Trump and oil pipelines; the highway to hell?
Climate justice is heavily needed globally. It might be surprising to hear that this is the case even in the US, but freedoms and rights of human beings in a supposedly ‘developed’ country are overtly less valued than those who profit directly off fossil fuels.
Climate justice refers to seeking fairness for the overall social-ecological systems which are being overtly exploited and disrespected to the benefit of the self-seeking.
The US government, even prior to the Trump inauguration, had allowed the militarisation of energy infrastructure most notably in recent times to protect the interests of Energy Transfers Limited and its stakeholders in the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). This is infrastructure that will not only contribute to social and environmental injustice (although in most cases these are synonymous) but also affect people globally and in the United States of America; The very people Trump professes to care deeply about.
“Trump is already proving to be the dangerous threat to our climate that we feared he would be.” –the Sierra Club-
The only way climate justice can be truly achieved is through a low-carbon sustainable energy system. But this rucks up against a rather large obstacle.
In terms of US energy policy, it is the actors and agendas preventing the US from adhering to its ratified commitment to establish an absolute reduction in net GHGs by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. That’s an absolute reduction. The US is the world’s 2nd largest total CO2 emitter and the 3rd largest per capita emitter, so it is crucial on a global scale that these goals are achieved. Especially because, even with current US policies like the Clean Power Plan, the US would only reduce emissions by 9% below 2005 levels by 2025.
The spanner in the works is the trillion-dollar spanner who recently entered the Whitehouse. He professes that plans to prevent irreversible climatic changes, such as Obama’s Climate Action Plan, are more harmful and unnecessary than the damages that will ensue if they are not fully enforced. This inherently regressive and short-sighted thinking is putting people and energy infrastructure at logger-heads.
So, with a proposed emissions reduction of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025 being not nearly enough coupled with a toupee-wearing kleptocrat steering the ship, is everyone on board destined to drown?
Another overtly uncivilised and autocratic aspect of pipelines in the US is made clear by the response of the state of North Dakota through the evident militarisation of energy infrastructure. At the end of last year, Standing Rock was the picture of peaceful human rights defenders being met with batons and tear-gas wielded by violent defenders of an insentient metal tube. Interesting case of hypocrisy when it was Trump used the word, ‘totalitarian’, to describe the Environmental Protection Agency.
Humorously, the cost of the controversial law enforcement efforts throughout the protests at Standing Rock against the pipeline cost the state more than the annual revenue that North and South Dakota will receive from the construction of DAPL.
If one looks at the first ten days of Trump’s regime, the reversal of the Obama administration’s decision to halt the construction of DAPL is one rather large smack in the face of the millions of people worldwide who unified against the pipelines completion. In the following week, the regime then gave Energy Transfers the permission to avoid carrying out a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Today’s neo-colonialist methods of appropriating the lands of the marginalised thus comes of little surprise to those who are aware of the history of how America came to be a supposedly ‘civilised’ and ‘developed’ society. Trump’s tedious campaign promise of making ‘America Great Again’ forces one to remember the ways in which America was ever ‘great’ before. Ever since the first colonialist set foot on what is now American soil, indigenous people were treated as sacrificial lambs for the benefit of natural resource profiteers. Today’s oil hungry politicians and businessmen are no different.
On a transnational scale, a civil society furore has gone global since throngs of people travelled to Standing Rock to protest DAPL in North Dakota which would harness the flows of crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. This pipe has already churned through contested Native American treaty lands and ancestral burial sites because of a historical lack of recognition, or regard, for indigenous rights in corporate and federal energy development agendas. The nature of oil pipelines is that they eventually corrode or fail in some way results in the spilling of crude oil.
Over the course of ten months in 2016 alone, there was 220 significant incidents of oil pipeline spills; significant being the official jargon for an incident that resulted in a death, injury or extensive property damage. Again, all these incidents legitimise the fears surrounding DAPL. The effects of these incidents have affected the lives of American people while the costs of clearing up such incidents is no disincentive for profiteers, being just a mere drop in the oil tainted bucket that big energy corporations call their pockets.
Nearly two-thirds of the leaks during this time have been linked to corrosion or material, welding and equipment failures, problems often associated with older pipelines, although they also can occur in newer ones, too. Pipelines are often treated like another piece of societal infrastructure, like a bridge or road. But other than inspections, there’s no sure-fire way to guarantee an aging pipeline’s integrity. The fact that the Trump administration has claimed that US energy policies will fully utilise energy sources, whilst protecting, “…our clean air, clean water, and natural habitats.”, is laughable considering the precedent of pipeline incidents and the nature of the very substance that is being transported.
Energy policy embedded in political hypocrasy
Trump has claimed that he, “understands American cronyism.”, and that he can rid American politics of it.
But if this is the case then his declaration to do everything possible to clear away all regulatory restraints on oil infrastructure operations, including environmental restrictions, is fundamentally flawed. It also adds to Trump’s, rapidly growing resume of hypocritical prowess as the new Secretary of energy was on the board of Energy Transfer Partners. Additionally, one of the biggest financial backers of Trump’s campaign will be one of DAPL’s major users. Ridding the swamp of energy cronies just isn’t going to happen.
An open letter, that rose from what appeared to be the burning ashes of corporate responsibility, was signed by the likes of Gap Inc., NIKE, Unilever, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Starbucks and others. It stated that a failure to build a low-carbon economy, “puts American prosperity at risk.”
If corporations, without the tied responsibilities that states have, can simply acknowledge the importance of the 2-degree threshold for their businesses, then Trump should reflect on his own reputation as a businessman.
Demanding social justice within energy infrastructure
The battle against DAPL is a supply-side strategy to diminish fossil fuel infrastructure projects and includes other gargantuan pipeline proposals like Keystone XL (KXL). KXL has also been the target of mass public disproval and is again following the Trump regime’s recent decision to revive it.
It took over five years of protests, sit-ins, letter writing, and a presidential review to prevent the Keystone XL oil pipeline from being built. In the end, it was decided against because it was not in the national interest to construct it. Similarly, DAPL will not create the jobs its being claimed to, nor will it increase production or demand in the way beneficiaries suggest. So, if it’s not a change in national interest that’s driving this, then who? Why, the interest of the fossil fuel thirsty, climate sceptics who will directly profit, of course!. The swamp is evidently getting deeper, not more shallow.
In defence of pipelines…
“Complete American energy independence… complete, complete.”
These are Trump’s words. Pipelines are claimed to have an ability to increase energy security and supply for the US. But a recent decision by Congress to allow exportation of oil overseas makes a suspect of this assertion. It is argued that KXL is necessary to increase America’s energy and economic security. But this is contested by large swathes of evidence which point towards much of the 830,000 barrels of oil a day transported by Keystone being exported away from the US. Considering the economic reality of low oil prices worldwide, efforts to boost fossil fuel production for national security is not only highly questionable but is likely to be an investment into a pipeline to ‘net energy exporter’, instead of nationalist ‘security’.
Pipelines are claimed to be a far more time efficient, less costly method of transporting oil across geopolitical areas. However, this does not justify a compromise on human rights and environmental health, neither does it do anything to prevent the infamous red line of a two-degree global temperature increase. If a truly low-carbon energy system is to be created, the world should be concerned with the US’ movements to add to the already entangled quagmire of widespread pipelines across the US.
Trump said himself that he aimed to make “full use” of the US’ energy resources. However, extractive fossil fuels require continual drilling and mining of new areas to sustain production. This is not an efficient use of land as a resource.
In defence of human rights…
Subsequently, although supply-side tactics are perhaps not hugely effective in physically decreasing emissions (as it is demand that essentially drives the engine of the global economy), supply-side tactics are symbolic. The President, claiming to ‘drain the swamp’ of corporate monopoly, is now faced with a resistance of a (global) anti-pipeline resistance.
Such a movement is holding big corporations accountable for the consequences of undemocratic energy development. The choices made today will decide what side of history the people are on. People against pipelines are being violated physically and in the writings of new laws in the name of profit, not jobs, the economy or energy independence. Nation-wide and global lobbying against pipelines is a fight against injustice not only to climate but to the individual citizen. Trump may think that the US’ environmental agenda will deal only with “real” environmental issues-clean air and water- but that is just a reflection of his misconception about the what language surrounding the environment actually means. The social movements surrounding energy should reflect that, by caring about decisions regarding energy, it reflects a care for environmental rights as human rights.
By founding social movements on climate justice, it forces those to realise the interconnectedness of such issues. DAPL protests called for an international lobby of organisations and people, crucial to take on bigger challenges which are undoubtedly to come in a Trumped up world.