The big new concept in Obama’s Keystone XL decision
Though President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline garnered headlines, it was the rationale behind the rejection that may prove historic. Rather than emphasizing particular concerns along Keystone’s route, Obama adopted a more global frame — one that has been an emerging theme of recent climate scholarship and environmental activism.
Preventing large regions of Earth from becoming inhospitable, Obama argued, requires “keep(ing) some fossil fuels in the ground.” That way of thinking appears significantly different than the litmus test Obama set for Keystone in 2013, when he said he would approve the pipeline only “if it does not significantly exacerbate the climate problem.”
The thing is, no single pipeline can “significantly exacerbate” climate change. As my students have computed, Keystone would have represented only a tiny share of both our CO2 emissions and our oil supply.
But with the new keep-it-in-the-ground logic, the Obama administration is playing a bigger game: addressing the global climate challenge independent of the particulars of Keystone.
Prior to Friday, the administration’s efforts for carbon mitigation focused primarily on demand: curbing end users’ consumption of fossil fuels. Demand-side successes have included tough new standards for vehicle efficiency, appliances, and lighting.