Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has joined the chorus of Nobel Peace Prize winners urging President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject a proposal for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would transport viscous bitumen from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
In doing so, the laureates invoked the Indigenous Peoples who are first and most affected by development in the Alberta oil sands, where the crude originates.
“The tar sands are among the world’s most polluting oil, and their growth in Northern Alberta has costs not only for our shared climate, but for the First Nations communities whose air, water, land and human rights are being devastated by rapid expansion of tar sands production and related infrastructure,” stated the letter, which was published as a full-page ad in Politico as well as sent directly to Obama and Kerry.
“You stand on the brink of making a choice that will define your legacy on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced—climate change,” the Nobel laureates wrote. “History will reflect on this moment and it will be clear to our children and grandchildren if you made the right choice.”
Obama has said before that he would not approve the $7 billion, 1,700-mile-long pipeline if it was found to contribute significantly to climate change via an increased carbon footprint.
But the environmental assessment from the U.S. Department of State found that the impact would be negligible in terms of worsening climate change, asserting that the oil sands of Alberta would be developed with or without the pipeline, and that oil would simply be transferred by rail instead of pipeline.
The letter called out Obama and Kerry on the rail-transport assertion.
“The myth that tar sands development is inevitable and will find its way to market by rail if not pipeline is a red herring,” the letter stated. “Oil industry projections are clear that to reach their production goals they would need all current pipeline proposals as well as rail; not either or. Industry experts agree that the Keystone XL project is the linchpin for tar sands expansion and the increased pollution that will follow, triggering more climate upheaval with impacts felt around the world.”
The laureates had entreated U.S. officials before to reject the $7 billion, 1,700-mile-long pipeline, most recently last June, when 10 Peace Prize winners signed on. This is the first time that Carter, who served as the 39th President from 1977–1981 and was awarded the peace prize in 2002, has joined in. He is the first President to express opposition to the pipeline.
Besides Carter, the letter is signed by Shirin Ebadi (2003, Iran), Leymah Gbowee (2011, Liberia), Tawakkol Karman (2011, Yemen), Mairead Maguire (1976, Northern Ireland), Rigoberta Menchú Tum (1992, Guatemala), Adolfo Pérez Esquivel (1980, Argentina), Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984, South Africa), Betty Williams (1976, Northern Ireland) and Jody Williams (1997, United States).
Noting that they are but a handful of the two million people who submitted comments during the public-input portion of the approval process, the laureates said they were buoyed by Obama’s stated commitment to work toward a safer climate.
“This letter marks the third time that many of us have written to you to urge a rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Let this reflect the growing urgency we feel for the hundreds of millions of people globally whose lives and livelihoods are being threatened and lost as a result of the changing climate and environmental damage caused by our dangerous addiction to oil,” the letter writers said. “As you near a decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, please do not underestimate its importance.”