The Obama administration has decided to delay a decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline until after the 2012 election. This is an extraordinary achievement for the thousands of grassroots activists who put ourselves on the line -- and is clear evidence for the environmental movement that directly targeting President Obama works, and probably works better than any other strategy (kudos especially to 350.org, Bill McKibben, Bold Nebraska's Jane Kleeb and Friends of the Earth).
As amazing as this progress is, however, let's not delude ourselves: President Obama is just kicking the climate can down the road to a point when he may not even be in a position to decide its fate. In the not-unlikely scenario that he loses re-election, approving the tar sands pipeline will be an easy way for President Romney to give Big Oil a huge thank you gift for all the help they provide him during the 2012 election. This decision just puts off a green light for the tar sands by a year. And it's unclear to what extent the administration is really reconsidering the pipeline, or just reconsidering the poorly chosen pipeline route.
That's why I'm a little dismayed at suggestions that this kick-the-can decision means environmentalists will enthusiastically back President Obama in 2012. Is the price of an environmentalist's vote a year's delay on environmental catastrophe? Excuse me, no.
We cannot abandon the tough approach that brought victory even as the administration throws us a bone. Shifting the pipeline route is helpful, but it doesn't get at the bigger problem that exploiting the tar sands is a climate catastrophe and deadly to millions of acres of boreal forests and their songbirds. The fuse on the tar sands carbon bomb was just made a year longer, but let's not forget that it's still burning.
And let's not forget that despite quite positive moves on fuel efficiency, the Obama administration weekly announces what RL Miller has called mini-Keystones: greenlighting major fossil fuel projects relatively under the radar like a coal mine on public land outside Bryce Canyon, massive expansion of offshore drilling, failing to regulate coal ash sufficiently, or letting coal plants off the hook on water use.
In other words, the climate crisis is still spinning out of control and Obama is seeking to split the difference. Unfortunately, splitting the difference doesn't work when you're dealing with planetary physics. It's getting a lot hotter out there, more species are dying, more states are bursting into flames and countries drowning in floods. Obama's instinctual conflict avoidance just isn't going to cut it when it comes to the existential task of saving the planet. For the sake of the planet and our country, he's got to get over it.
Bill, Jane, and thousands of activists have got Obama on the ropes on this one. Let's push a little more and defuse this carbon bomb once and for all.