Letter from Scientific Experts to President Obama Regarding Authorization of the Keystone XL Pipeline

Endorsements — the tar sands action team August 3, 2011 at 7:00 am

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20050

August 3, 2011

President Obama:

We are researchers at work on the science of climate change and allied fields. We are writing to add our voices to the indigenous leaders, religious leaders, and environmentalists calling on you to block the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada’s tar sands.

The tar sands are a huge pool of carbon, but one that does not make sense to exploit.  It takes a lot of energy to extract and refine this resource into useable fuel, and the mining is environmentally destructive.  Adding this on top of conventional fossil fuels will leave our children and grandchildren a climate system with consequences that are out of their control.  It makes no sense to build a pipeline system that would practically guarantee extensive exploitation of this resource.

When other huge oil fields or coal mines were opened in the past, we knew much less about the damage that the carbon they contained would do to the Earth’s climate system and to its oceans. Now that we do know, it’s imperative that we move quickly to alternate forms of energy—and that we leave the tar sands in the ground. We hope those so inclined will join protests scheduled for August and described at tarsandsaction.org.

If the pipeline is to be built, you as president have to declare that it is “in the national interest.” As scientists, speaking for ourselves and not for any of our institutions, we can say categorically that it’s not only not in the national interest, it’s also not in the planet’s best interest.


James Hansen
The Earth Institute, Columbia University

John Abraham
Associate Professor, School of Engineering
University of St. Thomas

Dean Abrahamson
Professor Emeritus Energy & Environment Policy
University of Minnesota

David Archer
Professor, Geophysical Sciences Department
The University of Chicago

Jason Box
Associate Professor, Department of Geography
Atmospheric Sciences Program
Researcher at Byrd Polar Research Center
The Ohio State University

Ken Caldeira
Senior Scientist
Department of Global Ecology
Carnegie Institution

Peter Gleick
President and Co-founder
Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security

Richard A. Houghton
Senior Scientist
Woods Hole Research Center

Robert W. Howarth
David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology
Cornell University

Ralph Keeling
Director, Scripps CO2 Program
Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Donald Kennedy
President Emeritus and Bing Professor of Environmental Sciences, Emeritus
Institute for International Studies
Stanford University

Michael MacCracken
Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs
Climate Institute

Michael E. Mann
Professor of Meteorology
Director, Earth System Science Center
The Pennsylvania State University

James McCarthy
Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography
Harvard University

Michael Oppenheimer
Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs
Woodrow Wilson School and Department of Geosciences
Princeton University

Raymond T. Pierrehumbert
Louis Block Professor in the Geophysical Sciences
The University of Chicago

Steve Running
Professor of Ecology, Director of Numerical Terradynamics Simulation Group
Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences
College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana

Richard Somerville
Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor
Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Ray J. Weymann
Director Emeritus, Carnegie Observatories
Member, National Academy of Sciences

George M. Woodwell
Founder, Director Emeritus, and Senior Scientist
Woods Hole Research Center

  1. Annieyoung2 says:

    Thank you for taking this action. I appreciate that climate and other scientists are willing to put themselves forward in a time where responses to your expertise are often met with attempted discreditation and worse. I have signed a large petition as a citizen and am pleased that the president will also hear from respected scientists.

  2. It will soon become mandatory for even ordinary people to publicly declare their stance on climate change. It will be abundantly clear that the signatories above were on the right side of history.

    Thank you all.

  3. dave lee says:

    more power to all signatories…… listen to the people Barack……enough sit is ENOUGH SHIT….!!!

  4. Standbyyou says:

    Your united stand inspires and supports environmental preservation of the earth. I hope you continue to bring solid scientific facts to light. Thank you.

  5. Alec Sevins says:

    Unfortunately, the average American mouth-breather at the strip mall doesn’t care about the future beyond their next series of paychecks. It is the nature of (most) humans to mindlessly exploit everything they can get their grubby hands on.

  6. Anonymous says:

    We need to keep the topic in the public eye, even if only a relatively small percentage of people read the newspaper, every one who hears the message will have an impact. Like ripples on a pond. We need to reach out beyond Facebook and Twitter. Get published as often as you can. Following is my Letter to the Editor of the Hayward Daily Review got published today … http://bit.ly/TarLTE

    Stop tar sand oil

    Did you hear about the pipeline that will carry Canadian tar sand oil to Texas? People from North Dakota to Texas are up in arms about it, but it won’t affect us in Hayward — or will it?

    The proposed pipeline is called Keystone XL. If built, it will be “game over” for the environment. Tar sand oil is very carbon-intensive, and burning it has as much negative impact on our environment as burning coal for electricity.

    Tar sand oil requires heating water to remove oil from the tar sand, so the carbon-dioxide emissions are greater than burning conventional oil that is produced from oil wells. And, excavating thousands of acres of land to mine the tar sand decimates the forests, lakes and streams. That is also devastating to humans as well as other living things in too many ways to list here.

    Only President Barack Obama can stop the Keystone XL pipeline. Help send the message that heavy tar sand oil must be left in the ground, and that the outdated technology of burning it needs to be replaced by clean carbon-free energy technology.

    Join the demonstration in Washington D.C. Aug. 20-Sept. 3, if possible. Please visit http://www.tarsandsaction.org/.

    Doug Grandt

  7. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry – how and in what way are the CURRENT climate “consequences” IN our control? We adapt to the Climate, we don’t “control consequences.” What a silly, silly thing to hyperventilate about.

    • Mark Skudlarek says:

      It’s clearly explained in the letter. Try to read the entire thing, and then put some more thought into understanding the words. Maybe you’ll see that the air and water that my grandchildren will inherit from a fossil-fuel addicted nation is really not a silly thing to be concerned about. Try to open your mind just a little, child.

      • Anonymous says:

        I did read the entire thing. You’re wrong. The temperature is not going up according to any of the “predictive scenarios” that include CO2 as some sort of driver of catastrophic warming. If you want to argue air and water quality – by all means, please do so. But your letter is a purely fluff “we don’t think it makes sense because of climate consequences.”

        Your arbitrary use of the statement “makes no sense” is proof that your argument lacks merit. The project obviously makes economic sense to someone. Your out of hand dismissal demonstrates you start completely detached from the real world. Must be nice to live in a world untouched by economic reality. Can we all come live with you?

        Your insistence that a “different” climate (if it actually gets significantly warmer from CO2 increases) is a “bad” climate is unsubstantiated. Your insistence that the climate the produced Hurricane Hugo, or Andrew, or the one that killed over 6,000 people in Galvastine Texas early in the last century was a “better” climate is questionable.

        And while you say that this development represents a large Carbon deposit, how does it compare to the total oil development that will take place anyway? Are you fighting ALL NEW OIL FIELD, COAL FIELD, and NATURAL GAS development? Logic dictates you should, as every single one of them represents the “liberation of carbon” and contributes to your “uncontrollable climate.” In your argument, no new development – hell, even use of current resources – makes NO SENSE!

        An analysis of your position gets you no marks for logic. It makes no sense to listen to you anymore, or take your opinion seriously.

        • Protect Life says:

          “The temperature is not going up according to any of the predictive scenarios” – that is totally untrue. The temperature has been rising almost exactly at the rate (slightly more) that the IPCC predicted. Perhaps you got your false facts from the Plimer book, which had a graph (the first one in the book) that shifted the predictions up compared to the temperature measurements to make it look like the predictions didn’t work. This type of blatant lying fools gullible laypeople who don’t bother to look more deeply or check out facts but accept the lies simply because they want to believe them.

          The XL pipeline project makes no economic sense even from an environmental standpoint. One large spill could obliterate any economic gains to our country. The same company built another pipeline in this country which has already had several smaller spills and one fairly large one in a river.

          But I’m far more worried about the economic consequences of global warming. We already see the beginnings of this in the high food prices around the world caused by severe weather events, which have been increasing due to global warming, exactly as the climate scientists predicted years ago. A few decades from now, the world economy will collapse, following widespread famine, if we don’t stop GHG emissions soon.

          Getting gas from tar sands causes almost twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as conventional oil. That is how it represents a large carbon deposit compared to conventional oil. And the tar sands deposits are huge. Your comparison, comparing this to all the rest of the oil produced in the world, makes no sense at all. We need to stop other oil production too and replace fossil fuels with green energy sources. If we don’t greatly speed up this transition, we probably won’t be able to prevent unimaginably horrible catastrophes. So it is insane to develop tar sands oil, which will accelerate the coming of these catastrophes and make it impossible to stop them. We are almost out of time as it is.

  8. dorockosamu says:

    I’ m so grateful for this letter. The last sentence ,” not only not in the national interest, it’s also not in the planet’s best interest.” says everything. US, formerly the world’s biggest polluter, trying to overtake the NO1 position from China,?

  9. Soma Tekumalla says:

    Thank You. Thank You. Your are Heroes to the World!!

    As a lay person without specialized knowledge about Climate Change it was your efforts to educate the public which raised my alarm about Climate Change.

    I am in my late 40’s. I first remember becoming aware of Climate Change when I was around 12 years old – this was sometime in 75-77. Later, I never heard much public discussion about Climate Change for almost 25 years, I believed that fears of Global Warming and melting ice sheets had been exaggerated.

    It was after reading books such as “Hot, Flat & Crowded”, “Storms Of My Grand Children” and “The Long Thaw” that I became aware of the seriousness of the matter.

    Please continue your scientific and outreach efforts. Your personal sacrifices in getting arrested and leading protests is inspiring. Partnering with 350.org and other organizations helps us organize and protest.

  10. Shiloh359 says:

    May our president listen to the scientific experts and not allow for this pipeline to transcend through our great nation. May we leave the waters . air and land cleaner than we found them for our childrens children!

  11. Anonymous says:

    looking [a tiny bit] at the arguments on both sides, i just have no idea. i cant assess the risk. maybe the companies that are involved with and will profit from the pipeline ought to ‘guarantee’ it. maybe those companies and all their stock holders should be personally made financially responsible for cleaning up any disasters and paying compensation for any damages.

    that certainly looks like an impressive list of scientists-but maybe just as impressive a group of scientists would say that the risk is minimal.

    if it were my country, i think i’d first make people get rid of their ridiculous looking, tank sized gas guzzlers. gawd, i hate those people sitting alone in a monster sized behemoth that could hold a football team, talking on their cell phones, and hogging the whole road like they own it.

  12. Infinity3235 says:

    Thank you

  13. Yousuf_gabriel1917 says:

    Letter to the scientists of the world. The case of the 15 scientists. Response from Ali Pervez, PH.D. Nuclear Physics, Lecturer, Researcher, Quaid e Azam University Islamabad.

    On fifth May 1980, I sent to the fifteen among the top atomists all over the world, the nucleus of my discovery that is the characterization of the atomic phenomenon which I have found in the religious book of Islam that is the Quran. But mark the state of my mind at that time, that is the38th year of my intellectual ordeal. What have I done with the whole affair? I have concealed the name of the Quran and have instead said that I made the discovery in an antique book which I found in a cave. Perhaps I feared that the mind of the atomists will be prejudiced by the mention of the name of the Quran. Though I found justification of my act because the Quran was neglected like a book lying in a cave. I, however, tried to make my statement as near to the style of modern science as I could. I do repent for it. I should have sent to those prominent atomists a clear, factual statement, without giving any consideration to their professional reservations. Today, in 1997, however, the ci
    rcumstances are different. The trends are changed. The realities have appeared. There is no difficulty in criticizing the atomic hazards.

    Response from Dr. Ali Pervez, Ph.D, Nuclear Physics, Lecturer, Researcher, Quad-e-Azam University, Islamabad.

    And now in short, is it correct:-
    (i) That because atomic energy is generated by breaking the binding of the atomic nucleus, and this being a distinguishing feature of the atomic energy alone, the atomic energy may be called a breaker, a crusher. And further because the atomic energy disintegrates the atomic nucleus, and the atomic radiations break the cell nucleus chromosomes, that is both the basic building block, that is atom, and the basic unit of life, that is cell are crushed, and at present at least irreparably the atomic energy may be called a breaker, a crusher, even absolute crusher.
    (ii) And that because the atomic energy is generated within the atomic nuclei, and its actions and reactions take place therein, and further that the actions of the atomic radiations took take place within the atomic nuclei, the atomic energy is called the nuclear energy, that is an energy which leaps up onto the nuclei, and thus because the nucleus and heart are used as synonymous, even by the standard text books of the atomic physics, the atomic energy may be described as an energy leaping up onto the hearts. This again is a distinguishing feature of the atomic energy alone.
    (iii) And that because the atomic radiations attack the cell in its resting stage and the effects of radiation appear only in the anaphase of the cell, and further because the atomic radiations through their long-term radio-genetic effect encompass mankind, even all life to future generations, keeping secret for several intervening generations, and further the radiations can keep this earth encompassed for millions of years according to the half-life of various radio-active substances after the radiations have made life extinct on earth. This fact may be observed on a smaller scale in the case of the atomic bomb explosion, where the fission products may keep the areas radioactive for long times, the quality of encompassing may be imputed to atomic energy.
    (iv) And that raising the column is a characteristics feature of atomic energy. The column of the atomic bomb explosion is known to every one, while the knowledgeable scientist can see that the radioactive particles too raise columns. This may be seen when the heights of the jumps of the radioactive particles are measured against their little diameters. Rather the world of radio-active substances appears as the world of columns. The four centimeter jump of an Alpha Particles that has a radius of 1013 centimeter is millions of times of the diameter of the Alpha Particle. A football or a shell rising in the same ratio to its own diameter would rise high out into the outer space. Then the cosmic rays make what formidable heights of columns .Speed would cause rays to appear as columns. No such ratios of the size of the jumping substance to the height of their jump may be seen in the case of chemical physical world.
    (v) And that the subject of nuclear science is so complex as to baffle the ingenuity of the human scientist:
    If these particulars are correct hen please kingly in your capacity as the nuclear scientist gives your approval as regards the following:-
    (i) That atomic energy is a crusher, a breaker.
    (ii) That it is an energy which leaps up onto the nuclei that is hearts.
    (iii) That it is endowed with encompassing features.
    (iv) That it raises columns.
    (v) And that the subject of nuclear science is extremely and unusually complex.
    REPLY FROM DR. ALI PERVEZ________________________________________
    Name: Name in Block letters:-
    Ph.D. Nuclear Physics.
    Designation if any:-
    Lecturer, Researcher.
    Quaid- e- Azam Univeristy, Islamabad.

    Thank you for your comment!!!


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