Right now the Keystone XL pipeline is at he heart of a nationwide debate. Protests are taking place to halt the importation of Alberta Tar Sands development. On another front, fracking is being targeted for protest as well. The single biggest argument for both of these carbon based fuel sources is economic. Petroleum companies warn that stopping development of these resources would have dire consequences for many industries. About that much they are probably right.
But lets step back for a second and look at the economy as a whole. Currently the income distribution in the united states is more disparate than it has been since the age of slavery. The regressive tax structure embraced by Reagan and expanded further by subsequent administrations has; according to Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, allowed the top 1% to see an increase of wealth of over 150% and the top 0.1% to see over 300%. Meanwhile the entire bottom 90% owns less wealth combined that that of just the top 1%.
What does this have to do with tar sands and fracking? Basically, they took our skin out of the game. We no longer economically benefit from the system as it functions today. Why would we preserve a failed system? Wages have stagnated and the standard of living has decreased to the point where living in debt for an entire lifetime is not unusual for the vast majority of Americans. Yet as long as the power is on and the cable bill is paid, the disenfranchised masses are still docile.
The tipping point is not far off however. As more and more Americans become personally affected by climate change related disasters, the credibility of the modern day robber barons will erode. People already stretched to the limit will not be able to bear the extortion of the petroleum industry as it scrambles to control the dregs of an ultimately finite resource. A resource that is directly linked to the growing problems with food insecurity and water scarcity.
Once the decision becomes whether to fill up a tank of gas or buy groceries becomes a constant and inescapable reality, it will not be long before even the most hard headed come to realize they are forging the shackles that bind them. Personal debt will reach a limit where it is no longer sustainable to put off payment until better times roll around. A geology professor once said to me "No one really cares about clean drinking water until green sludge comes out of their tap".
Well, the green sludge is not far off.