Earlier this month, President Obama rejected construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Since 2008 when it was proposed, the pipeline has become a politically charged symbol of the conflict between economic growth and environmental progress. Some argued that the pipeline would bring jobs and lower gas prices while others argued that it would significantly increase emissions and exacerbate climate change.
After a years-long debate, the Obama administration has decided that the pipeline would, “not serve the national interest of the United States.” While Obama pointed out that the project wouldn’t have created many permanent jobs (only 35 by the State Departments estimate) and wouldn’t have lowered gas prices, he placed significant emphasis on climate change as a key reason for his denial. In doing so, he became the first president in history to cite climate change as a reason for blocking a project. This is an encouraging move, given that serious action is needed if we want to limit atmospheric warming and avoid dangerous climate related risks.
The pipeline decision came just weeks before the Paris Climate Conference, where leaders from around the world will (hopefully) hash out a plan for reducing emissions worldwide. The timing of the Keystone decision wasn’t lost on Obama. He hopes the rejection will serve as proof that the U.S. is willing to make hard decisions in the name of climate leadership and he anticipates that it will set the tone for agreement on a global climate deal. Over the past year, Obama has enacted a series of measures that demonstrate his resolve for acting on climate change – limiting power plant emissions, regulating fracking, and toughening standards on vehicle emissions. While there’s a lot more to be done, it’s encouraging to see policy decisions being made in the name of environmental well-being.
The economic-environment debate that has been symbolized by the Keystone Pipeline is one that we will continue to see in the years to come as climate related risks become a more prominent part of the political discourse. To help students form their own opinions on the matter, try the Population Education lesson, Take a Stand. In the activity, students form opinions on statements like this one: “In a real crunch, jobs are more important than environmental quality.” The goal of the lesson is for students to not only express their thoughts, but also to help them understand the various angles of challenging topics that are being debated in the real world.