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Nobel Laureates Speak Out Against Keystone XL Pipeline

Danielle Droitsch's picture

For the past 20 years, I have worked in the United States and Canada on a wide range of issues. I started as a reporter working on a story about a polluting pulp and paper mill in North Carolina...

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  • Jul 17, 2013

An advertisement in the Washington Post featured a letter from ten Nobel Laureates who are asking President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline based on its significant impact to the climate.  The advertisement sponsored by NRDC, the Nobel Women’s Initiative, and Environmental Defence Canada reproduced the letter in full which said “as leaders who have spoken out strongly on these issues, we urge you, once again, to be on the right side of history and send a clear message that you are serious about moving beyond dirty oil.”

Nobel Laureates Advertisement Washington Post

The letter is timely as President Obama recently made climate a key issue in his review of the pipeline. In a climate speech, he said he would reject the Keystone XL pipeline if it had significant climate impacts.

“Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

The Nobel Laureates said that approving Keystone XL is not consistent with combatting climate change.

“Our shared climate cannot afford the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline … Now is the time for unwavering leadership.”

It is clear the Keystone XL would have significant climate impacts and here is why:

  • The greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands are already significantly higher than conventional oil.  The State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency both conclude that emissions from tar sands are 81 percent higher than conventional oil on a wheel to tank basis. These are conservative comparisons and do not account for higher emissions associated with the burning of petroleum coke, a byproduct from the tar sands refining process or land use change emissions and a variety of other carbon-intensive factors that further exacerbate the climate impacts of tar sands development.   
  • In fact, the EPA in comments to the State Department that the additional emissions from the tar sands the pipeline would transport over its 50 year lifetime would have the equivalent climate impacts as running 265 coal fired power plants for one year (935 million metric tons CO2e).   The additional emissions is also the equivalent to the annual emissions from Canada in one year.
  • Other pipelines and forms of transport for tar sands are unlikely to move at all or at least in the near future.  There are considerable barriers facing other pipeline projects such as the Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan, and Energy East pipelines which face major opposition in Canada and considerable legal hurdles.  Rail transportation has also been debunked as an economic alternative that could facilitate the movement of large volumes of tar sands fuel.

It is time that the U.S. State Department correct the serious errors that wrongly concluded the pipeline would not have a serious impact on climate.  Congressional leaders have also  called on the State Department to fix these errors. This leaves Keystone XL as the primary driver to begin a massive expansion of tar sands development and would therefore lead to massive climate consequences.  And this is why President Obama and Secretary Kerry need to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline as not in the national interest.

Here is a little more information about the Nobel Laureates who signed the letterdrawn from the Nobel Women’s Initiative:

Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize, 1976, Ireland was awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her in Ireland where she led the creation of a movement to build a just and peaceful society in Northern Ireland.  For six months, she and Betty Williams organized peace rallies throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom attended by thousands of people helping to significantly decrease the rate of violence in the country.

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize 1980, Argentina was secretary-general of a group coordinating nonviolent movements in the region. Because of his work for human rights across Latin America, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel became a target of the military dictatorship imprisoned and tortured by the Argentinean military for 14 months. Upon his release, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel continued his work working for human rights and tdemocracy for the people of Latin America.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize 1984, South Africa is one of the greatest living moral icons of our time who was a key role player in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. The first black South African Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, Archbishop Tutu spoke out against the injustices of the apartheid system. He became a prominent leader in the crusade for justice and racial conciliation in South Africa. In 1986 Bishop Tutu was elevated to Archbishop of Cape Town, and became a principal mediator and conciliator in the transition to democracy in South Africa.

Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Nobel Peace Prize, 1992, Guatemala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation work based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples in her native Guatemala. She is the first indigenous person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize spearheading the first indigenous party in Guatemala running for President most recently in 2011.

José Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace Prize, 1996, East Timor fought for the independence of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste after more than 400 years of Portuguese occupation. Ramos-Horta was appointed FRETILIN’s Minister for External Affairs and Information and following an invasion of the country by Indonesia he was a permanent representative at the United Nations — the youngest diplomat in the history of the UN.  

Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize, 1997, USA received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to ban landmines through the International Campaign to Ban Landmines becoming the 10th in its almost 100-year history to receive the Prize.  She has been a life-long advocate of freedom, self-determination and human and civil rights. With others,Jody helped establish the Nobel Women’s Initiative. 

Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize, 2003, Iran was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to promote human rights, in particular, the rights of women, children, and political prisoners in Iran. She is the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Ebadi was one of the first female judges in Iran and served as president of the city court of Tehran from 1975 to 1979 achieving Chief Justice status. After the Islamic Revolution in February 1979, she was dismissed but continued with her work and has taken on many controversial cases defending political dissidents and as a result has been arrested numerous times. 

Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize, 2011, Liberia received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work leading a women’s peace movement that brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. Leymah mobilized an interreligious coalition of Christian and Muslim women and organized the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement.  Her leadership led to thousands of women staging pray-ins and nonviolent protests that helped push President Charles Taylor into exile leading to the election of Africa’s first female head of state.

Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize, 2011, Yemen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 in recognition of her work in nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peacebuilding work in Yemen. Tawakkol is a journalist and human rights activist who responded to the political instability and human rights abuses in Yemen mobilizing others while reporting on injustices.

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Christos Makridis's picture
Christos Makridis on Jul 17, 2013

The fundamental issue is whether the authors of this letter are adding new value to the analysis of the issue. Their expertise is neither in climate science nor economics — the two focal issues. While their contributions to society are laudable, we need to understand the reality of specialization; indeed, they have not built models and examined the results surrounding the costs/benefits of the proposed project, nor do they know the effect the project would have on marginal damages due to the so-called higher emissions. We all must be cognizant of the reality that there is no wand we can wave to reduce emissions — if we agree on reducing emissions, natural gas, and other low(er) emissions technologies must be largely included in the mix. 

Spec Lawyer's picture
Spec Lawyer on Jul 17, 2013

I’d be more impressed if they were Nobel Lauretes in scientific fields.  

Roy Wagner's picture
Roy Wagner on Jul 18, 2013

Considering their contribution to the Human race and the sacrifices some of them made you know they would not support anything unless they belived it to be true.

Or you can take Rush Limpbores word for it.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jul 18, 2013

Roy if you wanna take a low road and talk about Rush Limpbore, someone lese can retort with

Tom Brokejaw, Dan Blabber and other  bastions of lefty Journalism?

Roy Wagner's picture
Roy Wagner on Jul 18, 2013

Maybe I should have said Fox and Fiends same scientific credentials as these Nobel winners 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jul 19, 2013

History will reveal that the anti-nuclear movement, more than tar sands or any other single factor is hampering our ability to reduce CO2 emissions while enjoying the benefits of low cost energy.  

Once organizations like the author’s NRDC embraced anti-nuclearism (which is fundamentally an anti-science phillisophy), it pretty much limited them to energy topics that will only matter in a small way (i.e. advocating one fossil fuel vs another, or reducing fossil fuel use somewhat through efficiency improvements).

Roy Wagner's picture
Roy Wagner on Jul 19, 2013

We will be living with OIL COAL NG fossil fuels for another 200 years regardless of how we use them.

We should be finding more sustainable and cleaner less polluting ways to use these finite resources.

Once we burn them they are gone as they become scarcer the price will rise effecting the economies of every Country.

It makes no sense to protect oil gas and coal company profits at the expense of the environment we all have to share and our desendants will have to occupy.

We have to develop ways to replace them NOW! 



Roy Wagner's picture
Roy Wagner on Jul 21, 2013

3 mile Island Chernobyl and Fukashima and now Songs in Califonia.

Several thousand tons of nuclear waste with no where to go.

The cost of Decommisioning and every Vastly Over budget construction project brought in years late.

Have done far more to limit the implimentation of nuclear energy than any anti-nuclear movement could ever have done.

Without government subsidies and insurance no Nuclear plant would ever be built again.

The cost is so high they are charging customers 10 years in advance for bulding them in Florida 

There using an Island off Cape Canavaral right in the path of Hurricanes as the temporary storage facility for the Nuclear waste we have now.  

Explain that low cost part again?

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jul 21, 2013

Decomisioning costs and Construction costs not withstanding, LEVELIZED Nuclear Power  over the  life of a plant still costs $113/MWH (108/MWH per another source).

This levelized cost already contains/considers overruns and decomisioning. If the life is extended, the cost would be lower still. 


 The costs are even better for nuclear when you consider life cycle costs, as per Forbes

Total Life-Cycle Costs for Electricity, normalized to capacity factor, life-span and amount of energy produced. Costs include construction, operation and maintenance (O&M), fuel, and decommissioning. Costs do not include electrical grid upgrade, transportation issues, connectivity of renewables and buffering of their intermittency by rapid cycling of fossil fuel plants as presently practiced in this country, and externalities such as any carbon-tax, pollution and health care costs associated with energy production and use. Also, these costs are not levelized but are actual direct costs. Once actual costs are known, better long-term planning can be done and some levelizing factors can be wisely shaped to affect a more desirable energy mix. (As per Forbes)



Please VISIT THE FORBES and Wikipedia articles cited.

As for storage, You can Blame Obama and Harry Reed (a nuclear power opponent), for loss of Yucca mountain for which the Utilities have been paying. Never-the-less, Reed and Obama’s shenaneghans may be a blessing in disguise, because there is lots of Usable Nuclear energy in current Nuclear waste, that Modern 4yth Generation plants can recycle for more elctricity production.


The bottom line is that Nuclear Power is extremely competitive in spite of Cost overruns and decomisioning

Enemies of Nuclear power have held back more advanced generations of Nuclear power plant designs that generate far more power and create even less waste , and the waste they do create become safe in 3 Centuries, meaning they don’t require a long time geological repository.



Roy Wagner's picture
Roy Wagner on Jul 21, 2013

If they can work out the Technology it will be at least 15 years probably 20 before they could build and start up such a plant. Same thing for Thorium and SMR’s

My point is not against safe Nuclear energy it was about blaming the problems whith Nuclear Energy on protesters when the Industry has been it’s own worst enemy.

The types of plants we have now produce weapons grrade plutonium which is why they where chosen over other safer types of reactors (Blame Nixon) not the democrats.

Not one Nuclear plant has been built on time or for the Original cost estimate the LCOE in your post is based on figures that do not include all of the real costs.

Security, Water or the costs of decommisioning and disposal of waste or how much more interest on financing would be if not subsidised by Govenment garauntees because they are uninsurable.

I want there to be (SAFE!) Nuclear Energy available SMR’s Thorium Wave whatever the Technology 

Nuclear Fusion is also getting closer to it’s goals. 

It’s not just about how cheap a kWh is if you lose a part of the Country for 30 plus years. 

Multi $Trillions in damages is the estimate for Japan’s economy.

The bill for Songs in California is already in the hundreds of $Millions and growing daily.

$600 Million minimum in cost overuns so far in Georgia.

Who cannot doubt the ability of Nuclear to deliver on it’s promises of LCOE after events such as these.


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