Why Debate over the Keystone Pipeline Is So Important

“Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”  ― Aldo Leopold

 

Approval of the Keystone Pipeline masquerades as a political or an environmental debate. It is actually a discussion about the trajectory of American society. And, much depends on it.

It is also an old debate first aired in early American history about the kind of economy best suited for a democracy. We chose a free market, unfettered by government. That suited people who remembered first-hand how government can oppress individual freedom. After centuries of church and state oppression in Europe, early Americans thrived on the open space and endless abundance of natural wealth the North American continent offered newcomers.

The vastness of the continent and the virginal state of forests, grasslands, soils, and lakes and rivers must have been something fantastic which we 21st century Americans find hard to imagine today.

Our generation faces something entirely new. While the signs of stress in the body of the continent have been visible and studied for nearly 100 years, the day to day economic activities of our nation have not responded to new conditions. The productivity of soils is falling; resistance to pesticides is growing. Species populations are plummeting, fisheries shrinking, and climate is changing with burning of fossils fuels.

Regulations have been imposed, and grown in complexity, that restrict our freedom to use the land as we wish—for our pursuit of happiness. While ecosystem science has established the limits of natural systems, we have not established a true understanding of how that relates to us.

We do not accept limits on our individual freedoms. We believe we can live outside of natural laws—a chosen people whom God has put in charge of Nature. That is an outdated story that, like our early American history, no longer is true in modern circumstances. To act on that original story is perilous today.

Debate over the completion of the Keystone Pipeline is really this: we either accept that there are limits to what we can extract from the land under our feet, or not.

Which way this will go in 2015 is not about cheap energy, nor is it about jobs. At its core it is about how we chose to relate to the Earth, how we steward the remaining resilience of natural communities for generations to come. It is about looking honestly at the human condition—we are utterly dependent on all the species and physical elements that created The Garden our forefathers found when they first stepped upon these shores.

This period of time in human history is one in which we understand a lot about how ecosystems work. We see innovative solutions to clean energy production, pollution, food production and building life-sustaining cities all across the world but as a nation we have not yet embraced the underlying truth of our dependence on earth’s healthy functioning.

Don’t be fooled by the debates in Washington, and in the news: this is about a fundamental shift in how we relate to the land under our feet and to each other.

The work of our citizenry is perhaps the most critical since the founding of the democracy itself. At that time we asked, “What kind of country do we want to live in?” Now we must ask, “What kind of world do we want to live in?”

In the 21st Century, our democratic way of life must incorporate science into its way of knowing, and reexamine how we treat each other as well as other forms of life in the free market system that drives all we do.

The Keystone Pipeline is a debate we should welcome and in which we must all participate because so much depends on it. We are truly at a moral crossroads. Which way we decide to turn determines the fates of current and future generations of all living communities across the earth.

This is not about a pipeline. It is not about oil. This is about who we are.

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