Letter to John Kerry from young leaders against the Keystone XL pipeline

Yesterday, Jared Leto, with several other notable “millenials” such as Svante Myrick, the 26-year-old mayor of Ithaca, NY, signed an open letter to John Kerry urging him to recommend against approving the Keystone XL pipeline.

The controversial pipeline would bring tar sands south across the US – the same kind of dirty tar sands oil we want to keep away from the Bay, the Delta, and the air of the Bay Area. If – or rather when – the pipeline leaks it could pollute the Ogallala Aquifer which lies under some of America’s best farmland.

In 1971, Kerry asked Congress, "How can you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

In 1971, John Kerry asked Congress, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Obama has to approve or reject the Keystone XL pipeline in the next few months, after a years-long battle between environmental groups, farmers, ranchers, and Native Americans on one side and the oil industry, business associations, and some unions on the other.

Similarly to the WesPac project, the Keystone XL pipeline would endanger local communities’ health and safety and contribute to the pollution that causes climate change.

It is mainly the last point that concerns these letter writers, who refer to Kerry’s famous testimony to Congress in 1971 that marked a turning point in public opinion on the Vietnam War. They suggest that Kerry could mark a similar shift now in public opinion and government action on climate change.

Letter as PDF

As text

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C St., NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Kerry:

In 1971, when you were roughly our age, you asked “How can you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” The penetrating moral clarity of the question made it a turning point in the nation’s debate over the Vietnam War. You stood resolute, making history’s judgment inescapably clear, and inviting America to stand, at last, on the right side of that judgment.

We stand at such a point today, with respect to an even greater challenge, an even bigger mistake – the imminent threat of catastrophic climate disruption. Your recommendation on the Keystone XL pipeline permit can help correct the course for our future, and all humanity’s. We dare to believe that it’s not just an accident of history that this recommendation falls to you.

One might question whether the Keystone XL pipeline decision is really that important, whether it should be held up as a key test of this Administration’s resolve on climate. Similarly, one might have questioned whether that hearing in 1971 should be a watershed in the Vietnam War, a day we all remember today. But you didn’t. You made it so. The Keystone XL decision is a fateful climate crossroads for a very simple, substantive reason. If we are to prevent catastrophic climate disruption, we must immediately stop making large, long-lived, capital investments in fossil fuel infrastructure. Scientists and energy economists have made the point abundantly clear; we are simply out of time for big, irreversible steps backward like Keystone XL.

As young American leaders, we are confident in our ability to engineer solutions over time, and we enthusiastically support the Obama Administration’s commitment to advancing these solutions. The urgent climate imperative now – what our generation asks and expects of yours – is to give those solutions time to grow. We must not squander our precious time and capital now on making the problem intractably worse, especially when we are so bullish on the opportunities to make it better!

This decision is also a landmark in our climate struggle for an even more basic, simple reason: the hour is very, very late. It is too late to avoid Haiyan and Sandy and Katrina. All we can do for their victims now is offer help for recovery. And yet so many unnamed climate catastrophes are still preventable! Will we knuckle under to the oil industry and capitulate to those catastrophes, or turn with confidence and resolve toward a livable future? That is the Keystone question.

Some pundits and political operatives have argued that our focus on Keystone XL is misguided. They assume that the tar sands will be fully developed with or without the pipeline. This conclusion is both wrong and irresponsible. Industry executives themselves have said that KXL is necessary in order to expand production. And scientists have repeatedly warned that the tar sands are one of the major global carbon deposits that MUST remain substantially unburned if we are to prevent catastrophic levels of warming, as we have committed to do in the UN climate treaty and the Copenhagen Accord. Assuming that the tar sands will be burned no matter what would be surrendering to climate chaos, in order to justify a decision that would help guarantee that result. It’s not just a weak analytical assumption; it’s an unconscionable choice about our future. Our generation can’t afford that kind of fatalism. Approving the Keystone XL permit would be asking us to let our future die for a mistake.

Mr. Secretary, we are at war for our future – war against the tyranny of fossil fuels, and war for the prosperous, sustainable, clean energy future we know we can build. We hope that you will lead us in this battle. But we firmly and respectfully demand only this: Give us a fighting chance. Let us prove we can build a safe, clean energy economy. Don’t inflict on us the devastating human consequences of prolonged global oil dependence, when we know we can do better.

Please, urge the President to reject the Keystone XL permit. With hope and determination,

Emily Abrams
Chicago, IL

Jesse Charles
Madison, WI

Joel Charles
Madison, WI

Kate Colarulli
Washington, D.C.

Adam Gardner
Portland, ME

Ben Gotschall
Raymond, NE

Isabel Grantham
Washington, D.C.

Conor Kennedy
Deerfield, MA

Jared Leto
Los Angeles, CA

Mayor Svante Myrick
Ithaca, NY

Billy Parish
Oakland, CA

Ben Serrurier
Seattle, WA

Lauren Sullivan
Portland, ME


This document lists some information for each of the signers.

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