In 2008, one of the most controversial environmental projects was proposed: the Keystone XL Pipeline. If approved, “the proposed 1,179 mile crude oil pipeline” will run from Hardisty, Alberta to Houston, Texas. If the project is completed, the pipeline will carry 830,000 barrels of oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast every day. It is expected that as the pipeline is built,
42,000 jobs will be created, generating $2 billion of revenue in the United States. This all sounds great to Senate leader Mitch McConnell and fellow Republicans who have promised to get the pipeline approved, but the environmental concerns of the project are real.
It is expected that greenhouse gas emissions will rise 17 percent more from tar sand drilling—like the Keystone XL Pipeline—than from traditional oil extraction methods. As our planet is already overheating, these are detrimental consequences. On top of the heightened greenhouse gas emissions, Friends of the Earth predicts more ramifications, including increased production of dirty tar sands oil, increased water waste and pollution, increased forest destruction, and increased pipeline spills. Perhaps the biggest consequence: the affects of extractivism on poverty stricken areas. Author and environmentalist Naomi Klein addresses this in her new book, This Changes Everything. The book discusses the affects of climate change on capitalism and vise versa. And as with every aspect of society, climate change involves multiple economic classes.
To begin, we must look at struggling cities over the past few decades. Much of the United State’s infrastructure and public transportation has become decrepit. And it is known that much of this failing infrastructure and transportation is in low income cities, towns, and neighborhoods. These communities are most often occupied by minorities, immigrants, and those struggling on the line of poverty. There are many reasons why areas like these have failed, but we can look at polluting corporations and industries for much of the blame. Huge, wealthy industries go into cities, produce their product, pollute, and leave once they have no use for the area anymore—as the Keystone XL Pipeline is expected to do. Because of the impoverished areas where pollution is at its highest, there is no money for solutions and fixes. And here’s the catch: the lower class is not the reason that the pollution is being produced.
Ms. Klein reported that “the travel habits of the most affluent class have an impact on climate 250 percent greater than that of their lowest-earning neighbors” (113). The upper class lives in luxury, while the lower class suffers from the negative environmental impacts of a high class lifestyle. Ms. Klein also wrote that “disaster[s] revealed the huge risks that come with deep inequality, since the people who were already the most vulnerable—undocumented workers, the formerly incarcerated, people in public housing—suffered most and longest. In low-income neighborhoods, homes filled not only with water but with heavy chemicals and detergents—the legacy of systematic environmental racism that allowed toxic industries to build in areas inhabited mostly by the people of color” (106). Because the lower class has no money to pay for environmental protection, they reap the negative affects of the upper class.
Upon learning the correlation between the environmental crisis and poverty, many people are shocked. They feel that something should be done immediately. They may not know what, but something. Others have different ideas. Some may follow philosopher Edmund Burke’s teachings: equality does not exist and everyone must look up to their superiors. Someone with this mind set may say, “These people are already in poverty, so they deserve to be there and should not move up the economic ladder, even when faced with environmental consequences.” I completely disagree. Equality should be found in every corner of society, no matter someone’s past or current economic circumstances.
With the Senate just narrowly defeating the legislation that would approve construction for the Keystone XL pipeline, the future is uncertain. President Obama is expected to veto any legislation that comes his way, but the new Republican majority Congress may make that difficult. The impoverished areas that the pipeline will go through will continue to fight the proposal. At this point, we can only hope that equality supersedes the past and tradition.