Seeing the future is hard enough – but can you smell it?
If you are talking about green energy maybe you can.
We conducted our own scientific research on this very question yesterday in Washington, D.C., where we unveiled the world's first-ever Clean Energy Smell Test. If you thought the Coke and Pepsi taste tests were exciting, this one is really going to roll your socks up and down.
On one side, we have the energy future that visionaries like Van Jones – the nation's green-collar jobs czar – have been fighting for. On the other side, we have Big Oil's version of our future (can you hear the booos?).
One smells like sunshine, a gentle breeze through a windmill, mountain water flowing into a micro-hydro generator. The other smells like, well, hell.
The green energy future was preferred by 99.5% of those tested (the .5% was Dick Cheney, who loved the sludge so much he started hyperventilating – it wasn't pretty.)
What is this sludge from the Tar Sands?
The sticky, tar like stuff is buried beneath one of the most carbon rich and diverse forests in the world – the Boreal Forest. Once that forest is destroyed, the sludge is basically steam-cleaned to produce synthetic crude oil, millions of gallons of toxic waste, massive greenhouse gas emissions, and more.
(For lots more stomach-turning stats, including Canada's plan in the '50s to melt the bitumen with atomic bombs, see Tar Sands by Andrew Nikiforuk).
This is the stuff that Canada wants to send our way via new pipelines that will run straight through our heartland. And Canada is teaming up with Big Oil to make this "dream" come true. Yes, Canada. Our friends to the North are not quite as green as you might think.
One person has the power to decide whether the pipelines can cross the border and enter the United States: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Only she can approve or disapprove the permits for these pipelines.
That's why yesterday, ForestEthics delivered a sample of tar sands sludge, as well as a copy of the ad that we ran in Roll Call, D.C.'s pre-eminent political newspaper, to Secretary Clinton. And we conducted our first-ever Clean Energy Smell Test right on the steps of her home-away-from-home, the State Department.
Normally, seeing is believing. But when it comes to Tar Sands, smelling is the real indicator. Imagine a strip-mined pit that literally looks like the dark side of the moon – a black moonscape reeking like a tarry toxic soup. The scent is Dow Chemical meets the Devil's suntan oil. That's the Tar Sands.
Canada is our largest oil supplier, and Tar Sands oil is increasingly what it's sending us. The pipeline that's currently up for Secretary Clinton's review, the Alberta Clipper, will extend like an 1,000-mile long syringe into the U.S. through Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin, where it will plug into existing pipelines to get the Tar Sands to Chicago and beyond.
Secretary Clinton has had a few things to say about global warming, (2,270,000 Google hits for "Hillary Clinton" + "global warming"), including:
"It is a threat that is global in scope but also local and national in impact. ... No issue we face today has broader long-term consequences or greater potential to alter the world for future generations." –Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, April 27, 2009
We couldn't agree more. And apparently there has been quite a debate going on at the State Department about this particular pipeline.
One thing that's clear is that Secretary Clinton cares deeply about climate change – and that approving or denying permits for this pipeline is one of her first major decisions as Secretary of State that will directly address the issue.
Politicians can always say something that sounds good – remember which president copped to our oil addiction? But doing something real, like denying this pipeline, leaves no wriggle room, and that's what leaders are clamoring for.
I hope Secretary Clinton does the right thing regarding the pipelines, not just because it is important for our own green future, or for the people suffering downstream of the tar sands, or for what kind of world my children will inherit, but for a far more basic reason: Shifting toward a greener, more just future is not one big decision. There is no moment that strikes and everything before is old and everything after is new, like in the Wizard of Oz. Life is not like that. We will make this turn towards a brighter future for our children only if we make a thousand smaller decisions in the direction of this larger goal.
This is one of those decisions. And remember, pipelines are forever. Can you smell our green energy future? I sure hope Secretary Clinton can.