology-economy link.

Indeed, the interrelation inherent within both – the fact that economies and ecologies are, in their own ways, living exchanges of resources – speaks to a similarity between them. There is a dialogue between how man uses resources and how people benefit (or are harmed) because of human choices.

This calls to mind the Catholic relational worldview. Just as God’s grace and human nature, church and state, male and female, and so much more, are meant to be in relation, ecologies and economies must speak to each other. A pristine, untouched planet is not quite in humanity’s best interest, nor is one scorched and gouged for our gluttony.

As for Keystone, the project would help resuscitate our economy. But extracting and piping oil by the millions of gallons across the nation’s heartland – and its breadbasket – would certainly be an undertaking. It would come with risks: Think offshore drilling and the BP Gulf oil spill. Still, we humans have built and managed engineering marvels before. Maintaining them becomes the question, which raises the issue of dedicated humans doing their jobs, which raises the problem of Original Sin and human greed and laziness, but that’s for another column.

For now, we should note that within hours of the president’s decisions, there is talk of alternatives. Not just sustainable alternatives like wind power and solar, but a different way of working with our Canadian cousins to safely tap their energy reserves.

Environmentalists say that this is not possible – that the wicked witch is dead and must stay so. I wonder. Because the engineer in me – and my Catholic ecological sensibilities – has me wondering if we might want to discuss this a little more, if our once great ingenuity can find a way to make this work, even if temporarily. Dialogue and reason are, after all, tools we should not so easily dismiss.

I would encourage this conversation. Because without Keystone, Canada will look for other markets and they have said something about Asia. That is uncomfortable news for two reasons: If Asia gets this fuel, the planet will still be exposed to its climate-altering byproducts – perhaps even more so – and our competitors will be promised a plentiful source of easy-to-use fuel to feed their own economies and not ours.

So before we break out the champagne, let us remember that in the real world, not everyone plays by the same rules. And so, might not it be in our best interest – and the planet’s – to commit to work with Canada to develop new ways of extracting, transporting, and using this fuel source, and to do so in clean, manageable ways?

The key to Keystone, then, seems to be our American ingenuity, one that can fuel American jobs today as it helps us transition to a clean, prosperous future for Americans not yet born.

If you like Catholic Ecology,
you’ll love…

A Printer's Choice

The sci-fi novel with a Catholic twist.

A Printer's Choice

Learn more

About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.