President Biden Refuses to Make our Climate Crisis Worse

Cancels Canadian Tar Sands Pipeline Keystone XL

Welcome to the web version of Need to Know: Science & Insight, a new form of personal journalism. Free subscription.


Hello again, I hope you and yours are well. There’s been considerable press about the cancellation of the Keystone XL oil pipeline but much of it lacks context and some is plain wrong. So let’s start at the heart of this 12 year saga, a school bus in Canada’s tar sands. 

I wasn’t going to stop for the school bus stuck in the mud outside of Fort McMurray, Alberta in the heart of the Canada’s tar sands industry but my kids insisted. It had been raining most of the week and the grassy field was soaked and slick. We stopped and got out and looked at the 12,000 kilogram bus uselessly spinning its wheels, digging deeper into the mud. Someone got the driver to stop, essentially saying you’re making a bad problem worse.

No one had a vehicle large enough to tow or push the bus which would have likely become mired as well. A few other people came by, and collectively, we came up with ideas. I thought it an impossible task for a handful of people barely able to stand in the muck ourselves. A few trials, some planks of wood and a gleeful bouncing up and down inside the back of the bus produced the unexpected result of freeing the vehicle. 

I was surprised we’d done it and by my own feelings of intense satisfaction at what we strangers had collectively accomplished. By not making a bad problem worse, we figured out a way to solve it together. 

Keystone XL would have added 110 millions tons of CO2

President Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL (KXL) oil pipeline is an example of not making a really bad problem worse. The Need-to-Know here is that KXL would have added 110 million tons of climate-heating CO2 into the atmosphere every year for at least 50 years a study in journal Nature Climate Change reported in 2014. That’s country-sized emissions — enough to put it on the list of the top 35 worst carbon-polluting countries in the world, as I wrote in Vice at that time.

I first learned of KXL more than ten years ago and ended up writing a dozen articles about it, including how Canada’s spy agencies were monitoring KXL protestors as potential threats to national security. The 36-inch diameter pipe was intended to pump 830,000 barrels of bitumen per day from the Alberta tar sands down to US Gulf Coast for refining. Calgary-based TransCanada Pipelines, now renamed TC Energy, originally claimed the pipeline was needed for US energy security, but environmentalists said it was to be refined into diesel and exported to Europe. An interesting Need-to-Know today is that the US doesn’t need the oil and Europe doesn’t want dirty diesel. In fact, Europe bought nearly 1.4 million electric vehicles in 2020, more than any other country in the world.

Here’s where things got interesting in 2020

Click here for the rest of the article.

Pandemic Hacks: Feel Better, Safer and more in Control

This is part of a series from the World Health Organization

We’re all facing a very tough two or three months right now with the worsening pandemic, economic uncertainty, political messes, winter weather, etc. The COVID-19 vaccines are a light at the end of the tunnel but we’re still deep inside a pretty dark tunnel. Right now it looks like a damn steep climb to get the end and into the light. 

In this free issue of Need to Know: Science and Insight I‘ve collected ideas, tips and ‘hacks’ to help us get through the next few months. Please do share: https://leahy.substack.com\

Focusing on things we can’t control like politics, climate change, the weather and so on leads to anger, frustration and depression. The ancient Greeks recognized that trying to control the uncontrollable, including trying to control the future, was the main source of our misery and unhappiness. 

The Need-to-Know about feeling less helpless and more in control is to avoid dwelling on things we can’t control. There’s research showing that reducing exposure to depressing/negative information — pandemic reports, political shenanigans, crime reports — can help us feel better.

Doom-scrolling’ through negative stories and commentary cultivates what psychologists call “mean world syndrome” and affects how we see others and our feelings of security and optimism about the future. It’s not about ignoring what’s happening in the world but limiting exposure to the bad stuff and actively seeking out the positive. 

Here’s a bit of wisdom that helps me apply the brakes:

‘Your mind is like tofu; it tastes like whatever you marinate it in.’

— Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School, citing his meditation teacher.

Here’s a few tips and ideas I’ve collected from various sources to help get through the next couple of months: 

  • Connect with friends and classmates. Call up a couple this week and try not to talk politics. We need social connectedness to be healthy and happy
  • Look for your life’s bright patches and be grateful to have some. And trust that there will be more to come
  • Go for walks no matter the weather. Find a bit of nature to enjoy, it can make a big difference in how you feel. Go with family and friends or neighbours. Be social but stay 6 feet apart.
  • Learn new stuff. Books, seminars, courses, lectures, hobbies. Anything that helps me stay off-line is what I look for. 

For more go to Need to Know: Science and Insight