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!
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