World's Most Naive Environmentalist


Mcnutt_tnStep forward Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of Science, the prestigious journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and former head of the U.S. Geological Survey. In a jaw-dropping editorial in Science, and later in an interview with David Greene on NPR, she announced that she was now supporting the Keystone XL pipeline, even though she's an environmentalist! 

I drive a hybrid car and set my thermostat at 80°F in the Washington, DC, summer. I use public transportation to commute to my office, located in a building given “platinum” design status by the U.S. Green Building Council. The electric meter on my house runs backward most months of the year, thanks to a large installation of solar panels. I am committed to doing my part to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and minimize global warming. At the same time, I believe it is time to move forward on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Alrighty. And why does she think that? "Just because there hasn’t been a pipeline really did not stop the development of the Canadian tar sands," she told Greene. It was going to happen anyway. Furthermore,

 Rather than putting the oil in a pipeline, they are now putting the oil in trucks and railway cars and trucks and trains actually use more fossil fuels themselves to get that oil to market than a pipeline.

In her view, opening up a huge new supply of dirty oil could save us all from climate change:

We need to find a funding source that allows us to invest more aggressively in solar, wind, and other non-CO2-polluting sources. If you look at the cost of transporting oil in a pipeline, it is the very cheapest way to do it. If one can identify a revenue stream that would come from all of the money saved and convert that money then to a renewable energy fund that sets us on that right path, then I think the nation really wins. 

That's it. Really, that's her argument--you could look it up.This morning, NPR's Greene interviewed billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, whose organization, NextGen Climate Action, strongly opposes Keystone. Steyer pointed out that the notion that TransCanada could increase production from the current 1.9 million barrels a day to its projected 6-9 million barrels a day is "simply preposterous...If this really doesn't matter, and they can do this by truck and rail, why is this the number one goal of the Canadian government?"

And what about McNutt's notion about trading approval of Keystone for future funding of renewable energy projects? 

I don't even know what that means.  I did spend 30 years in the private sector, I know what a trade is. A trade is when I give you something, and you give me something. So far, all the trades have been, I give you something, and we're going to think about giving you something that would be really neat. 

My scientific estimate of the number of environmentalists who will be convinced by McNutt: 0. So why even bother making such a painfully ludicrous argument? 

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and dad. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber