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Dirty Oil and the Christian Life

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17 April 2013 One Comment

Boreal forest and tar sands extraction

The Christian life is not just about introspection and feeling God’s presence: it sometimes requires us to do things. Tomorrow in Grand Island, Nebraska the United States Department of State will hold a public hearing  on the proposed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. If approved, this pipeline will transport some of the world’s dirtiest oil across the American Great Plains to refineries near the Gulf of Mexico. There it will be turned into low-grade fuel for export abroad, mostly to countries without clean air regulations.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, this oil will do nothing to move the United States toward energy independence because it will not be consumed domestically. Moreover, most people have neglected to notice that the oil belongs to Canada, not the United States. Clearly large multi-national oil companies are bullying Nebraska landowners and spreading misinformation to the public in order to maximize their profits.

But, even if the oil did belong to the United States and even if it were earmarked for domestic consumption, we should not allow this pipeline to be built. The process used to extract Tar Sands oil has destroyed and will continue to destroy ancient Boreal forests in Canada. If the process stopped today, the land would not recover in a time meaningful to human beings. If the pipeline is built, it will cross the Ogallala Aquifer centered in Nebraska. This aquifer contains the vast reserve of ground water and contributes significantly to the success of agriculture on the Great Plains. A leak similar to the one that took place in Arkansas a few weeks ago could contaminate the aquifer putting millions at risk. Yet there is more. If this oil is actually turned into fuel and burned, it will contribute to the buildup of atmospheric carbon at rates higher than oil extracted from other sources, which are themselves problematic.

The construction of this pipeline and the burning of this oil represents an egregious abuse of human freedom. By doing these things we reckless endanger the future viability of the earth to sustain human beings and other forms of life. For present profit, we are mortgaging the lives of all coming generations. How can this not move us to a holy and righteous anger and impel us to action.

Again, the Christian life is not just about introspection. When Jesus felt rage at the abusive practices of the money changers in the Temple, he did not just lament this privately and do nothing. He overturned the tables and publicly challenged the practice. St. Ignatius did not teach people the spiritual exercises simply to make them more self-aware. He also wanted to help people discern how God was calling them to respond to the needs of the world and to go out and set the world on fire. Sending Jesuits to Asia was an incredibly risky and uncertain thing to do. Francis Xavier’s journey to Japan was an active response to discernment.

As a Nebraskan, I would ask you to consider joining this pipeline fight. At least take the time to learn the truth of the situation. Beyond that, as a Christian I can think of no greater threat to the future of the world than our collective indifference to the degradation of the earth. We will make no meaningful dent in all the other problems impacting the world is we do not engage.  We need to find a way to live non-destructively on the only planet we have.

For more information about Keystone, visit http://boldnebraska.org

Photo: “Boreal forest and tar sands extraction” by Toban B. from Flickr (Used under Creative Commons license)

One Comment »


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  • JoAnna O'Keefe said:

    Yes! Christians, as well as others, must speak out and be willing to risk conflict. Lobbies, lies and greed have overwhelmed the American people and made them feel powerless. I am proud of the people of Nebraska and believe this grassroots movement will help to create a demand for change. And change we must. We are all in this together, we breathe the same air. Failure is not an option. Nature is on our side. Nature will win!

    I’m attaching a poem I wrote today in response to your blog entry and Mary Pipher’s article in the New York Times: Lighting a Spark on the High Plains.

    From the Heart
    of the Heartland

    We are called to be good stewards
    of the earth and its resources:
    to invite the Keystone XL pipeline
    violates that sacred trust.

    There is no red water
    or blue water—
    only clean water or dirty water.

    Mr. President, we implore you,
    like Native American Chiefs of old,
    make your decision on behalf
    of the seven generations coming.

    Protect the Ogallala Aquifer,
    our streams and rivers,
    our wildlife, land and fields—
    the sweet breathing of flowers.

    Lest we ever forget:
    Oil and Water do not mix.

    Listen… do you hear the sound
    of distant drums; the haunting call
    of Sandhill cranes; the laughter
    of our children’s children.

    By JoAnna O’Keefe

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