The more than 60 Missouri Western students and community members gathered in the downstairs theater of Rolling Hills Library erupted into applause at the conclusion of a politics forum sponsored by the Tri-Beta Biology Fraternity and the Politics Club.
The event, which took place just before Spring Break, was designed as a way to engage the community in discussion about the nationally-proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.
The Keystone Pipeline is a network of pipes that ships crude oil from a pumping station in Hardisty, Canada, down the United States to Port Arthur, Texas.
The Keystone Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline are two separate parts of the same system, however. The Keystone Pipeline already exists. The current pipeline system is represented by the solid line illustrated in the diagram. The Keystone XL Pipeline (the dashed line) is a proposed pipeline that would pump more oil at a faster rate to Port Arthur.
Often, Keystone XL is simply referred to as “Keystone,” adding further to the confusion.
Media agencies regularly use controversial, political issues – like Keystone – to attract more viewers. By doing so, these media sources often mischaracterize facts and create a misinformed populous.
It was the misunderstanding of scientific concepts like this that pushed Tri-Beta member Kelly Cochran to bring forth the idea of hosting a forum.
“I came up with this idea when I went to the talk on Ebola at the East Hills Public Library,” Cochran said. “Some of the questions from the audience were just kind of striking.”
Cochran suggests that scientists should be the ones to explain field concepts to the public, not politicians through the media; she is not alone in this belief.
Mark Mills, faculty advisor for Tri-Beta, agrees that scientists have a duty to the people.
“We as scientists should be taking science to the public,” Mills said.
To achieve that ideal, Cochran invited three experts from Missouri Western to speak at the forum and answer questions from the public.
The speakers at the Politics Forum were Karen Koy, professor of geology; Jeanette Holland, adjunct instructor of economics and Dylan Gibson, president of the Political Science Honor Society.
Each of the presenters was chosen to provide their unique viewpoint on Keystone – Koy for the environmentalist view, Gibson for the political view and Holland for the economic view.
Gibson was first to speak, providing an overview of what Keystone XL is and the historical context of the pipeline.
Koy was second, pointing out some of the environmental concerns of Keystone, such as the impact of an oil spill.
“It is eventually going to spill,” Koy said. “Are we prepared and ready to clean up in a proper way and test in a proper way? Currently, no; we are not prepared to do that.”
Holland spoke next, criticizing the lacking economic impact of building Keystone. In total, the project would only create 35 permanent jobs and provide a GDP increase of less than 1/25th of 1 percent. To put into perspective how low that increase is, if the United States’ GDP was $100, Keystone would be adding less than 4 cents to our total economy.
Although the presentations in total lasted 45 minutes, more than twenty audience members asked questions of the panel.
By the end, the consensus of the panel was obviously against the Keystone XL Pipeline.
However, Holland eventually pointed out why Keystone shouldn’t be disregarded completely. She suggested that Keystone could potentially be safer than alternative methods of piping oil, such as train, tanker truck and boat.
Eventually, Gibson called attention to the way Keystone fits into the jaded picture of American politics.
“There’s a big push led by the Democratic Party, and some Republicans as well, to try to find alternative, green energy sources,” Gibson said.
However, Gibson is doubtful that the current political climate will allow green energy to be marketable.
“[The US] is providing the oil companies $1.8 billion in indirect subsidies through tax-code loopholes… keeping oil-production costs artificially low which keeps gas prices low,” Gibson said.
If Americans are either presented with either artificially cheap gas or pricy electric cars, citizens will continuously choose the cheap gas. Until it is expensive to produce and buy gas, consumers will never switch to green energy. Subsidies keep oil-production costs low, thus preventing green energy from being marketable.
Though the facts surrounding Keystone mean a great deal to Cochran, she has a more-to-heart protest of the pipeline.
“My native friends on the Lakota reservation that I visit – [Keystone] goes right through their land,” Cochran said. “They’ve already been protesting it – suddenly, it was personal to me.”
Cochran may have been skeptical of the pipeline at first, but after assessing the many facts and different perspectives on the project, she can understand what both sides stand for.
Learning to form opinions about complex political and social issues is a must for every college student. However, as Mills points out, the first step is to find a way to be involved.
“These student organizations are great avenues to become involved, outside of just taking classes,” Mills said. “It’s one thing to come to college and take all the required classes, but quite honestly, in today’s world, you need more.”
If you would like to make the Tri-Beta Biology Fraternity your avenue for involvement, the organization meets at 5 p.m. on Thursdays in Remington 211. You can contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any further questions.
If the Politics Club seems more your style, the club meets at 7 p.m. on Thursdays in Spratt 205. If there are any questions about this club, email email@example.com.