President Obama, Are You Going to Detonate the World’s Largest “Carbon Bomb”?

By Michael Hoexter

January 31, 2014

Dear President Obama,

I campaigned for you in the primaries and general election of 2008, write about the economics of climate change, work in the area of energy efficiency and renewable energy, and am a climate activist in Northern California.  I am writing you to appeal to your highest ethical values and best understanding of scientific reality to deny approval to the Keystone XL pipeline project as well as deny approval to retrofits and new construction of other cross-border pipelines, such as the Alberta Clipper line which will enable more economical exploitation of the Albertan tar sands oil deposits.  The Albertan tar sands were described by the climate scientist James Hansen as the largest “carbon bomb” still untapped by the fossil fuel industry, which if exploited mean “game over” for a climate hospitable to human beings and our civilization.

In your State of the Union address this week, you have showed yourself to be perhaps of “two minds” with regard to action on climate change.  On the one hand, you made a brief statement which affirmed that “Climate change is a fact”.  Furthermore you touched upon the intergenerational challenge: “And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

Yet in the same speech you spent more time touting your Administration’s “all of the above” energy plan, which does not categorically distinguish between non-polluting renewable energy and polluting sources of energy like oil and natural gas.  You based your enthusiasm for “all of the above” on the chimera of “energy independence” when it comes to fossil fuel extraction, ignoring the role of international markets in determining where oil and increasingly natural gas is consumed, no matter where it is extracted.  Your focus was most intently upon natural gas, the climate impacts of which are much larger than we currently estimate due to the problem of fugitive methane from fracking and gas distribution networks.

A cynic reading your speech might come to the conclusion that you were a President with a primary allegiance to the oil and gas industry, who used some throwaway remarks about climate change, energy efficiency, and renewable energy as political cover against criticism of your energy policy…that you were a President who did not sincerely care about the world in which his children and his children’s children lived.  I hope this is not the case.

It would appear, given the contents of the State Department EIS released today, that you are surrounded or you have surrounded yourself with government contractors and officials who are enablers of our country’s and our world’s catastrophic, in the words of your predecessor in office, “addiction to oil” and other fossil fuels.  That report, which severely underestimates the climate impacts of tar sands exploitation enabled by the pipeline as well as the economic importance of the pipeline, was produced by a firm that has direct ties to TransCanada, the builder of the pipeline, and other oil and gas industry players.  For each gallon of tar sands oil produced, approximately 70-110% more greenhouse gases are emitted “well to tank” than for a conventionally produced gallon of gasoline.  The KXL pipeline is the object of such intense lobbying by the Canadian government and the oil industry because it will in fact have a critical role in reducing the costs of and therefore the extent of exploitation of the tar sands.  The oil industry-tainted report has every appearance of a short-sighted means to “grease the skids” for you to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. 

You may, in thinking about this decision, be attending to the swirling political world surrounding you, in particular the deranged bleating of Republicans in the House who are denying climate change and mouthing the macho-sounding creed of “drill, baby, drill”.  But, as you know, their denial of science and, in many cases, of objective reality, has a correlate in their enthusiasm for gouging the earth for fossil fuels:  this practice has to stop for us to face the climate challenge.  Leaving fossil fuels in the earth is one of the hard choices facing us, which many of your nominal political opponents on the GOP side, in their bluster, are not men and women enough to make.

So, of whatever mind you are and whatever the content of your character, it is actually up to you to, in this critical period of climate disruption, to ignite or not ignite the tar sands carbon bomb.  Through your work, through a little bit of my work and the work of tens of thousands of others you have ended up in the position to make fateful decisions about the future of humanity.  The decisions have not been already made by other people, the decisions are in fact on or soon to be appear on your desk.

So returning to the intergenerational challenge that you are well aware of, approval of the Keystone XL pipeline will be an objective failure of that challenge on your part: you will have not done all you could to prevent the climate from turning bad (or worse) for your children and grandchildren.  I would wish that there were more “play” in this for you and for us as a generation but there isn’t:  our choices are stark and you currently have enormous latitude to make the most decisive choices.

The question is, do you want Sasha and Malia, or their children looking at you with reproachful eyes or even challenging openly with ample justification your commitment to their well-being and the well-being of their friends?  On Keystone XL, the choice is very clear and it is yours.

Hopeful of wise decisions on energy and climate now and in the future,



Michael Hoexter, Ph.D.

22 responses to “President Obama, Are You Going to Detonate the World’s Largest “Carbon Bomb”?

  1. Well and good, but two points: 1.) Plenty of Democrats support the pipeline. We should call them out first and loudest, since they are not generally deniers and should know better. 2.) I think you should either explain the “content of your character” remark or else remove it. Is there really a MLK / racial equality element to this?


    • Dale Pierce, I think you missed MLK’s point. The quote is: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
      In his relationship to Wall Street and corporate America, I think Mr. Obama has given sufficient reason to question the content of his character. Weak and gullible are two words that arise in my mind.
      If he cares about his legacy, he would do well to ponder that.
      And that has nothing to do with the color of his skin.
      A profoundly disappointed Obama voter.

    • Michael Hoexter

      re: your comments numbered:

      1) The decision rests with the Executive Branch and therefore the President…there is no reason to “go light on” the President or focus on other Democrats first. I don’t see your logic here.

      2) I’m am referring to Dr. King’s injunction to judge people by the “content of their characters”, which I think is a good rule to follow if one is judging another person. The climate change challenge is a test of character like no other for political leaders and really, for the entire currently living generation of adults. I believe Obama wishes to be a post-racial President, as Dr. King would have wished, though pursuing policies that often Dr. King would probably have disagreed with. There is plenty of racist misperception of Obama’s character out in the public sphere but there is also a lot of fact-based theorizing about why he does what he does, that cast the quality of his character in doubt for specific individual reasons and expectations we have for political leaders. Many of these theorists about President Obama’s thought-process are also following Dr. King’s injunction, I believe. I don’t think I need to spell out in the context of this letter to the President, if he would ever read it, that the content of his character has been questioned for non-racial reasons (and by prominent left-wing black intellectuals from the beginning of his political career).

    • I do not claim to know the mind of Michael Hoester. To my mind, this issue brings the content of President Obama’s character clearly into play. How else does an individual make an all-in political, economic and moral decision such as ending the KXL? The “content of character” remark is not racial. On the contrary, I do not, most American’s do not and future generations will not judge Barak Obama by the color of his skin but by the actions he takes as President in the face of this country’s greatest challenge; going all-in to end its addiction to carbon based energy. I believe the President has that measure of character MLK was referencing fifty years ago. Hopefully my belief is well founded.

      • Charles Fasola

        This country’s greatest challenge is to finally wake up to the fact that the infinite growth, profit first and foremost capitalist system is one which is anti-democratic, certainly fascist and functions with complete disregard for the good of humanity. Until that insidious system is removed from the face of the earth, the place of humans on it will be in continuous peril. Not just from climate change and pollution but also from nuclear annihilation. By the time my children’s children reach middle age there will assuredly be far less of us walking about this speck in the universe; unless the endlessly exploitative system we call capitalism is made to go away.

        • Is it capitalism or the controls we place on it and the way we as individuals work within it that are to blame? It’s too easy an out to say the system causes people to falter. If we are, then any and every ‘system’ will be corrupted. If you’re correct what’s my choice? Give up? Squirm my way through life following the newest path of least resistance? I need to believe that the knowledge of how to coexist and thrive on this planet is part of our makeup because to not is to insinuate, as you do, that turning inward and accepting my exploitation or complete anarchy and bloody annihilation are the only other choices. Perhaps and this is not a new idea, there can be no perfect system and our only chance at surviving is using our greatest attribute to constantly adapt our tools to be a bit more perfect. Maybe, I’m becoming one of those wacky idealists but I’ve been squirming my way around barrier after barrier for the last ten years and many of us have been for more than three decades. I can’t stand it anymore and I’ve made my choice; do my best to fix the tool we have.

          • Charles fasola


            It’s unfortunate that you are misinformed when it comes to the available alternatives. Your knowledge of economics and alternative systems does not allow you to understand that the present system is truly the cause. It’s a finite goddamned earth, wake the hell up to the fact that the capitalist system exists to exploit.

            • You remake my point succinctly in your reply to AB’s comment… “Free market capitalism is a fantasy concocted for the exploitation of everyone and everything.” An idea cannot concoct fantasy or decide to exploit, only people do.

              This comment you keyed in response to mine reminds me of the tricks conservatives use in an effort to deny climate science or any idea that doesn’t fit into their rigid world view.

              …You attack… I’m misinformed… my knowledge doesn’t allow me to understand… I’m part of some unmentioned conspiracy.

              …You insinuate some other course, conveniently not mentioning the choices or why and how any of them would do a better job or prove your theory… alternative systems?

              …You bluster in an attempt to intimidate… goddamned earth… wake the hell up.

              …You combine truth with conjecture to conjure some new fact… of course it’s a finite earth but that fact doesn’t prove your theory of exploitation.

              You don’t like the system, I don’t like the system as it stands, and neither of us likes what we’re doing to our planet. Our time, effort and brain power should be used to change the things we’d like to see different.

              • charles fasola

                Capitalism is merely an idea, huh? I’m not here to write a book; nor am I willing to educate you. If you will not make the effort yourself do not place the burden upon others or me. Especially, I am not willing to do so when my perception is the individual I would be informing is hopelessly misinformed. However, since I am feeling somewhat charitable at the present moment I will suggest you begin your own education by acquiring an understanding of the following, before all else: the history of money, what is money, monetary sovereignty, the wonders of properly utilized fiat currency, the writings of Michael Hudson, Richard Wolfe, Joeseph Huber, Stephen Zarlenga, Karl Marx, actual monetary reform movements as opposed to non-reformers who believe the current bank centric is quite alright. So, there’s a start. Finally, although my leanings both with regards to economics and politics consist of ideologies polar opposite of those who I believe you mean when you use the term conservatives, the reality is their methodologies are quite successful in terms of capturing public opinion. I hope my own push you to find viable alternatives to the present system.

        • Anthony Bartlett

          “We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions”
          Adolf Hitler

          We have a crony capitalist system. Each administration simply supports different corporate cronies. These policies are an attack on the American people, especially the poor.

          • Charles fasola

            Thank you for a very succinct comment. We have a crony capitalist system rapidly evolving into a police state. Free market capitalism is a fantasy concocted for the exploitation of everyone and everything. The public good be damned. And Jen, you are a part of it all.

  2. Thank you. I believe every available method of giving this message the widest possible audience is needed immediately.

  3. Just a few facts in your support:
    The Impact of Tar Sands Pipeline Spills on Employment and the Economy
    Report Overview
    From Cornell University

    Since the first Keystone pipeline began operation in June 2010, at least 35 spills have occurred in the U.S. and Canada. In its first year, the spill frequency for Keystone’s U.S. segment was 100 times higher than TransCanada forecast.
    There is strong evidence that tar sands pipeline spills occur more frequently than spills from pipelines carrying conventional crude oil because of the diluted bitumen’s toxic, corrosive, and heavy composition. Tar sands oil spills have the potential to be more damaging than conventional crude oil spills because they are more difficult and more costly to clean up, and because they have the potential to pose more serious health risks. Therefore both the frequency and particular nature of the spills have negative economic implications.
    The Kalamazoo River tar sands spill affected the health of hundreds of residents, displaced residents, hurt businesses, and caused a loss of jobs. The largest tar sands oil spill in the U.S. occurred on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010. This spill is the most expensive tar sands pipeline oil spill in U.S. history, with overall costs estimated at $725 million.
    The public debate around Keystone XL has focused almost exclusively on job creation from the project, yet existing jobs and economic sectors could suffer significantly from one or more spills from Keystone XL. According to the U.S. State Department, the six states along the pipeline route are expected to gain a total of 20 permanent pipeline operation jobs. Meanwhile, the agricultural and tourism sectors are already a major employer in these states. Potential job losses to these sectors resulting from one or more spills from Keystone XL could be considerable.
    To date, a comprehensive risk assessment for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline oil spill has not been conducted. Such an assessment would provide an independent review of the risk of spills and their economic consequences.

  4. ALOHA!! I do not understand the First World consumer mentality of pollution. If you want a car, a house and iPhones you have to dig or drill the Earth and pollute. Go see what America looked like in the 1920s-1930s, before we exported our consumer pollution to Asia. It seems simple. There would be less pollution in the world if we cut back consumption. But NIMBY is as NIMBY does …

    Well, the following paragraph sums up the lack of understanding of politicians worldwide.
    A cynic reading your speech might come to the conclusion that you were a President with a primary allegiance to the oil and gas industry, who used some throwaway remarks about climate change, energy efficiency, and renewable energy as political cover against criticism of your energy policy…that you were a President who did not sincerely care about the world in which his children and his children’s children lived. I hope this is not the case.

    If the author campaigned for Obama then he might have run across the name Penny Pritzker, who ran Obama’s campaign finance(national chair). Penny Pritzker is a billionaire whose family founded Hyatt Hotels. A company that has been exploiting low income workers for decades. She also sat on the board of Superior Bank and virtually started SubPrime in Illinois, once again exploiting lower and middle class workers. The bank failed and the FDIC and SEC came in.
    From the WSJ: Consumer advocates and government investigators asserted Superior “engaged in unsound financial activities and predatory lending practices.”
    The Pritzker family ended up paying a fine of $460MIL and the start of “pay-the-fine-don’t-go-to-jail” prosecutions started. Now why would an “all caring” astute Presidential candidate put such a corrupt privateer in a position of power if he did have a sense of greed and power?

    Penny Pritzker also sits on the Council of Foreign Relations a “think tank” of billionaires who decide whose middle class kids will go to war and be killed. Don’t concern yourself too much about Keystone XL and the potential damage go over to Iraq and Afghanistan and look at the millions dead and maimed due to US Foreign Policy. Add in Vietnam in the 1960s and on and on to every other foreign policy disaster since. Is Chicago politics crooked? If you were a career politician having to come up through the ranks in Chicago what are the chances you didn’t learn to lie and steal a lot? If not then a trip to Klus-R-Us is in order …

    Next we have another top advisory to Obama Valerie Jarrett. This is the woman who was high up in the Mayor Daily office who first hired Michelle Robinson(maiden name). Michelle got Jarrett to bring Obama into the fold. In a Vogue Magazine 2008 article about Jarrett: “After the dinner, Michelle took the job with the mayor’s office, and Valerie Jarrett reportedly took the couple under her wing and “introduced them to a wealthier and better-connected Chicago than their own.”

    Who is Jarrett now? As they all do they sit on “boards” and get paid for their political influence. One of the boards Jarrett sits on is the Chicago Stock Exchange, $34,000 and USG, manufacturer of gypsum going back to 1900s where they owned 37 mining operations in the US and later incorporated asbestos. She is paid $146,600 from USG.

    Guess what? Now both Pritzker and Jarrett have been appointed to top positions in the government and white house. Is that an accident? Is Obama really choosing from the “best and the brightest” or are those appointments pay back in a corrupt political system based in Chicago politics? What do you expect from Obama who is owned by the “wealthier and better connected”?

    I suggest the author and all voters thoroughly research the backgrounds and history of their democrats before they automatically vote. The republicans don’t have a patent on greed and corruption. If you think of the two parties as a political monopoly, which they are, then you can understand they both act in ways that keep the monopoly in power with as little concern for the citizens needs as possible. Since money means power then both parties are equally owned by banks and corporations. If you look at the US Fed as a private money monopoly you understand that this country is owned by two monopolies acting as one to control the masses and the list of the 1% certainly attests to that fact. It seems Obama’s promises of “Hope and Change” has lost its luster and credibility. Yet what do you expect from a monopoly? Its quite simple … quit voting for the monopoly.

    Sash and Malia won’t care about Keystone Xl any more than Chelsea Clinton doesn’t care for Vietnam Vets. They will be like Chelsea Clinton hired right out of college at $240,000 a year working for a lobby group or investment banks. The monopolistic cycle will continue. In reality we are all the 100%. There is no 1% or 99% when it comes to the value, the purchasing power of our money. Its just the 1% think they can survive better … but what good is a world where the rich have to bullet proof their Porsche to drive to Starbucks.

    • Charles Fasola

      … but what good is a world where the rich have to bullet proof their Porsche to drive to Starbucks?

      Absorb this fact: The rich are both delusional and sociopaths enough to believe such a world will be a wonderful place. To those at the very top you are meaningless and nothing to be concerned of. You are rabble. You are disposable. Until the very end, they know the serfs will sell their soul for the scraps left by them in the gutters.

      Idealists such as Mr. Hoexter, despite reality consistently kicking him in the teeth with evidence to the contrary, somehow still believe the necessary changes can be made working within our current government system. That our so-called representatives and decision makers are still concerned with what is best for the public good. That alternative, clean energy technology will save us from the inevitable and become capable of providing energy in quantities that will allow the more, more and more capitalist system to continue at the status quo; before collapse occurs. I say Nuts! I say sorry sir, you are as delusional as any of the neo-liberal, Friedman worshiping, libertarian, randian cultists who are deciding which road to follow towards the horrorific fate awaiting not only humanity but also the majority of life on this planet. Time to wake up; don’t you think?

  5. Bravo, Michael, on an eloquent and compelling letter! I hope and pray that President Obama will read and take it to heart.

    Have you considered–or would you consider–submitting it to the Letters to the Editor section of major newspapers, such as The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Jose Mercury News?

    Thank you for your hard work on behalf of life on this planet,

    • Charles Fasola

      Are you serious? Yes, the prose may be pretty, the style undeniable, however, I ask again, are you serious? I really hope but will never pray you are being facetious?

      Do you really believe B.O. gives a s%$# about anything, at this juncture, except for whether he will receive lucrative employment for his family and himself, very lucrative speaking engagements just like good old Bubba Bill and a grand presidential library with a bust of himself that rivals any created to memorialize the emperors who have come before?

      Again I beseech you, please Wake Up!

  6. The best non-violent protest, would be to build a million solar powered homes.
    But, because people do not yet understand that solar is stronger, safer, cheaper & more widespread than coal, gas or oil, so they don’t take a serious look at solar & wind.

    I was in Germany in 1990 where I watched the debates on how can Germany could shut down coal fired power plants & nukes. Germany developed the best policy on how to shut down gas fracking using a solar feed in tariff policy ( FiT ) requiring Utilities to pay anyone feeding solar onto the grid $0.99 kwh for solar.

    We do not need the tar sands because we now have more solar energy being harvested than the energy that would be produced from burning all the tar sands.

    If the solar industry grows faster, if a million solar powered homes are built in 2014, this will make the tar sands production unNecessary.
    If, as expected, Obama approve KXL, this will necessitate the building of even more solar homes, as a way for the solar movement to fight back against global warming.

    • Paul I appreciate the sentiment. 30 years ago, I was leading hikes for the Sierra Club. You are mistaken about solar/wind however. The technology which can support a high standard of living for the entire world, with virtually no environmental effect is nuclear power. I imagine that sounds shocking, but if you have an open mind and do some research you may come to the same conclusion. By the way, Germany is building 5.8 GWe of new coal-burning plants this year, some of which will be burning lignite, a technology in a race with the tar sands for the most environmentally destructive on Earth, both in the mining and the burning. A truly ‘Green’ country is France, 75% nuclear, 20 % hydro, and practically no fossil-fuel burning for electricity.

  7. World wide, more people now work in the Solar industry than the auto industry.

  8. Excellent letter Michael – thank you!