The protesters lying prone on the roadway and chaining themselves to General Electric Co.’s 900,000-pound megaload shipment to the oil sands of western Canada are doing more than just slowing the caravan’s lumbering trek.
The environmentalists are once again trumpeting the classic American battle cry: “Not in my backyard.”
Our need for gasoline has for decades put the nation in bed with despots and mad men in the oil-rich Middle East. “Energy independence” is a catch phrase of our time.
But when the rubber hits the road, as it has in Oregon, people don’t want to be anywhere near the alternatives.
The protesters harassing the oil purification equipment destined to pass through Fairfield, Carey and Arco in a matter of days no doubt drove gas-powered cars to their demonstration site.
The environmental movement points to the quality of the oil extracted from tar sands, like those in Alberta, when arguing against the process. Tar sand oil is about 17 percent “dirtier” than Middle Eastern crude, according to a report published last month by the International Energy Agency. That equates to even more greenhouse gases spewed into the atmosphere.
But IEA chief economist Fatih Birol put those findings into context in an interview with The Globe and Mail of Toronto.
“The difference in getting oil from oil sands when compared to conventional oil, it is such a small contribution that it will be definitely wrong to highlight this as a major source of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide,” Birol told the newspaper. Coal-fired power plants that electrify most of the planet are the biggest problem, he said.
Gas-burning engines are indeed a worldwide contributor to rising carbon dioxide emissions. Earlier this year, CO2 levels in the atmosphere surpassed 400 parts-per-million for the first time in recorded history, the highest level in more than 1 million years, according to ice core samples analyzed by National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists. NASA has tracked a pronounced spike in atmospheric greenhouse gas levels over the past 50 years, as industrialization swept across humanity.
But megaload protesters are picking the wrong fight. We need oil to maintain the most basic norms of modern life, and getting it from Canada or Alaska sure beats enriching Middle Eastern princes and South American dictators.
The American auto industry has only half-heartedly tried researching other methods of powering vehicles. In the past century, mankind has spilt the atom, landed on the moon and created an informational Web that moves at the speed of light. Yet, the internal combustion engine remains our main vehicle of transportation. It’s an example of a lack of political will, not ability.
Something that happens outside of view still happens. And insisting that oil production take place as far from North America as possible is a wrongheaded, unreasonable approach.
But, as the megaload protesters once again prove, Americans love things out of sight and out of mind.