Nobel Laureates Speak out in Washington Post against Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

Nobel Laureates Advertisement Washington Post

An advertisement in the Washington Post featured a letter from ten Nobel Laureates who are asking President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline based on its significant impact to the climate.  The advertisement sponsored by NRDC, the Nobel Women’s Initiative, and Environmental Defence Canada reproduced the letter in full which said “as leaders who have spoken out strongly on these issues, we urge you, once again, to be on the right side of history and send a clear message that you are serious about moving beyond dirty oil.”

The letter is timely as President Obama recently made climate a key issue in his review of the pipeline. In a climate speech, he said he would reject the Keystone XL pipeline if it had significant climate impacts.

“Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

The Nobel Laureates said that approving Keystone XL is not consistent with combatting climate change.

“Our shared climate cannot afford the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline … Now is the time for unwavering leadership.”

It is clear the Keystone XL would have significant climate impacts and here is why:

  • The greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands are already significantly higher than conventional oil.  The State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency both conclude that emissions from tar sands are 81 percent higher than conventional oil on a wheel to tank basis. These are conservative comparisons and do not account for higher emissions associated with the burning of petroleum coke, a byproduct from the tar sands refining process or land use change emissions and a variety of other carbon-intensive factors that further exacerbate the climate impacts of tar sands development.   
  • In fact, the EPA in comments to the State Department that the additional emissions from the tar sands the pipeline would transport over its 50 year lifetime would have the equivalent climate impacts as running 265 coal fired power plants for one year (935 million metric tons CO2e).   The additional emissions is also the equivalent to the annual emissions from Canada in one year.
  • Other pipelines and forms of transport for tar sands are unlikely to move at all or at least in the near future.  There are considerable barriers facing other pipeline projects such as the Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan, and Energy East pipelines which face major opposition in Canada and considerable legal hurdles.  Rail transportation has also been debunked as an economic alternative that could facilitate the movement of large volumes of tar sands fuel.

It is time that the U.S. State Department correct the serious errors that wrongly concluded the pipeline would not have a serious impact on climate.  Congressional leaders have also  called on the State Department to fix these errors. This leaves Keystone XL as the primary driver to begin a massive expansion of tar sands development and would therefore lead to massive climate consequences.  And this is why President Obama and Secretary Kerry need to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline as not in the national interest.

Here is a little more information about the Nobel Laureates who signed the letterdrawn from the Nobel Women’s Initiative:

Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize, 1976, Ireland was awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her in Ireland where she led the creation of a movement to build a just and peaceful society in Northern Ireland.  For six months, she and Betty Williams organized peace rallies throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom attended by thousands of people helping to significantly decrease the rate of violence in the country.

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize 1980, Argentina was secretary-general of a group coordinating nonviolent movements in the region. Because of his work for human rights across Latin America, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel became a target of the military dictatorship imprisoned and tortured by the Argentinean military for 14 months. Upon his release, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel continued his work working for human rights and tdemocracy for the people of Latin America.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize 1984, South Africa is one of the greatest living moral icons of our time who was a key role player in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. The first black South African Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, Archbishop Tutu spoke out against the injustices of the apartheid system. He became a prominent leader in the crusade for justice and racial conciliation in South Africa. In 1986 Bishop Tutu was elevated to Archbishop of Cape Town, and became a principal mediator and conciliator in the transition to democracy in South Africa.

Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Nobel Peace Prize, 1992, Guatemala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation work based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples in her native Guatemala. She is the first indigenous person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize spearheading the first indigenous party in Guatemala running for President most recently in 2011.

José Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace Prize, 1996, East Timor fought for the independence of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste after more than 400 years of Portuguese occupation. Ramos-Horta was appointed FRETILIN’s Minister for External Affairs and Information and following an invasion of the country by Indonesia he was a permanent representative at the United Nations — the youngest diplomat in the history of the UN.  

Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize, 1997, USA received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to ban landmines through the International Campaign to Ban Landmines becoming the 10th in its almost 100-year history to receive the Prize.  She has been a life-long advocate of freedom, self-determination and human and civil rights. With others, Jody helped establish the Nobel Women’s Initiative. 

Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize, 2003, Iran was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to promote human rights, in particular, the rights of women, children, and political prisoners in Iran. She is the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Ebadi was one of the first female judges in Iran and served as president of the city court of Tehran from 1975 to 1979 achieving Chief Justice status. After the Islamic Revolution in February 1979, she was dismissed but continued with her work and has taken on many controversial cases defending political dissidents and as a result has been arrested numerous times. 

Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize, 2011, Liberia received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work leading a women’s peace movement that brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. Leymah mobilized an interreligious coalition of Christian and Muslim women and organized the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement.  Her leadership led to thousands of women staging pray-ins and nonviolent protests that helped push President Charles Taylor into exile leading to the election of Africa’s first female head of state.

Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize, 2011, Yemen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 in recognition of her work in nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peacebuilding work in Yemen. Tawakkol is a journalist and human rights activist who responded to the political instability and human rights abuses in Yemen mobilizing others while reporting on injustices.