Jonah Goldberg: On Keystone, what other nation would follow our example?
While many have long seen America as the global bad boy, everybody likes Canada. If Uncle Sam tucks his pack of Marlboros under his T-shirt sleeve and plays by his own rules, the Canadian moose - or whatever their Uncle Sam equivalent is - always wears his blue blazer and school tie and does his chores without being asked. Canada is a global citizen, a good neighbor, a northern Puerto Rico with an EU sensibility that earns its gold stars from the United Nations every day.
This fact should have relevance below the 49th parallel. Right now, we're all waiting for President Obama to decide on whether the Keystone pipeline can go forward. The pipeline would take oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta and deliver it to refineries in the U.S. It would extend all the way down to ports in Texas.
The prospect that Obama might approve the pipeline has environmentalists ready to handcuff themselves in a drum circle around anything that moves. For a while, they insisted that their core objections had to do with fears of spills in environmentally sensitive areas in Nebraska and elsewhere. As many suspected, this was always political cover. When the proposed route was changed to accommodate these concerns, opponents weren't mollified. They were only further enraged.
Opponents of the pipeline want America to lead by example, and the pipeline is a step in the wrong direction. "Who wants the U.S. to facilitate the dirtiest extraction of the dirtiest crude from tar sands in Canada's far north?" asks New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
Well, first of all, the Canadians do! Second, if we won't, the Chinese would be happy to facilitate (a point Friedman ignores). Canada and China have made it clear that if the U.S. doesn't allow the pipeline to go south, they'll make one that goes west to the Canadian coast. In other words, the oil is going to be pumped out no matter what. Moreover, the risks of a bad spill increase if we don't build the pipeline. Oil tankers heading to China are a bigger threat to the environment than a pipe over or through dry land to American refineries.
But my aim isn't to defend the pipeline, which strikes me as a no-brainer in every way. It's to make a larger point. If the idea is that America is somehow "leading by example" when/if it kills projects like Keystone, or cracks down on oil drilling on federal lands, as Obama has done, then we're not fooling anyone - not even the Canadians!
All around the world, governments are expanding their oil and gas operations. In Russia, oil output keeps going up. Brazil is racing to expand offshore drilling. Mexico recently announced another huge oil field it won't hesitate to develop. Experts are predicting a South Atlantic oil boom to rival the North Sea craze of the 1980s.
Meanwhile, thanks to technological advances, the International Energy Agency predicts the U.S. will be the world's largest oil producer by 2017 and a net exporter by 2030. And again, Greens, who've insisted for years that we need to wean ourselves off of foreign oil, aren't cheered by the news. They're ticked off that they lost another convenient talking point.
While it's true that President Obama brags about how oil and gas production are up, his policies have nothing to do with it. A new report from the Congressional Research Service confirms: "All of the increased (oil) production from 2007 to 2012 took place on non-federal lands." Since 2010, federal oil production is down 23 percent.
To what end? As global-warming activists will be the first to admit, global warming is global. Whatever CO2 we've declined to pump into the atmosphere has been more than replaced by emissions from growing economies in Asia. We could cut our emissions to nothing, and in a few years the increase in China's emissions alone would replace them.
You know what else are global? Oil and gas markets. Whatever oil we've denied ourselves has been made up for by development in other countries. All that we've done is make oil prices higher than they needed to be and denied ourselves billions of dollars that would have stayed here rather than go to the Middle East. No country, save the U.S., seems at all interested in denying itself or the world much-needed economic growth by letting oil and gas sit in the ground.
In other words, when you've lost Canada, you've lost the argument.
Jonah Goldberg is the author of the new book "The Tyranny of Cliches." You can write to him by email at JonahsColumn@aol.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO.