Politics & Policy

Obama’s Keystone Madness

(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Why would an American president oppose something that would improve Americans’ lives?

Speaking from Burma November 14, President Obama explained why he is inclined to veto the Keystone-pipeline bill: “My government believes that we should judge this pipeline based on whether or not it accelerates climate change or whether it helps the American people with their energy costs and their gas prices,” he said. “And I have to constantly push back against this idea that somehow the Keystone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States, or is somehow lowering gas prices.”

The president’s comments were truly remarkable. The Keystone pipeline is a real, and huge, infrastructure project that would pay for itself, without taxpayer funding. Furthermore, its purpose is to allow oil from Canada and North Dakota to reach the world market more economically. Therefore it would facilitate U.S. economic growth in several ways:

1. It would help the development of oil production in North Dakota directly. This would produce jobs and income in North Dakota, increase tax revenue, and improve America’s balance of payments and energy security.

2. It would help the development of Canadian oil production directly, and therefore increase income in Canada. The Canadian economy is really a subset of the North American economy, as there is direct division of labor on the production of many goods across the border, and the vast majority of Canadian imports are bought from the United States. Canadian oil also helps improve American energy security, as it is not vulnerable to being cut off by the vagaries of radical Muslim politics or even world war.

3. Helping oil from Canada and North Dakota reach the world market serves to lower the global price of oil. The U.S. produces 7 million barrels of oil per day at present, but uses 18 million barrels per day. We are thus the largest net importer of oil in the world, and anything that serves to lower the price of oil benefits the United States. Thus, as a general rule we should want oil production from every country in the world to find an easy path to the world market. If Tajikistan needs assistance getting its oil to the market, we should see what we can do to help out.

There is an exception to this general rule, however, and that is for entities like Iran and ISIS that are enemies of the United States and that would use their oil revenues to do us harm. If the Obama administration truly wanted to stop the Iranian nuclear-bomb program, it could do so by striking Iran’s extremely vulnerable oil-export terminal on Kharg Island. This would eliminate the Iranian government’s primary source of revenue, and thus end not only its nuclear-weapons effort, but probably the regime itself. Similarly, if the Obama administration actually wanted to defeat ISIS, it could strike a powerful blow by bombing all the oil wells that the terrorist pseudo-state is using to generate its $20 million per day of income. This tactic is so obvious that some planners at the Pentagon have actually realized its potential and tried it out. Unfortunately, however, their efforts are being limited by others in and around the administration who allege it could be too potent, because if ISIS fails to deliver oil to civilians, this would supposedly play right into the hands of the group’s anti-U.S. propaganda. As the Brookings Institution’s Charles Lister put it in a recent policy document, “The fact that recent coalition strikes have targeted oil at its source – rather than its means of transport or sale, for example — may prove deeply damaging to the international community’s efforts to counter ISIS.”

So the administration’s tactic of trying to block oil and gas from reaching the world market has been directed primarily against Canada and North Dakota, and to a lesser extent the rest of the United States (through export restrictions and delays in approving necessary facilities), rather than our nation’s enemies. The sanity of such a policy is questionable, to say the least.

Obama’s other point, that “we should judge this pipeline based on whether or not it accelerates climate change,” has even more remarkable implications. It is true, as administration opponents have argued, that whether Canadian oil reaches the world market through the Keystone pipeline or via a more expensive route making use of Obama donor Warren Buffett’s railroad, its combustion will release exactly the same amount of carbon dioxide, and so, inasmuch as such things matter (they don’t), the direct effects on “climate change” would be the same. However, Obama is correct on a deeply irrational level, because by allowing oil from Canada and North Dakota to reach the world market by a cheaper route, the Keystone pipeline would serve to lower oil prices, and thus facilitate global economic growth. Therefore, if human beings are affecting the climate, the Keystone Pipeline would, in fact, indirectly increase their impact. The same point, however, can be made about any other action, law, or innovation that helps humanity.

Consider: If an American goes to the supermarket and buys groceries, regardless of their origin, he or she is bidding up the price of agricultural commodities, internationally. This then encourages the growth of agriculture everywhere and thus, plausibly, deforestation. So anything that allows Americans to buy increased quantities of groceries can be said to cause deforestation and thus global warming. Not only that, but any policy or technological development that contributes to income growth or increased levels of employment in the United States or anywhere else needs to be prevented, because it will allow more people to buy more things, and cause more things to be produced, with increased carbon emissions as a necessary result. So, according to the Obama criteria, instead of seeking to stimulate the economy in any way, we should be seeking to depress it.

And even that is not all. According to Obama’s indirect-effects methodology, public education should also be made as ineffective as possible, because good education leads to higher incomes. And health care needs to be wrecked, since by keeping people alive it also increases their total purchases. Taxes should be increased, because higher taxes suppress economic growth, and any revenue so obtained should be spent as inefficiently as possible, to prevent it from contributing to advances in science, technology, or medicine. If Obama’s criteria are accepted, then otherwise commendable activity in combatting actual toxic air pollution should be reversed, since by reducing the rates of smog-induced cancer, it extends lives of consumers, thereby allowing them to continue to buy things, and thus further increase global warming. Vitamins, antibiotics, public sanitation, and clean drinking water should also be banned, or at least made inaccessible to most people, for the same reason.

So, to summarize, according to Obama’s criteria, all measures that improve the economy, education, health, the environment, science, or technology are to be condemned. The logic is clear: So long as humanity engages in any activities that cause carbon emissions, anything that helps humanity can also be said to cause global warming. In consequence, effective representative government itself must also be eliminated, because if the people have control of governmental power, they might very well use it to better their condition, rather than allow it to be used to enforce their impoverishment.

It would thus appear that Obama’s obstinate opposition to Keystone is a symptom of a much broader and more consequential form of irrationality, or ideology, which may best be described by the term antihumanism. The question is this: Is the madness in the method, or is there method in the madness? I leave it to the reader to decide.

— Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Energy, a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy, and the author of Energy Victory. The paperback edition of his latest book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, was recently published by Encounter Books.

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