I'm with the Tree Huggers

The activists fighting the Keystone XL pipeline are radical--and right

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Illustration by Ben Kirchner for TIME

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What we really need is a political price on carbon, a policy presumption that cleaner is better. Fossil-fuel interests understandably reject that notion. But so do respectable pundits, because they're desperate to differentiate themselves from the unkempt riffraff who never shut up about the broiling of the planet. Respectable pundits see themselves as rational analysts, not emotional activists. They recognize the emergency but feel uncomfortable about the sirens. They endorse the war, but like armchair McClellans, they are always finding excuses for why we shouldn't fight.

I'm an analyst too. I'm reasonably kempt. I've mocked the activists who whine about Obama's "climate silence" while ignoring his climate actions--like unprecedented efficiency mandates that have slashed demand for dirty energy and unprecedented green investments that have launched a clean-energy revolution. But when it comes to Keystone, my analysis is that the activists are right. Fossil fuels are broiling the planet. The pipeline would turn up the heat. If Obama approves it, he'll deserve all the abuse the activists hurl his way. There are many climate problems a President can't solve, but Keystone isn't one of them. It's a choice between Big Oil and a more sustainable planet. The right answer isn't always somewhere in the middle.

At his second Inaugural, after his memorable line about Selma and Stonewall, Obama finally broke his climate silence. He vowed to fight to slash emissions, "knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations." Keystone isn't a perfect battlefield, but neither was Selma or Stonewall. In a war, you don't always get to choose where to fight. You still have to show you're willing to fight.

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