The Keystone Pipeline and Occupying Hope

Courtesy of NWFblogs
It’s not every day that the Tea Party and the Sierra Club  join forces. But the growing debate over the Keystone oil pipeline expansion has done just that. Others are taking their protest to the streets.

Haven’t heard of Keystone? Wikipedia has a good summary of the proposed pipeline, and Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson at the Washington Post have an excellent summary of the eco-political debate about it. From their story comes the following snippets to show us a little of the Keystone fallout: 

In mid-October, [Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton told an audience at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club that she and others in the administration were “inclined” to give TransCanada the permit [to construct Keystone], adding, “We’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada.”
In many ways, her comments were simply a blunt version of the argument made by TransCanada and U.S. oil producers and refiners: The pipeline will secure a more reliable source of petroleum.
Over the next months, Canadian officials continued to press for approval of the permit [. . . ] At the same time, an unlikely coalition of farmers, ranchers and other residents along the pipeline’s route from Nebraska to Texas stepped up its opposition. The Sierra Club joined with tea party activists to protest the pipeline, while Nebraska’s Republican Gov. Dave Heineman said it threatens his state’s Ogallala aquifer.
By August a group of environmental leaders [. . .] was able to enlist more than a thousand opponents willing to be arrested outside the White House, including actresses Daryl Hannah and Margot Kidder. The two-week demonstration prompted a flurry of calls between White House offices and State, sources said, as administration officials asked to be briefed about the project’s status.

[. . .]
Some major Obama donors have threatened to withhold campaign contributions unless the president kills the project; both environmental and labor activists have raised the issue with his campaign staff.

Both publicly and privately, however, Obama administration officials have told environmentalists they are better off with the president in office than without him.


"When Americans compare the president’s record promoting clean energy and America’s energy security to those of the leading Republican candidates, who don’t even believe that climate change is an issue that we need to address and would cede the clean-energy market to China, there will be no question about who will continue our progress,” campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt wrote in an e-mail.

From this one, if massive, proposed project comes massive, if predictable, battles along eco-political-industry divides. We see such debates often. But this one seems different. It’s generating searing passion. The question is, why? What’s got everyone fired up? There are many reasons: the size of the project, the memory of the BP oil spill, the certainty that other, safer sources of energy should be our focus. But there's another facet to this story: We live in a new age of protest. The Occupy movements assembled across America and, indeed, the globe, are symptoms of unrest and anger over a crumbling world that seems to offer no real hope.

But there is hope for those who seek it.

In his second letter to the Church and the world, Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI writes that 

day by day, man experiences many greater or lesser hopes, different in kind according to the different periods of his life. Sometimes one of these hopes may appear to be totally satisfying without any need for other hopes. Young people can have the hope of a great and fully satisfying love; the hope of a certain position in their profession, or of some success that will prove decisive for the rest of their lives. When these hopes are fulfilled, however, it becomes clear that they were not, in reality, the whole. It becomes evident that man has need of a hope that goes further. It becomes clear that only something infinite will suffice for him, something that will always be more than he can ever attain. In this regard our contemporary age has developed the hope of creating a perfect world that, thanks to scientific knowledge and to scientifically based politics, seemed to be achievable. Thus Biblical hope in the Kingdom of God has been displaced by hope in the kingdom of man, the hope of a better world which would be the real “Kingdom of God”. This seemed at last to be the great and realistic hope that man needs. It was capable of galvanizing—for a time—all man's energies. The great objective seemed worthy of full commitment. In the course of time, however, it has become clear that this hope is constantly receding. Above all it has become apparent that this may be a hope for a future generation, but not for me. 
[. . . ]
Let us say once again: we need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain. 

People who have lost hope are standing up and marching together on the streets of the world. Some of these gatherings have turned violent—some have struck at the very truth that can offer the world true hope. While anarchist opportunists may seek to hijack the Occupy movements, among the protesters are also many human souls striving for a world of justice, goodness, equality and fairness.

But as the Keystone project reminds us, we do not live yet in the Promised Land. Here, outside Eden, the designs of men are never failsafe. A pipeline to provide oil from North America—and in so doing create jobs and release some of our attachment to the Middle East—is resisted because it may do great harm to real places, real people, and, perhaps, encourage harm to the very climate that sustains us in its global distribution of moisture and thermal energy. And indeed, the project's method of extracting oil comes with even more risks. In short, a project with so much potential for good brings with it so much potential for evil. 

What we need to remember is that all this is equally true for our political, economic and regulatory designs. There can be no new-world order, no overthrow of the current systems, that will usher in an age without human failing and many crosses.

Welcome to life in a fallen world.

Thus, we heed the Holy Father’s words above: This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain. 

Let us pray, then, that the youth of this world seek first the Kingdom of God, so that all good things may come to them and to all people. May their hopelessness and righteous anger be transformed to great joy—a joy and a peace found only when one loves God and neighbor in the most radical, hopeful and real way. 

And if there's something about the Keystone debate that I've left out, please share it in the comment section.

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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.