PARIS -- An environmentalist lies down alongside his fellow organic cucumber aficionados to block the construction of an oil pipeline and wakes up a member of a proxy army serving the billionaires who are fighting against America's economic and national security interests to line their own pockets. How did that happen?
This phenomenon is on display in the battle against the Keystone XL pipeline project, the cornerstone of Canada-U.S. energy independence, set to run from Alberta, Canada, into Nebraska, then ultimately to the Gulf Coast of Texas where it can be exported.
None of this pleases environmental activists, whose actions suggest that they would rather America and its trading partners get their energy supply from foreign authoritarian regimes that are inclined to reinvest oil profits into war -- most recently in places like the North Caucasus and Syria.
"But the United States does that too!" the activists argue. Indeed, most nations with a respectable GDP reinvest a significant portion of it into both offensive and defensive measures in the interest of their own national and economic security. The difference between siding with America and siding with Saudi Arabia, for example, boils down to ideology.
The precise term for such an activist in the Billionaire's Dictionary is "useful tool." No need for a draft when there are plenty of volunteers willing to dive headfirst into the cognitive trap of substituting a billionaire's mind-set for their own. You would think the mere fact that these activists find themselves on the same side of an issue as billionaires might be cause for some soul-searching. It's as though cognitive dissonance, like critical thought, washes over them, then quickly recedes like it has somewhere better to be.
Activists have as much of a chance at stopping the march toward U.S. energy independence as they have in affecting global climate cycles with a PowerPoint presentation by Al Gore. The only question worth asking here is, "Cui bono?" Who will ultimately profit?
In the case of Keystone XL, last week's State Department report ought to have assured President Obama that there were no significant environmental red flags associated with the project. Still, the White House has said that it isn't in any rush -- a curious position for a president who had just wrapped a State of the Union address by highlighting the future star role of his veto pen on issues that have been subjected to infinitely less scrutiny than Keystone.
So, then, why the holdout? Either Obama and his supporters like the idea of foreign oil, or they prefer a domestic alternative to the pipeline. Or perhaps both.
Let's assess the foreign-oil front first. After Canada, Saudi Arabia is America's second-largest oil supplier through its national oil company, Saudi Aramco, but Western oil companies benefit from lucrative joint ventures and service contracts. According to the BP (formerly known as British Petroleum) website: "Our Integrated Supply and Trading (IST) team purchase and supply a wide range of crude oil and refined products, destined for BP's vast refining and marketing networks, as well as to other international petroleum markets. The BP Representative Office in Riyadh helps to direct, coordinate and assist all BP activities in the Kingdom."
Jolly good, chaps! At least until Canada supplants BP's Saudi cash cow, right?
One of the most outspoken (if not wealthiest) anti-Keystone activists is billionaire Tom Steyer, a tireless purveyor of alarmist anti-pipeline billboards and advertisements. A spokesman for Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), whom Steyer has ripped over Lynch's support for Keystone, told Canada's Globe and Mail last year that it's hypocritical for Steyer to oppose the pipeline after making a fortune off BP stock. Awkward.
On the domestic front, if Keystone becomes a reality, rail cars that serve to transport oil will be rendered redundant. A Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train that was hauling oil exploded in North Dakota in December. A similar train explosion in Quebec last summer killed dozens of people. Doesn't sound like a very environmentally friendly alternative to me. How many polar bears did those fireballs end up choking? Tough to measure that.
But you know what doesn't seem anywhere near as difficult to measure? The $34 billion that Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway spent to acquire Burlington Northern Santa Fe in 2009. The longer Keystone remains delayed, the more attractive the alternative of having Obama's favorite billionaire stepping in to provide the stopgap solution.
By all means, enviro-warriors, carry on. I just thought that perhaps you might want to meet your generals.
Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and former Fox News host based in Paris. She appears frequently on TV and in publications in the U.S. and abroad. Her website can be found at http://www.rachelmarsden.com.