There is currently significant debate over the building of the Keystone XL Pipeline, planned to run approximately 1,711 miles from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada to Texas oil refineries along the Gulf of Mexico. The decision to extend the pipeline is based on calculations that it will increase economic and energy security in the United States. While there is considerable uncertainty about the validity of such a claim, there is a very high degree of certainty that should the oil sands continue to be processed, they will contribute to the deterioration of an already dire climate future.
A local, but global, threat
For the most part, the issue of the Keystone XL Pipeline has been portrayed as a North American one. However, despite the fact that the pipeline would be physically contained within the borders of two nations, Canada and the United States, its impact would be global. The pipeline processes will likely release billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (see IPCC AR4 WG3 report) and the effects of these emissions will be felt by countries across the world, particularly the most vulnerable. While President Obama is the only head of state in a position to approve the project, he will be making a decision that affects people around the world, who have little to no say in the matter.
An indicator of halting progress
The imminent approval of the pipeline is also a worrying indicator of the lack of progress the world is making toward implementing low-carbon energy solutions to combat climate change. The fact that the project is even being considered, never mind being placed on a fast-track to approval, shows that we are technologically and politically behind the times in terms of responding to rapid climate change.
As long as policy-makers continue to favor short-sighted, piecemeal (and at times, dubious) economic and energy security projects over solutions that address our long-term climate security, progress will be minimal. As President Obama has stated and implied time and again, we need to play the long game.