IEA chief economist: “definitely wrong” to highlight oil sands as “a major source of carbon dioxide emissions”

Joining the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department, climate scientists and independent research organizations,  the chief economist with the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol, is the latest expert to state that oil sands, and thus Keystone XL, will have little impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

As IEA’s Birol put it,

“…but the difference in getting oil from oil sands when compared to conventional oil, it is such a small contribution that it will be definitely wrong to highlight this as a major source of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.

Well, that’s a pretty devastating blow for Keystone XL opponents.  But it’s been obvious for a long time that no one is buying their climate claims: As the New York Daily Mag recently explained, Keystone XL opponents’ crusade is “a huge environmentalist mistake” and “a bizarre misallocation of political attention” – it concluded that “environmental activists appeared to have built a strategy upon what was at best a rickety factual premise.” Previously, the editorial board at the Washington Post wrote that the State Department’s 2,000 page analysis “dismantled the case that nixing the Canadian pipeline must be a priority for anyone concerned about climate change.” Likewise, a Nature editorial states, “[R]egarding the Keystone pipeline, the administration should face down critics of the project, ensure that environmental standards are met and then approve it.”

But of course, facts won’t stop the activists’ crusade against Keystone XL because it has never been about facts: it’s always been about developing a movement around a symbol.  As David Victor a climate-policy expert at the University of California told Nature, “As a serious strategy for dealing with climate, blocking Keystone is a waste of time. But as a strategy for arousing passion, it is dynamite.” Or as a Tom Steyer aide Kate Gordon told Rolling Stone, “The goal is as much about organizing young people around a thing. But you have to have a thing.”

So while some activists will continue to organize protests for the sake of a movement, as they will today in Georgetown where President Obama will be speaking, it’s pretty clear – to borrow a phrase from IEA’s Birol – that they are “definitely wrong.”

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