Clapp’s Framework Applied to the Keystone Pipeline Debate

Christopher von Türk                                                                                                                                2/20/15


Clapp’s Framework Applied to the Keystone Pipeline Debate

Of particular focus for the newly elected, Republican controlled Congress is the Keystone XL Pipeline Act, which would allow for the TransCanada Corp. to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline (Singer 2015). In order to understand the debate currently surrounding the Keystone XL Pipeline Act, it helps to have an idea of the various perspectives that are taking part in the debate. In this regard, it is useful to apply Clapp and Dauvergne’s framework of archetypal worldviews. Their framework simplifies environmentalist worldviews into four distinct categories: Market Liberals, Institutionalists, Bioenvironmentalists, and Social Greens (Clapp and Dauvergne 2011). I will use Clapp’s framework to assess the current debate in Congress. Ultimately, I find that each group represented in the framework should in theory be opposed to the building of the pipeline or abstain from voting. With this insight in mind, I will offer an explanation as to why the Keystone XL Pipeline Act is likely to become law.

The first worldview in the framework is the Market Liberal one. On the whole Market Liberals feel as if there is no looming environmental crisis, and instead of focusing on environmental issues, they feel as if we should put our efforts into promoting growth through economic globalization (Clapp and Dauvergne 2011). Because of their keen focus on world economies and free markets, Market Liberals understand that the low price of oil is not conducive to investment in infrastructure required for the exploration and transportation of heavy tar sands. Market Liberals would argue that the current price drop of oil is due to regular market fluctuations, and might argue that the price of oil could drop even further if the difference between supply and demand continues to grow (Dexheimer 2015). Market Liberals would be hesitant to have the government intervene in the open market; they would see the current drop in the price of oil as chance for higher cost producers to exit the market and for lower cost producers to gain market share. Because of their laissez-faire approach to policy, Market Liberals would likely abstain from voting so that they would neither be preventing the Keystone XL pipeline nor facilitating its construction.

Another worldview in the framework, the Institutionalist perspective, argues that there is potential for environmental crisis, but if we act quickly then damage can be controlled. To control environmental damage, global institutions need to foster cooperation between sovereign states (Clapp and Dauvergne 2011). With regard to the Keystone XL Pipeline, Institutionalists, idealistically speaking, would vote against it because there is no global institution—a World Environment Organization—that has oversight over the states that have jurisdiction over the pipeline. More realistically speaking, Institutionalists, similar to administrative rationalists (Smith 1992), would argue that data and cost-benefit analyses conducted by appropriate institutions are essential to the political and economic decision-making process. In current market conditions, the upfront costs/investments of building the pipeline, and also the environmental costs, would outweigh the benefits (any potential profitable returns).

Clapp’s third worldview, the Bioenvironmentalist one, would argue that the earth is currently at or near its carrying capacity. Bioenvironmentalists feel as if humans caused and continue to cause damage to ecosystems, as exemplified by overpopulation and overconsumption in developed nations. With regard to the Keystone XL, Bioenvironmentalists would hold that it drives unsustainable growth, to which they are staunchly opposed. In this way, the Keystone Pipeline would be seen as a development that meets the needs of the present while compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Clapp and Dauvergne 2011).

Finally, the main focus of the Clapp’s last group, Social Greens, is on achieving social justice in a world where there is injustice at both the global and local level, which ultimately leads to environmental crisis. They would argue that large-scale industrial life or global capitalism—the Keystone XL Pipeline is a prime example of this—feeds the exploitation of labor, indigenous people, the poor, and the environment (Clapp and Dauvergne 2011). They would regard the passing of the bill allowing the Keystone XL pipeline as a threat to autonomy at the local and community level. Instead of the industrialism and capitalism associated with plans such as the Keystone XL, Social Greens would argue for the empowerment of local comminutes and governments so that those who are typically marginalized have a voice in the matter.

Using Clapp’s Framework, I have demonstrated that all of the environmentalist worldviews she describes would either be opposed to the Keystone pipeline or abstain from voting. Why, then, did the Keystone XL Pipeline Act pass both houses of Congress? (Hunter 2015) Clapp’s framework focuses on different varieties of environmentalists, not all possible worldviews. Hence it is limited in explaining the outcome of such debates. Regardless, Senate Republicans are arguing in favor of the Keystone pipeline for three main reasons: job creation, energy independence, and low energy prices. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the story unfolds. Will Obama veto the bill? Will the Senate have enough people in favor to override the veto? The outcomes from this debate will have a lasting outcome on energy policy in the United States.




Works Cited

Singer, Paul. “Senate Approves Keystone Pipeline despite Veto Threat.” USATODAY. Accessed January 29, 2015.


Clapp, Jennifer and Peter Dauvergne. Paths to a Green World. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, n.d.


Dexheimer, Elizabeth. “Goldman Sachs’s Cohn Says Oil Prices May Hit $30 in Extended Slump.” Accessed January 29, 2015.


Voorhees, Josh. “Pipeline Blowout.” Slate, January 25, 2015.


Siegel, RP. “Keystone XL: What’s the Business Case?” Policy Innovations, January 26, 2015.


Smith, Zachary A.. The Environmental Policy Paradox. Fifth Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, n.d.


Hunter, Kathleen. “WASHINGTON: Keystone Backers Predict Final Senate Passage by Weekend | McClatchy Tribune News Service | The Bellingham Herald.” Accessed January 29, 2015.

About Christopher Von Turk

I am a junior majoring in Political Science at Davidson College, and I have a keen interest in energy and sustainability issues, in particular the Energiewende in Germany.

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