Vote for the earth: A grandmother’s letter to Virginia Senator Mark Warner


Vote for the earth: A grandmother’s letter to Virginia Senator Mark Warner

At the time of this writing, I stand in the center of a miracle as I witness my 60th Virginia spring and the sixth month of my grandson’s unfolding life. As the steward of a homestead in central Virginia, I witness and participate daily in the mysteries of seed, sun, soil, and water.

As a grandparent, each time I gaze into the glowing mirror of our baby’s face, I am reminded deeply and urgently of the essential need for clean food, water, and air. These are the elements that are essential to my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. These are the elements directly threatened by your recent vote and two petitions to the President and the Secretary of State in favor of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Mr. Warner, you’re killing me with this.

Tar sands mined in Canada—owned by a Canadian corporation (TransCanada), piped through the Midwest, refined in Texas, and then largely shipped overseas for burning—threaten my ability and especially my baby grandson’s ability to life itself in Charlottesville, Virginia. How can this be?

Keystone XL supports the mining, piping, refining and burning of the single dirtiest energy source on the planet. Tar sands are up to 19 percent more greenhouse gas intensive than conventional crude oil and are significantly more dangerous and difficult to clean up during inevitable spills. To use tar sands is to scrape the bottom of the energy barrel.

Keystone XL would benefit a Canadian company, continue to give a foreign corporation inappropriate use of eminent domain over the land of American citizens, increase pipeline spills akin to the recent tragedy in Arkansas, threaten our country’s largest and perhaps most important water aquifer, and make it impossible for us to achieve our pledged national and global carbon reduction goals.

In return, Keystone provides 35 permanent jobs, increases support for our fossil fuel industry’s government subsidized, sky rocketing profits, and tightens the fossil fuel lobby’s stranglehold over our electoral process. At least 60 percent of the fuel brought to the United States by the pipeline would be exported. No increase in energy independence for the United States would be achieved.

This pipeline proposal is before us at a moment in our global history when our international scientific, governmental, and economic communities largely agree on a few things:

• To preserve human life on this planet, we must not allow the global temperature to rise more than 2 degrees Celsius and even this rise will represent certain and uncertain calamities.

• 565 gigatons is how much carbon we can pour into the atmosphere and “maybe” not go above a 2 degree rise. At current rates, we have 15 years for business as usual.

• The fossil fuel industry already owns, has license to, and plans to burn 2,795 gigatons of carbon.

• Current inflationary investment in these unusable fossil fuel reserves threatens the global economy with a collapsible bubble that will make the housing bubble look like a toy.

• 350 parts per million of carbon in our earth’s atmosphere is the maximum that will allow life as we know it to be sustained on earth.

• On May 9, 2013 we reached a daily average of 400 parts carbon per million.

So the Keystone Pipeline decision represents a real crossroads. One might think we could count on help from two Democratic senators. Well, no. One of our senators, the Honorable Tim Kaine, has voted and spoken against Keystone. You, Mr. Warner support Keystone XL.

Supporters of the Keystone pipeline have gotten very busy branding it as a job creator and as an essential step toward energy independence. Both these claims are lies.

I get, Mr. Warner, how these lies are particularly seductive to you, since the best work you have done as a governor and senator has been in service to common sense economic planning and fiscal responsibility. I myself have been a long term supporter of you and this work.

What I cannot accept is your refusal to reevaluate the equations you are using and the flawed data they rely on and to respond thoughtfully to the many Virginians who have attempted to engage you in this needed reassessment, especially in these last two months.

Please Mr. Warner, get your head out of the tar sands. They are very bad for you.  And every Virginian.

I would also warn you and President Obama that it is unwise for the Democratic Party to take Virginia environmentalists for granted and assume that under the threat of far right opposing candidates, we will continue our support and wait indefinitely and without result for real leadership on climate change. Do not assume that we will fiddle and fundraise while earth burns.

So yes, Mr. Warner, I stand in the center of a delicate miracle here in this odd, erratic Charlottesville spring. I await the suddenness of the peonies, the sweetness of the lilacs, and I regret the absence of environmental leadership and the necessity for revolution. You stand here, too. —Kay Leigh Ferguson