The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was supposed to reach from Canada clear to the Gulf of Mexico. On Friday, it ended in the Oval Office.
President Obama's decision to deny a permit for the pipeline is a tremendous victory for the millions of people who, for years, have been raising their voices, organizing their communities and demonstrating on the streets to stop this polluting project that would have signaled "full-speed ahead" for tar sands oil. In 2008, when alarms were first raised about Keystone XL, we were up against incredible odds. Every expert on energy policy believed that approval of the full route to the Gulf was a done deal, and with good reason. Big energy projects like Keystone XL had almost never been rejected -- and certainly not on the basis of climate disruption.
What set Keystone XL apart, though, was how it dramatized the disconnect between reducing carbon emissions and opening up vast new sources fossil fuels. And in the case of tar sands, we are talking about a source that is not only enormous but also carbon intense. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made it clear: For us to have at least a 50 percent chance of limiting global temperature rise to a survivable level, fossil fuel corporations must leave three-quarters of their known reserves in the ground.
Faced with the sudden realization that the fight to save our climate could be lost on the tar sands fields of Alberta, a seemingly quixotic opposition movement began to spread the message that we could instead say "no" to dirty fuels like tar sands and "yes" to clean energy alternatives. It was a message the ultimately reached all the way to the White House.
But although President Obama held the pen today, the real heroes are the ordinary people who refused to give in, give up, or give way. They came together from an incredible array of backgrounds and communities -- united by a determination not to let Big Oil have its way. From climate activists marching in the streets of Manhattan to farmers, ranchers, and Tribal leaders in Nebraska who stood up for their land and water, this was a true rainbow coalition. And in that sense, it's a vital model for the greater clean energy and climate-action movement that can move our country -- and the world -- from the dirty fossil fuels of the past to a 100 percent clean energy future.
But let's not forget the man who got the people's message. For Barack Obama, this was a principled decision in the tradition of our greatest presidents. By saying "no" to Keystone XL, he has established an Obama Climate Test: All energy projects are not created equal, and it can never be in the best interests of the United States -- nor any nation -- to steal from our children's future for the sake of reckless profits today. As the President said today, approving this project would have undercut American leadership on climate, and that's not something we can afford. The President noted that we will have to leave some fossil fuels in the ground, unburned, if we hope to protect the future of our planet. That message needs to resound here at home, around the world, and wherever politicians run the risk of settling for what seems expedient versus what is truly right. When the world gathers in Paris later this year for the next big round of climate talks, we can take real pride in the climate leadership the United States has shown under President Obama.
So let's thank the president for doing what is right for both America and the planet. But let's also remember that this will surely not be the final test of his resolve, as the fossil fuel industry uses all its enormous financial resources to maintain its grip on our society. President Obama has proven that he knows how make the right decision. Our job is to help him keep doing it.