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Fareed Zakaria:

But, first, here’s my take. Later this year, the Obama administration will have to make a decision on whether to green light the Keystone pipeline; that’s the 2,000-mile pipeline that would bring oil from the tar sands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

I’m sure you’ve heard all the dire warnings about it. But another way to think about this is to ask what would happen if the project did not go forward?

The Department of State released an extremely thorough report that tries to answer just this question. It concludes, basically, that the oil derived from Canadian tar sands would be developed at about the same pace whether there was a pipeline or not.

In other words, stopping Keystone might make us feel good, but it really won’t do anything about climate change. Why? Well, given the demand for oil in the United States, Canadian producers would still get Alberta’s oil to the refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.

There are other pipeline possibilities, but the most likely method is by train. The report estimates that it would take daily runs of 15 trains with about 100 tanker cars each to carry the amount planned by TransCanada, the company.

That’s a large increase, but one likely to be met. The increases in oil transported by rail in the United States are already staggering. Carloads of crude oil on trains doubled between 2010 and 2011, then they tripled between 2011 and 2012.

And remember, research shows that moving oil by train produces much higher emissions of carbon dioxide than with the oil to flow through a pipeline.

Canada could also transport the oil to Asia, where demand is booming. Right now that seems a distant and costly prospect, but having visited Alberta recently, I can attest that Canadian businesspeople and officials are planning seriously for Asian markets, especially since they now regard American policy as politicized, hostile and mercurial.

Also, if we don’t use oil from Alberta, we need to get it the oil from somewhere else, Venezuela, Mexico, Saudi Arabia or California. Some of these oils are heavy crude, and processing, refining and burning them is believed to be even more harmful to the environment than burning Canadian oil sands.

To the extent that it makes us use more coal for electricity generation, that’s a big step backwards for the environment. For many of these reasons, the scientific journal, “Nature,” which has long a leader on climate change, argued in an editorial that Obama should approve the Keystone project.

Many environmental groups are taking an approach towards this project that resembles the way the United States government fights the war on drugs. They attack supply rather than demand.

In this case, environmentalists have chosen one particular source of energy, Alberta’s tar sands, and are trying to shut it down. But as long as there is demand for oil, there will be supply. The far more effective solution would be to try to moderate demand by putting in place a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system.

Ideally, we would use the proceeds from these taxes to fund research on alternative energy, which we badly need to do.

Opponents of Keystone say the facts are less important in this case, it is the symbolism that matters. We have to stop this big project.

Symbolism does matter. If we were to block this project, one that is no worse than many other sources of energy, one that rebuffs our closest trading partner and ally, that spurns easily accessible energy in favor of Venezuelan or Saudi crude, it would be a symbol, a terrible symbol.

It would be a symbol that emotion had taken the place of analysis and that ideology now trumps science on both sides of the environmental debate.

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1303/10/fzgps.01.html

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