(3BL Media/Justmeans) - There is a famous tale in the Bible of King Solomon’s wisdom. When confronted with two women claiming to be the mother of a certain baby, the wise king proposed cutting the baby in half, and giving half to each. When one woman refused, he gave her the baby, since it was clear to him that she must be the real mother.
A State Department report, published last week, after poring over the mountains of data pertaining to the Keystone XL pipeline, in hopes of finding a clear signal to resolve this difficult decision, announced a finding that more people would likely die from spills if the tar sands oil is transported by train, than if the pipeline is completed. That’s because oil train spills occur even more frequently than pipeline spills. Rail is also more expensive. So, one might surmise, as Coral Davenport suggests in the NY Times, that if King Solomon were alive today, he would say that if we care at all about all those people living besides railroad lines, whose lives are about to become a game of Russian roulette, we would go ahead and approve the pipeline.
Except, of course, that tar sands oil is not a baby—unless of course, you count another illustrious literary character, the Tar Baby, that concoction that old Br'er Fox used to first anger and then entrap Br'er Rabbit. You’ll recall that the more Br’er Rabbit fought the Tar Baby, the more tangled up he became.
Delicious parallels aside, we needn’t go there because it’s a false choice.
First of all, the Canadian government, not particularly well known for their level of environmental concern, just approved an alternative pipeline, the Northern Gateway, that would run to the Canadian west coast in British Columbia, therefore not requiring any kind of approval from the US. The Northern Gateway cannot yet be considered a fait accomplit, as it is bound to encounter stiff opposition in British Columbia, which is filled with both liberals and aboriginal First Nations, who, unlike their counterparts in the US, enjoy substantial territorial rights. Still, it does represent a third possibility beyond Keystone and the accident-prone trains.
But, the second and far more widely reaching point is that neither pipeline is necessary in any definition of the term that stretches wider than the immediate concern of those investors who have put their money into that particular slot machine and are waiting anxiously for the tumblers to stop rolling.