A "keystone" plays an integral role in an arch of a bridge or any span. It is the incredible wedge maintaining the whole vault's structural integrity. If you want to call something necessary, call it the keystone.
So calling the Keystone XL pipeline a "keystone" is to repeat the name of a thing deemed necessary. It's to say that we absolutely need the pipeline to the tar sands if we are to continue having what we have. But some people won't have it.
As we reported last fall, local Toni Brink decided to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and was subsequently arrested along with over two thousand other citizens. Before leaving she said, "I think it’s really important. Future of life on our planet depends on it.” Like Josh Fox, climate activist and environmental leader Bill McKibben, consumption critic and author Naomi Klein, climate scientist James Hansen, and others, the she recognizes that climate change is real, it's upon us now, and that investing in the dirtiest form of petroleum extraction and production constitutes an enormous loss.
For its opponents, this pipeline is the keystone of a bridge that mustn't be built. It's a bridge at the edge of the world that leads to a climate nightmare. It sort of wraps up the problem of sustainability in one package.
The current Republican house continues to fight for the Keystone XL after President Obama nixed it last month. They are still citing inflated jobs numbers and ignoring a host of human health, water, air, land, and climate problems, not the least of which is the continued despoliation of a swath of Alberta the size of Florida. People like McKibben have joined with Friends of the Earth, the Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club, and and the ever-justice-minded Occupy groups have banded together to get 500,000 petitions and letters sent to the U.S. Senate to fight the newest move.
It seems the current Republican house leadership will not stop pushing for new fossil fuel development. In the last 40 years, there hasn't been this much environmentally-related rancor. Some see it as a sign that the old way is crumbling and doing whatever it can do to hang on. The oil barons, the coal tycoons, and the gas giants will spend more money and more resources to get at less and less fossil fuel. And to do that, they have to spend even more to corrupt our politics, paying enormous sums to political campaigns and even more on lobbying.
People like Richard Heinberg, a fellow of the Post Carbon Institute likely read this as the desperate strangulation of an industry clutching its bags of money and lashing out. But at some point, tired of being abused, we will turn to more harmonious and sustainable ways of doing things. We'll take the bricks that were going to build that bridge off the end of the world and build something much better.
At least some of the future of life on earth might depend on it. That's what Toni might say anyway.