If we make one final stretch assumption and say the Keystone XL enables the extraction of all the oil in place in the Athabasca, then using the same assumptions as in the previous paragraph it would take 502 years to extract all of the oil in place and contribute the 0.5°C that pipeline opponents throw around as some sort of reasonable assumption on the expected impact the pipeline could make toward the climate. Yet in this case it would still be over a century before any impact could even be measured. Most climate activists I know don’t believe we have 100 years to solve this problem, yet time and resources are being spent on a tiny contributor to the overall problem that won’t make a measurable contribution for over a century — if ever.
At this point, some Keystone opponents will argue “Yes, but this could be the beginning of a social change that could make a difference.” But I have yet to see anyone detail how that might work. The vast majority of the world’s growing carbon emissions are coming from Asia Pacific. The reason they are growing is because billions of people aspire to a standard of living that still pales in comparison to Western standards of living. If I could connect the dots to how outrage over a pipeline from the oil sands to the US translates into a reduction of coal usage in Asia Pacific, I would concede the point. But thus far, I haven’t seen anyone connect those dots.