The Death by a Thousand Cuts was one of the most cruel forms of torture and execution ever devised. Practiced in mid- and late-Imperial China from the tenth century until its abolition in 1905, Lingchi, as it was termed, involved repeatedly slicing the victim's flesh even beyond the point of death, assuring that there would be no afterlife for the person executed. Now, it seems there are those who are willing to execute our planet in a comparable manner, which might be termed Earth's Death by a Thousand Pipelines.
The U.S. State Department has issued a report which indicates that the very-controversial Keystone XL tar-sands oil pipeline will not, in and of itself, have a major negative impact on the environment. The truth is that oil derived from tar sands, which are so abundant in Western Canada, is the dirtiest type of oil imaginable, and that its refining releases a host of toxic chemicals into the air, water, and ground,
But that is of course not the end of the story, it is just barely the beginning. Safe pipelines are an oxymoron, like giant shrimp or military intelligence. Oil and other pipelines are subject to all sorts of natural hazards, ranging from gradual deterioration to manufacturing defects to earthquakes, not to mention being very attractive targets for terrorist attacks. Effective cleanups after such disasters is virtually impossible
In Sixteenth Century England, there was a somewhat parallel situation, which led to The Tragedy of the Commons. In rural areas, it was common to allow local peasants to graze their flocks and grow their crops on commonly-held land which they had the right to use. Each individual and family had no real incentive to conserve that land and its uses, as the amount of damage each did from over-grazing and over-farming was very slight. But, in totality, the commons were degraded and virtually destroyed by the over-usage done by all of the peasants.
Similarly, the seemingly-endless expansion and growth of oil and gas pipelines all over the world will soon be joined by urgent projects to provide water pipelines so that areas like California are able to survive the emerging world water shortage. True, as the State Department found, no single pipeline -- not even Keystone XL -- does sufficient damage to the environment to constitute a planetary disaster. That disaster will result in part from the totality of all of the pipelines already built, or underway, or planned, or proposed.
Of course, all of our other environmentally-unfriendly actions will also play a major role in the degradation of our only planet, unless we halt those actions now. It will be The Tragedy of the Commons on a global scale. The proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline and similar projects may not be those who give our planet its "final cut" -- but they are surely among those doing their part to insure its demise, and our demise as well.