The debate over whether the Keystone XL Pipeline should be built has spanned months and months, polarizing politicians and scientists and pulling together advocates across the board. But as President Obama is taking his sweet time deciding if the pipeline should be built, a shocking statistic about greenhouse gas emissions has come to light shining a surprisingly positive image on the pipeline.

After pouring over numbers in an attempt to strip the politics from the pipeline debate, and just provide facts, the State Department concluded that the Keystone Pipeline would emit 18.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. That is a lot of carbon. However, when compared to the grand scheme of carbon dioxide emissions, 18.7 million is a mere fraction of the 6.5 billion tons emitted by the U.S. every year. One energy analyst went as far as to call the pipeline’ contribution a “rounding error.”


While I do not believe that justifying adding millions of tons of carbon dioxide to the equation because it “doesn’t seem like a lot” compared to the outrageous amount we currently output is a sound, or at all sane judgement, it does beg the question: where are all these other emissions coming from?

Well, according to this article in the Washington Post, a large part comes from cows. In fact, cow production emits 10 times more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere a year than the 1,179 mile long Keystone Pipeline. While putting up the fact that cow production is more environmentally destructive than the pipeline is a bit of a strawman defense, it does draw attention to the blaring hole in our country’s perception of what causes environmental destruction. The pipeline, by nature of its association with burning crude oil is immediately seen as environmental culprit, while cow production is rarely (if ever!) picked out of an environmental crime line-up.

So here we are stuck looking down the barrel of one gun that may or may not go off within the next few months (pending Obama’s verdict) while holding another one smoking in our hands. While looking to stop the potential damage that the Keystone XL could cause is important, if we, as a nation, are going to seriously begin addressing climate change, it is imperative that we ALSO look at the existing causes – especially one that each individual has the power to help end. If you knew that your diet was contributing 10 times the amount of greenhouses gases than a trans-continental crude oil pipeline, wouldn’t you feel compelled to change?

Maybe it’s time the State Department launched a full investigation into the environmental impact of cow production…just a thought.


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