Youth unemployment stands at a
miserable 16.3%, one of the highest rates since World War II;
average graduating student debt has risen to a staggering $29,400;
and national debt per capita has reached its highest-ever
Despite these numbers, progressive
youth from across the country--collectivized into a group named XLDissent--will gather in the nation's capital tomorrow to protest
the construction of Keystone XL, an extension of the oil pipeline
system which runs from Alberta, Canada down to the Gulf Coast of
Texas. According to XL Dissent's "Call to Action," the students
plan to begin their march at Georgetown University and take it to
the White House, where 300 of them are expected to risk arrest and
many more are expected to participate in "a huge rally featuring
speakers from communities that are at the frontlines of the fight
against tar sands oil."
The students have chosen to begin
their march at Georgetown because it was there last July that President Obama opined on Americans' responsibility to fight climate change: "Someday, our children, and our children's
children, will look at us in the eye and they'll ask us, did we do
all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem
and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? And I
want to be able to say, yes, we did."
Apparently, the primary impetus for
this protest is that many of these students voted for the president
and they have gotten little to nothing in return. Now--after five
years of watching him fail to keep the myriad promises he so boldly
made to them, a core constituency of his liberal base--they have
decided to take action.
It is, indeed, refreshing to see
that young progressives who once supported Obama have the
willingness to publicly criticize him for failing to uphold his end
of the bargain.
Yet, their actions are misguided and
likely harmful to their own generation. This protest--and more
critically, the president's inaction on Keystone XL--will do no
good for the economic plight of youth in the country.
Contrary to XL Dissent's criticisms,
the pipeline extension would provide very real benefits to the both
the U.S. economy and the environment. It would create at least
42,100 jobs, not to mention the many positions it would create in
industries--such as hospitality and manufacturing--needed to
support employment along the pipeline. It would even reduce the
environmental impact of transporting oil across the heart of
America. Canadian companies' using rail and tanker to move oil
would actually increase greenhouse gas emissions by 28%. Also of
interest is that many Canadian companies have indicated their
intention to develop the oil sands in question with or without the
construction of Keystone XL.
There are certainly risks to
operating an oil pipeline that runs from Canada to Texas. There are
also risks to transporting oil by current methods. This seems to
have escaped the imagination of the student activists.
Considering the poor state of the
economy--particularly for youth--what these students should do
instead is pressure the White House to approve a project which will
deliver much-needed jobs and more energy security for the United
According to the letter of the law,
Secretary of State John Kerry holds the authority to make the final
decision on this project. President Obama has stated, however, that
he himself will make that call in a few months, following yet
another review--this one concerning what national interest the
United States has in building the extension of the pipeline.
With the country facing a steep
climb back to a robust economy, the president surely does not need
yet another report to inform him of what national interest there is
in Keystone XL. This recognition would dictate that he approve the
project. Doing so might well be one of the few decisions he takes
that will mitigate the economic gloom shrouding the country. It
would also help him bring about some of that change he promised to
youth five years ago--change from policy after policy that has
stifled the growth of both the number and quality of employment
opportunities in the country.
Raj Kannappan is the Program Officer for Chapter Services for Young America's Foundation.