Expression, Ecology, Identity

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pipe Dreams: The Cultural Narratives Behind Keystone XL

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline is a hotly debated project that, if realized, could have a vast environmental impact. Public discourse about the pipeline in the forms of media coverage and statements to the press speak to possible technical solutions to the project’s environmental harms: some recommend moving the pipeline’s location; others suggest replacing it with alternative energy sources. However, I propose that the root problem of the Keystone pipeline is not so much technological as ideological. The project proposal exists as a result of a set of unsustainable cultural narratives: suppositions about consumption and “the good life,” notions about science, and the perceived separation between humans and non-human nature. These tacit assumptions are the forces driving Keystone XL, the impetus of its negative environmental impact. And yet, they are virtually invisible in public discourse about the pipeline. Examining the proposed project through a cultural studies lens reveals that Keystone XL is a symptom of a deeper problem and that this problem is social, not merely technological. A lasting solution to the pipeline’s ecological dangers will mean reimagining the destructive narratives from which it springs. It will mean shifts in perception and political will, without which technical fixes will be impracticable or ineffectual.

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