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Founding members of the Nobel Women's Initiative, six of the 10 Peace Prize laureates who signed a letter on June 17 urging President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

Nobel Peace Laureates Urge Obama and Kerry to Nix Keystone XL


Firmly linking the Keystone XL pipeline with climate change, 10 Nobel Peace Prize winners are urging President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the project.

“Climate change threatens all of us, but it is the world’s most vulnerable who are already paying for developed countries’ failure to act with their lives and livelihoods,” wrote the Nobel laureates in a June 17 letter to Obama and Kerry. “This will only become more tragic as impacts become worse and conflicts are exacerbated as precious natural resources, like water and food, become more and more scarce. Inaction will cost hundreds of millions of lives—and the death toll will only continue to rise.”

Indigenous leader Rigoberta Menchú Tum of Guatemala, who was awarded the peace prize in 1992, was among the signers. Besides Menchú, the letter was signed by Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams, both of Ireland, who won in 1976; Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, 1984; Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, 1980, Argentina; José Ramos Horta, East Timor, 1996; Jody Williams, United States, 1997; Shirin Ebadi, Iran, 2003; Tawakkol Karman, Yemen, 2011, and Leymah Gbowee, Liberia (2011).

This was the second time Nobel laureates had appealed to the President about Keystone XL. In September 2011, nine honorees signed a similar letter, including Menchú, Maguire, Williams, Tutu, Esquivel, Ramos Horta, Williams and Ebadi. His Holiness the Dalai Lama also signed the earlier letter. Last week's letter was dated the same day that the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson, told the Associated Press it is a “very important decision.” 

Just a few days earlier, former Vice President Al Gore, a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his anti–climate change activism, had called Keystone XL “an atrocity” in an interview with the Guardian. He said Obama would do well to focus his energy instead on a comprehensive climate change plan.

"This whole project [Keystone XL] is an atrocity but it is even more important for him to regulate carbon dioxide emissions," Gore told the British newspaper, adding that curtailing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants would go far in counteracting global warming.

Gore's sentiments were in line with those expressed in the letter to Obama, though he was not among the signers. Contending that turning down Keystone XL would curtail or limit development in the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, the Nobel laureates, too, urged the Obama Administration to take a global lead on combating climate change and spearheading the movement away from fossil fuels. Many of the signees belong to the Nobel Women's Initiative, established in 2006 by six of the 15 women who have received the Nobel Peace Prize in the 110 years it has been awarded. 

“Like millions of others, we were buoyed by words in the President’s second inaugural address: ‘We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,’ ” the letter stated. “Mr. President and Secretary Kerry, this is an opportunity to begin to fulfill that promise. While there is no one policy or action that will avoid dangerous climate change, saying ‘no’ to the Keystone XL pipeline is a critical step in the right direction. Now is the time for unwavering leadership.”

These assertions about oil sands development directly contradicted the findings outlined in the State Department’s preliminary environmental assessment report, released in March, that said Keystone XL would produce negligible effects both on climate change and oil sands development. (Related: State Department Draft Environmental Report Says Keystone XL Effects on Both Climate Change and Oil Supply Would Be Minimal)

The Keystone XL pipeline would wend its way from Canada to the Gulf coast of the United States bringing up to 800,000 of viscous crude along 1,700 miles. It would cost about $7 billion to build. Though supporters say it would create jobs, the State Department report also said that the overall economic impact would be negligible. (Related: Exaggerated Consultation Claims, Factual Errors in State Department's Keystone XL Environment Report Rankle Natives)

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Rob Dekker's picture
Rob Dekker
Submitted by Rob Dekker on
Apart from the carbon emissions from the Alberta tar sands that will feed the Keystone XL, there is a spectrum of other arguments why this pipeline is simply a very bad deal for the US. Some of the arguments summarized here : We already know that this entire purpose of this pipeline is to increase the price of West Canadian Select, which will lead to increased gasoline prices (10-20cts/gallon) in the Mid West. We already know that this pipeline will create an additional 500,000 ton PER DAY of toxic sludge be pumped into unlined "tailing ponds" the size of Washington DC, which leak toxins into the Athabasca river system, killing wildlife and is increasing cancer rates in down stream First Nation communities up to 10 times the Canadian average. We already know that this pipeline will enable a 50 % increase of the largest industrial project on the planet which is on track to turn pristine Boreal forest the size of Florida into bitumen extraction facilities and open pit mines. We already know that the Canadian government wants to triple tar sand development over the next 15 years, and has issued leases for 93,000 square kilometers of pristine Boreal forest to oil and gas companies without A SINGLE environmental impact study. And we already know that we currently EXPORT 3 mbpd in refined products, while we IMPORT only 2.8 mbpd from all OPEC countries combined, so we already know that we are ALREADY energy independent of OPEC, and any new imports will be EXPORTED. We already know that this pipeline will leak, and that the substance is diluted bitumen, which we already know from the Kalamazoo river spill is much harder to clean up, and much more toxic than regular crude, and that we have the benefit of having our essential aquifers contaminated with this stuff. We already know that a foreign corporation is using the argument of "eminent domain" to violate property right of US land owners. And we already know that this project will create only 35 permanent jobs for Americans, and not more than a few thousand temporary US jobs (about 0.002 % of the US work force for one year), and decidedly NOT the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even up to a million jobs that our politicians have been hand waving about. So, now that we know that right-wing politicians and the fossil fuel industry have deceived the American people in every possible way, can we take a step back and assess again : Exactly WHAT about the Keystone XL is in the "national interest" of our nation?

Anne Barber's picture
Anne Barber
Submitted by Anne Barber on
Oh for (St.) Pete's sake! How obvious can this choice be? We would bifurcate the nation in two? Think of any hotel or high school...you are in the basement, looking up, at huge aluminum or white colored tubing running all over the place. Shock of shocks....a small leak springs! Repairs must be made.... only now think of this on a large, huge scale cutting through the middle of the country....through some of the biggest states. It's not a question of "if." It never is. It's only a question of when. And then, the pontificating about the utter unpredictability, how tragic, how sad...the spike in cancer related illnesses..etc etc etc. Of course this should be BLOCKED. Instead, the pipe might be used for two purposes-the sinister one, and then as a lead up ramp for kids practicing on skateboards. The land happens to be in the boundaries of the United States. However, please listen to the global community and the leaders who have spoken.

Vivian Birdwell 's picture
Vivian Birdwell
Submitted by Vivian Birdwell on
You don't have to be a rocket scientist, or just a plain, ordinary, thinking human being to realize that putting the Tar Sands in a tube that will be worn down daily by the abrasiveness of said sand and rub holes in it all he time and leaks WILL OCCUR ALL THE TIME!! Take a good look at where it will be.leaking. On farmland, ranches and down the street where children play. Please take the side of Mother Earth and take Keystone XL out of the plans for future energy sources!!