Why I'll Want to Drop Out of School if the Keystone XL Pipeline is Approved
By Lucas Zeppetello / filmsforaction.org

I entered engineering school at Columbia University in September of last year intent on pursuing my interest in the development of alternative energy technology.  Throughout this past year, my classmates and I have been often reminded of how engineers are really public servants whose ideas, inventions, and discoveries can be powerful agents of change if the engineer is committed to them.  The somewhat less inspiring reality is that if the political or industrial climate is not ready for a new technology, or is too comfortable with the status quo to accept anything different, there is little an engineer, or team of engineers, can do to implement their idea.  No matter how potent the vision, no matter how novel the invention, no matter how many challenges could be conquered by implementation of an idea, if the political will does not exist to change a system, the end goal becomes exponentially harder to reach.

            The proposed additions to the Keystone pipeline present a dangerous situation where lack of political will to embrace change can have dire environmental and social consequences.  The pipeline that has been proposed, and is being seriously considered by the Obama administration, would transport crude oil from Alberta, Canada to Houston, Texas, where it would be refined into gasoline and other petroleum products.  In other words, the current political institution may opt to place its faith in a resource that is doing more harm than good while perfectly useful green energy solutions remained unused, waiting in the wings.  While burning oil is certainly the way the current energy consuming sectors of American infrastructure operate today, the oil dependency will have to be changed eventually; there is no debating that point.  Reserves are coming closer to depletion every day as the world continues to burn its way through the fuel which runs it.  The pipeline will buy some time, but ultimately will only delay the inevitable downfall of fossil fuels. 

            Supporters of the KeyStone XL pipeline claim that the project would make the United States more energy independent by reducing the country’s reliance on foreign oil - and argue that the construction of the pipeline would create new jobs in a time of economic instability.  Both of these points when taken at face value seem reasonable until the environmental impact of their consequences is considered.  The political and national security risks associated with the purchase of foreign oil along with the threats posed by a shaky job market pale in comparison to the environmental threat posed by continuing our dependence on fossil fuels.  We should not be worried about our dependence on foreign oil; we should be worried about our addiction to oil, period.  The environmental consequences of our dependence on this energy source have been well understood by scientists for decades and president Obama has continually affirmed his administration’s belief in clean energy and the serious nature of climate change. Yet this proposed pipeline would expedite the same climate change processes that have already placed human life in danger world-wide.

            Merely taking this proposal seriously (to say nothing of actually approving it) bespeaks bewildering ignorance and arrogance on the part of the administration.  Engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs are working daily on the development of clean energy alternatives to oil.  Many of these alternatives are already poised to be implemented in key energy-using sectors of the modern American infrastructure, and yet they go under-utilized because that infrastructure has been built with the burning of oil in mind.  Even though the challenges are massive, and oil corporations have run smear campaigns in attempts to diminish public opinion of alternative energy, changing the American infrastructure to incorporate new forms of energy is not an insurmountable obstacle.  However, change will be impossible if hypocritical people in power continue to state their half-hearted commitment to the development of clean energy, while acting and legislating in a way that perpetuates the status quo. 

            While the prevailing message that has been disseminated to me and my classmates as freshman engineering students is that any engineer can have an impact so long as they are committed enough to their idea, the reality is that the implementation of new technology is contingent on an accepting political climate.  This connection between political will and scientific advancement has the potential to be extraordinarily liberating for engineers.  If those concerned with the development of technology understand that change can be implemented on a national scale with the help of a central government willing to embrace new technology, the possibilities are almost endless. 

            However, the same connection can also dissuade engineering students like me from entering into areas concerned with challenges on a national (or global) scale.  With the information regarding our dire fossil fuel addiction and the knowledge of viable alternative energy options that are ready to be implemented in some sectors of the American infrastructure, the administration’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline would send a message that people in power don’t care if the world is spiraling into a cycle of environmental decline.  The administration may as well admit that the environmental disasters that will result if climate change is allowed to continue are not to be put above the convenience and profitability of oil as an energy resource. If the pipeline is approved, those with the most power to impact change on a national scale will have proclaimed that clean energy science will only be used as a last resort when the wells runs dry and the world is forced to change. 

            If this message is sent by the current administration, by the same president who proclaimed that “We can’t have an energy strategy for the last century that traps us in the past” I will very much want to abandon all of my educational pursuits and dedicate myself to protesting all activities which contribute to the development, and not dismantling, of the United States’ fossil fuel infrastructure.  I will not have lost hope in the quest for alternative energy, but I will have lost hope in my ability to impact it as an engineer.  If the policy is going to be one of denial of the consequences that the United States’ addiction to fossil fuels will incur in the coming years, then what hope do those scientists and engineers dedicated to finding sustainable solutions to the energy problems have to impact change?  This is a question that, if the pipeline is approved, I will not be able to answer.  The idealism and belief in my ability to impact change that spurned me down the challenging road to an undergraduate degree in engineering will no longer be enough to keep me engaged in my educational pursuits. 

            Perhaps my resolve is not strong enough, but if the pipeline is approved, the same outdated and dangerous modes of energy that started the cycle of environmental decline will have been encouraged to continue by those who have the greatest ability to impact change.  In that moment, I as an engineering student will no longer believe in my own ability to impact change.  I do not believe that I am the only one who is experiencing this feeling of hopelessness surrounding the Keystone Pipeline.  I believe that, if approved, the Keystone pipeline would dissuade up and coming engineers all across the world from entering into alternative energy and that is possibly more dangerous than the impacts of the pipeline itself.  Not only will the United States have gained another pipeline whose sole purpose is to transport the oil which is contributing to the degradation of the environment, but it will lose out on those individuals with a drive and passion for finding a better way.

4.5 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 28,529 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 10,518 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 3,557 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Why I Didn't Vote Trump or Hillary
Joe Brewer · 2,639 views today ·   This is my ballot. It arrived in the mail where I live in Washington state — and I’ve already sent it back to the elections committee. Note how I didn’t vote for either...
How Big Banks Launder Money and Get Away With It
9 min · 2,577 views today · 'I wrote about how money laundering was actually done... they spiked it.' Parliamentary Candidate David Malone was a popular second choice in the UK Green Party leadership...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 1,888 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Heartbreaking Animation Reveals Plight of Animals Under Threat of Extinction
3 min · 1,799 views today · This stunning and heartbreaking animation gives voice to animals under threat from human activity. Made as part of the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, it features a...
Three Massive Mergers - Millions for One Bank and a Disaster for Food, Water, and Climate
Wenonah Hauter · 1,550 views today · In addition to advising on all three mega-mergers, Credit Suisse is playing a big role behind the scenes of the Dakota Access pipeline.
Donald Trump Is the Mirror and Hillary Clinton Is the Mask
Chris Agnos · 1,338 views today · Disclaimer: I do not support Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. I think the scope of the political debate is far too narrow for the kinds of actions that need to...
A Beautiful Reflection on What It Means to Be Human
8 min · 1,241 views today · Hello! We are Oh Wonder, a musical duo from London. We believe that everyone is equal. We are all human. We all deserve the world. And we can build that equality by sharing...
HyperNormalisation (2016)
161 min · 976 views today · We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 914 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
10 Quotes From an Oglala Lakota Chief That Will Make You Question Everything About Our Society
Wisdom Pills · 809 views today · Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 667 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 639 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 483 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
Donald and Hobbes Is Genius
Various · 419 views today · Some clever folk have been replacing precocious 6-year-old Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, with Donald Trump and the results are, well, take a look...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 415 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
The Burden of the New Story
Adebayo Akomolafe · 357 views today · The 'new story' - that longed for milieu when all is right with the world and things are set straight - seems to be taking its sweet time coming. Why?
Planet Earth II Could Be Best Nature Doc Ever Made
3 min · 351 views today · 10 years ago Planet Earth changed our view of the world. Now we take you closer than ever before. This is life in all its wonder. This is Planet Earth II. A decade ago, the...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Why I'll Want to Drop Out of School if the Keystone XL Pipeline is Approved