Use before 1/1/2050

The completion of the Keystone Pipeline will not be the end of the world—it will just speed it along a little bit.

No, really, it will.

But first a word about tailings, since nobody asked. Tailings are the sludge and slurry and leach and slime residue and refuse left over from mining processes. Actually it’s worse than I made it sound, filled with arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and a host of naturally occurring radioactive elements. Some of the additives include cyanide and hydrogen cyanide, sulfuric and sulfamic acids, and a lot of compounds that, were I to write them out, would leave no room to tell you how the end of the world is going to be speeded along.

Tailing lakes are crucial to the extraction of oil from the Alberta (Canada) oil sands. The process produces lakes of this sludge—not ponds or collection pools—lakes. So far they span 110 square miles and these companies are just getting started. These sludge festivals are visible from space—just like earth as of now.

An aside: on a crystalline summer day a few years back, my wife and I were lucky enough to see Bear Lake on the Utah-Idaho border. The azure surface stretched out as far as we could see, interrupted only by the occasional boater. It was breathtaking. I mention it because Bear Lake also covers 110 square miles. Just so you know. And were it nor Lake Champlain, those sludge lakes—when combined—would create the second largest lake in New England, only six square miles behind Moosehead Lake in Maine.

For some remarkable and disturbing photos, check this out:

And these sludge lakes leak—currently threatening the water supply of an an entire river basin in Alberta. And best of all (he said, because it wasn’t really best in any way) the oil they produce is…well, let’s put it this way: if I drive my 35 m.p.g. Honda Civic on “Alberta gasoline” and you drive your 15 m.p.g. V-8 Family Truckster on fuel from any other source, I will do twice the harm to the environment. Cramped as I am in my formerly efficient car, my carbon footprint will be several sizes larger than yours.

So here we are. The new Republican Keystone Congress (not to be confused with the Keystone Cops, despite obvious similarities) has already stated it will flex its muscles by authorizing the pipeline, and although the idiocy of it strains credulity, it’s probably going to happen. And Mr. Obama? Even though I voted for him…twice…I blame him. He’s had six years to make a bold move against big oil, big banks, big everything, and he’s hemmed and hawed and failed to make a decision every time. Now it’s probably too late, and for me at least, this pipeline fiasco will be his legacy. All his many accomplishments will be diminished because he will have allowed the single greatest threat to climate change to proceed while he looked the other way.

Nope, it’s not the end of the world. It just moves the expiration date up a little.

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