Nature as God: A Literary Analysis of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”

The time of the Romantics in England was a time of great cultural and political shifts that may have been ardently confusing for the general population.  Without emotional clarity, an introspective quest for philosophical and religious answers emerges.  Where better to examine this quest than in the writers that chronicled it?  English Romantic writers also wanted to react against Enlightenment thinking, understanding the importance of science while simultaneously being unwilling to put all trust in reason over intuition and feeling, unsure of where Christianity could fit into all of this.  In addition, industrialization meant that technology was advancing quickly and the entire physical landscape was changing, driving the Romantics to often emphasize the importance of Nature and the isolation of urbanism.  In times of great change and confusion, many often turn to religion for answers.  The Romantics, however, had a complicated relationship with religion as well.  Many sought to understand the role of God even as they drifted from organized religion, wanting to reconcile new feelings of rebellion and the comfort of Nature with old notions of Christ and scripture.  In “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth, both authors use religious allusions and a pantheistic treatment of Nature as divine to explore their faith.

William Wordsworth wrote “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” in 1798, upon revisiting the banks of the Wye for the first time in five years.  This poem appeared in Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth’s collaborative work that is said to be the beginning of the English Romantic movement in literature.  It established and embodied the Romantic characteristics of the wanderer, the brooding introspective, and the essential role of Nature in life.  Nature was very important to Wordsworth ever since he went to Hawkshead Grammar School and was given freedom to rove over the fells that surrounded the town (Schmidt, iv).  He travelled extensively and even experienced the French Revolution firsthand.  He visited the ruins of Tintern Abbey when he was twenty-three, and was distraught upon returning five years later that the memories in his mind of the place were very different.  The individual who visited these ruins originally was a different person from the one who returned.  Romantic authors often write autobiographically, and the audience can feel Wordsworth’s pain as he looks back on how simple and happy his life once was, when he was allowed to spend unlimited time in Nature and was not so corrupted by society.  This path away from innocence as one matures is very reminiscent of the fall from grace of Adam and Eve: with great knowledge comes great sorrow.

As science began to make breakthroughs by leaps and bounds and organized religion was losing its grasp on the population, Wordsworth used “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” to explore his own religious convictions.  In the poem, the speaker returns to visit the banks of the Wye River after five years away.  He is distressed that his memories of the place are so different than what he is now experiencing.  Interestingly, despite the name “Tintern Abbey” being leant to the poem, Wordsworth does not go into great detail about the Abbey and focuses on the surroundings instead.  This is important because the ruined abbey could be a metaphor for the crumbling power of the established church at the time, but Wordsworth only mentions it instead of having his speaker describe it.  Instead, the audience is to have already known the state of the Abbey and is asked to focus instead on the natural world around it.

Nature was always a teacher to Wordsworth and a close friend, and his speaker takes on the same qualities in the autobiographical nature of the Romantics.  At the outset of the poem, the speaker is more mature than when he had first visited the Wye River and had since become disillusioned with the world, claiming to have a “heavy and weary weight/ Of all this unintelligible world” (Wordsworth, lines 39-40).  Things were simpler and happier in his youth, and now that he has strayed from Nature he has lost that part of himself and his innocence as well.  This loss of innocence parallels the original sin of consuming the Forbidden Fruit: Adam and Eve gained knowledge and experience by eating the apple, but they ultimately sacrificed their innocence and were therefore punished for doing so.  “This, like the echo of ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ in Tintern Abbey, is an almost subliminal recognition for the reader, but more overt allusion is also present with the parallels with the Prodigal Son and with Abraham and Isaac” (Wedd, 63).  The speaker encourages his audience to have faith, essentially replacing God with Nature in suggesting to never stray too far from Nature because “Nature never did betray/ The heart that loved her” (lines 122-123).  He even claims that the love and worship of Nature is a “warmer love – oh! With far deeper zeal/ Of holier love” (lines 154-155), once more emphasizing the divine qualities of Nature.  He encourages his audience to draw on their memories in Nature for their ethical characters and their solace in the rough world of politics, work, chores, and society at large.  Wordsworth’s pantheistic ideas were a reaction against the authority of the establishment church, presenting the idea that perhaps religion is more of an individual, spiritual journey.  The proof of God is in Nature, and that is where one must hold their faith and principles.

Wordsworth’s collaborative partner was Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  Coleridge wrote “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” as part of Lyrical Ballads as well, inspired by a book Wordsworth was reading (Schmidt, iii).  Coleridge was raised with more of a city life than Wordsworth, but he admired Wordsworth as a poet and they became great friends.  He had been a radical at one point and was planning to establish an ideal democratic community in America, but when the scheme fell apart his radicalism also waned.  Coleridge, also considered to be a father of the Romantic movement alongside Wordsworth, suffered from depression and therefore contributed the characteristic of the brooding and melancholy to the movement as well.  “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” specifically contributed suspension of disbelief, the tragic hero, the sinner, a pantheistic philosophy regarding Nature, and the supernatural.

Coleridge also employed Biblical allusions in order to explore his own difficulties with religion, and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” can be read as an allegory for religious sin.  Coleridge was the son of a Reverend but still a radical thinker for much of his life, leading to a cognitive dissonance that parallels him with the Mariner.  “His sense of guilt and isolation, so vividly embodied in The Ancient Mariner, demanded the comfort of God’s forgiveness through the willing sacrifice of his Son, Jesus” (Wedd, 67).  Both Coleridge and the Mariner felt they lost their innocence and were cursed by this loss.  By shooting and killing the albatross, the Mariner has been eternally punished, much in same way that Cain was cursed for betraying Abel or the original sin to which Wordsworth also alluded.  By failing to respect God/Nature’s rules, the Mariner has been cast out of his regular life on the ocean and left in some kind of limbo or purgatory where he is doomed to walk the Earth for the rest of his days and tell his story to all he meets.  He even has to wear the Albatross after disaster begins to fall upon the ship, in order to mark his sin and show his penance.  Despite his curse, he still seeks salvation in his prophet-like wanderings of spreading his story and the proof of God’s greatness.

The Mariner offers this advice: “He prayeth well, who loveth well/ Both man and bird and beast./ He prayeth best, who loveth best/ All things both great and small;/ For the dear God who loveth us,/ He made and loveth all” (Coleridge, lines 612-617).  He seeks solace in the telling of his tale, reminding his audience to not think themselves invincible and lose themselves in society: “O sweeter than the marriage-feast,/ ‘Tis sweeter far to me,/ To walk together to the kirk/ With a goodly company” (lines 601-604).  Coleridge is essentially warning his readers through his character of the Mariner that despite all of the advancements in science, philosophy, and culture, God and Nature will both always be all-powerful and omnipotent, and must still be respected.

Kathryn Walls of the Victoria University of Wellington argues that the Wedding Feast mentioned in the end of the poem serves as a sort of Communion.  She states that the Mariner has persuaded the Guest that the sacred is more important than the secular, by reminding the Guest of God’s greatness as well as his “representation of a church congregation as a convivial family gathering, incorporating ‘youths and maidens gay’, [which] tends to blur the very distinction between the sacred and the secular that [he] sets out to underline” (Walls, 56).  The contradiction between the Guest’s insistence on making it to the Feast and then his ultimate refusal to go explicitly illustrate the effect the Mariner’s story had on the Guest.  At the time of Coleridge’s writings, it was believed that communicants had to be worthy of the sacrament (58).  Neither the Mariner nor the now introspective Guest feel themselves worthy of this sacrament, and thus, neither end up attending the Feast.  Similarly, Coleridge himself might have felt at odds with religion given both scientific progress and the torment he suffered from manic depression, and also felt unworthy of religious ceremony.

The two texts compare in this confused treatment of religion, and Coleridge and Wordsworth both seemed to treat Nature pantheistically.  Both poems were also included in Lyrical Ballads, and were therefore both important in galvanizing the Romantic movement in literature and setting standards for the canon.  Both speakers are intelligent and brooding, indicating the troubled emotional state of the times with the disillusionment of the French Revolution and the loosening hold religion had on people.  Both speakers feel pained by the knowledge they have: “And till my ghastly tale is told,/ This heart within me burns” (Coleridge, lines 584-585); “That time is past,/ And all its aching joys are now no more,/ And all its dizzy raptures” (Wordsworth, lines 83-85).  Perhaps, as in the Bible, they are punished for knowing too much.  It can be argued that the focus on Nature is in direct opposition to the Industrial Revolution, suggesting that individuals were closer to the divine before life became complicated with technological advancements.

This turn toward Nature that is evident in both poems, with Nature being an all-powerful almost magical creature: “In nature and the language of the sense,/ The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,/ The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul/ Of all my moral being” (Wordsworth, lines 108-111); “And now the storm-blast came, and he/ Was tyrannous and strong:/ He struck with his o’ertaking wings,/ And chased us south along” (Coleridge, lines 41-44).  In this movement to be closer to Nature, both speakers also turn away from society, preferring isolation: “This soul hath been/ Alone on a wide wide sea:/ So lonely ‘twas, that God himself/ Scarce seemed there to be” (Coleridge, lines 597-600); “Once again/ Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,/ That on a wild secluded scene impress/ Thoughts of more deep seclusion” (Wordsworth, lines 4-7).  Both speakers are wanderers who seem to be looking for themselves rather than looking for specific answers to their troubled emotional states.  They both have grown and aged with experience, yet still long for their innocent youth.  This experience is so important and impressing to them that they both must retell their tales to relieve some of the pressure this knowledge is expressing on them.

Certainly, the Romantics “confronted in their own lives and expressed in their writing the basic spiritual experiences and theoretical problems of a religious view of the world” (Wedd, 70).  “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” are prime examples of this religious struggle.  The Romantic Era was one filled with science and social progress which seemed to contradict previously held religious ideas.  Even so, Coleridge and Wordsworth both seemed to acknowledge a belief in some kind of deeper spiritual reality: “All which we behold/ Is full of blessings” (Wordsworth, lines 133-134); “For the dear God who loveth us,/ He made and loveth all” (Coleridge, lines 616-617).

Black (editor), Joseph, Leonard Conolly (editor), Kate Flint (editor), Isobel (editor), Don L. The Broadview Anthology of British Literature Volume 4: The Age of Romanticism, 2nd Edition. Broadview Press, 07/2010. VitalBook file.

Jamison, Kay Redfield. Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. Free Press (1994.), 219–224

Walls, Kathryn. “The Wedding Feast as Communion in ‘The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.’” Notes & Queries 61.1 (2014): 56-58. Humanities International Complete. Web. 11 June 2015.

Wedd, Mary. “Literature and Religion.” A Companion to Romanticism. Malden: Blackwell, 1999. 61-71. Print.

Nature as God: A Literary Analysis of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”

Spanglish: A Descriptive Argument for a Linguistic Anomaly

When I inform people that Spanish was my first language, most just gape at me in disbelief.  All four of my grandparents were born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States to start their families, one pair legally and the other by less acceptable methods.  My parents spent their summers in Mexico and wanted their kids to have respect for the culture they came from by preserving its tongue.  My fair complexion (people fail to realize that in Eastern Mexico, the Spanish blood is still very strong) means that I have not always been identified visually as Mexican-American; albeit when given the opportunity, I have always been proud to announce that I am Chicana.  Growing up in East Los Angeles, the majority of people I came across on a daily basis had some level of knowledge of the Spanish language.  Even those who could not hold a conversation in Spanish were familiar with some terms and phrases that commonly appeared on a daily basis.  Although I no longer live in Los Angeles, the Latino influence in all of Southern California remains apparent in the commonality of Spanglish.

Who uses Spanglish?  I recorded a middle-aged grocery store clerk, my college professor grandfather, my twenty-five year-old younger sister, my six year-old cousin, various other Latino family members, my non-Latin Hawaiian husband, a thirty-something male bartender, and other middle-aged individuals in the retail/travel/restaurant sector.  What do all of these people have in common?  They are all Southern Californians!  While Spanglish is considered slang and is therefore not generally appropriate in written pieces or in formal settings, it is fairly common in informal settings no matter the class, gender, or education of the individual.  It is used primarily in friendly conversation.  Examples:

  • Adiós! See you mañana!” – a male middle-aged grocery store clerk who appeared to be of Latin decent, wishing us well after we told him we would likely be back the next day to pick up last minute items for our party.
  • “I’m so sick of this tarea.” – my twenty-five year-old sister, while venting about her heavy course load (tarea = homework).
  • Gracias, my friend. But your dinero is no good here.” – a thirty-something male bartender who appeared Caucasian and spoke with a white accent, informing my coworker and I that we were not to pay for our drinks after having helped his restaurant with a banquet delivery.

In these examples above, there is not necessarily a specific reason for choosing the Spanish word over the English.  They are interchangeable.  Sometimes, however, the Spanish word or phrase is chosen because there is not an English equivalent.  Examples:

  • Te amo, sweetheart.” – my Hawaiian husband who doesn’t have a Latin bone in his body but who also grew up in Los Angeles. Te amo, which means “I love you,” was elected in this instance because the Spanish version is stronger than the English.  In English, there is no distinction between “I love you” to a life partner and “I love you” to your parent or child.  In Spanish, te quiero means “I love you” in a broader sense as you would say to a family member, but te amo signifies a much deeper love.  You would only say it to someone with whom you are in love, not simply someone you love.
  • “I know he seems like a good guy, pero no me cae bien.” – my grandfather when talking about his first meeting with my cousin’s new boyfriend.  The literal translation is “he doesn’t fall well with me.”  Of course, this makes absolutely no sense in English.  What it refers to in Spanish, however, is that feeling when someone just rubs you the wrong way and you don’t necessarily know why.  This is an oversimplification of the term, but any Spanish speaker would know exactly the feeling you felt when you say this phrase.  Given that there is no direct English equivalent of this feeling, it is easier to use the Spanish phrase than to try to explain it in English.
  • “I need help! Hechame agua!” – my six year-old cousin (who is NOT a fluent Spanish speaker) when we were playing video games.  The literal translation is “throw water on me.”  In Spanish, the phrase means “get my back,” in the way that you would say to someone on a video game mission while they lead the charge into a horde of zombies and leave their back completely exposed.  It is also commonly used in the car when you are asking a back-seat passenger to look out the rear of the vehicle to inform you if they are clear to back out of a blind parking spot.

I did encounter many other examples of Spanglish over the past seven weeks, but these were the most useful examples to illustrate the prevalence.

Ricardo Otheguy and Nancy Stern of the peer-reviewed International Journal of Bilingualism are actually seeking to eliminate the term “Spanglish.”  They “reject the use of the term Spanglish because there is no objective justification for the term, and because it expresses an ideology of exceptionalism and scorn that actually deprives the North American Latino community of a major resource in this globalized world: mastery of a world language” (Otheguy, Stern, 85).  While I can understand the point they are trying to make, I have to argue that Spanglish is indeed its own language.  You have to speak both English and Spanish in order to understand it, and I do not believe it deprives anyone of any cultural pride.  In fact, I believe it adds to cultural pride.  A Mexican in Guadalajara likely would not understand a sentence spoken in Spanglish.  An American deep in Maine backcountry would also likely not understand a sentence spoken in Spanglish.  It is a unique linguistic phenomenon common in heavily mixed areas such as Southern California and Texas.  Speaking Spanglish immediately lets people know where you come from and how you grew up.  When I went to college in Northern California, only my SoCal peers could share Spanglish jokes with me. I have noticed that in my experience, it has become a matter not necessarily of Chicano pride, but also now has come to represent Southern Californian pride.

It is also not something that should be considered negatively, in my opinion.  Lucy Garcia Willis of the Modern Language department at the University of Texas says, “[Code-switching] is done unconsciously… it’s a cultural thing.  It’s gaining more and more acceptance” (Webb, 84).  The United States is composed entirely of immigrants.  All of these immigrants arrived with their own language (or in the case of Native Americans, were already here).  It usually takes just a few generations for the language to almost entirely die out amongst the youth of those immigrant groups, the “immigrants” becoming completely assimilated.  With Latinos, however, Spanish has grown in some senses.  “It is the acculturation – not in the surrender of el español and the embrace of English, but in the juxtaposition of the two – that a common denominator might be found” (Stavans, 556).  Spanglish allows for the best of two different but united worlds.

I am proud to be an American.  I am also proud of my Mexican heritage.  Furthermore, I am proud to be a Southern Californian.  Spanglish allows me to represent all of these things at once.  While I will not use it in academic of business settings in my future, it is essential to keep alive and pass on to further generations in order to embrace our culture.  My children will learn words and phrases in both Spanish and English not only from me, but also from their peers and social settings.  The same will likely happen with their children, and their children, and so forth.  We will all be richer for it.


Otheguy, Ricardo, and Nancy Stern. “On so-Called Spanglish.” The International Journal of Bilingualism 15.1 (2011): 85-100.ProQuest. Web. 27 June 2015.

STAVANS, ILÁN. “Spanglish: Tickling the Tongue.” World Literature Today 74.3 (2000): 555. ProQuest. Web. 27 June 2015.

Webb, C. A. “Spanglish.” English Journal 84.4 (1995): 84. ProQuest. Web. 27 June 2015.

Spanglish: A Descriptive Argument for a Linguistic Anomaly

With Divine Roots: A Comparison of the Busts of Two Powerful Women From Two Different Ancient Civilizations

The works of art selected for the purposes of this essay are the “Bust of Nefertiti” and the “Juno Ludovisi”. Despite being sculpted nearly fifteen hundred years apart and in different parts of the world, they both are sculptures depicting powerful women of the times and cultures in which they were created. The “Bust of Nefertiti” is a painted limestone bust of Nefertiti by Thutmose from around 1385 BC (Wikipedia). It is from Ancient Egypt and depicts the wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten. The “Juno Ludovisi” is a colossal Roman head from the first century AD and has no artist attributed to it, but it depicts the influential woman Antonia Minor (she was the daughter of Marc Antony and Octavia Minor). Both women carried themselves well and were considered to be the ideals of beauty in their respective ancient civilizations as well as being part of ruling families, and analyzing and comparing both can tell us a lot about now only how beauty and women were viewed by each culture, but also power. These statues help illustrate how many similarities there are between these two cultures and share a common respect for women of higher classes in ancient times that is not often discussed when thinking of ancient civilizations. At the same time, however, they also show the differences in what is valued in each society.

The bust of Nefertiti has become a cultural symbol of Ancient Egypt since its discovery in 1912 by a German archaeological team. Nefertiti herself, whose name means “the beautiful one has come”, was the Royal Wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten from the Eighteen Dynasty of Egypt in 14th century BC. It is supposed that she was an Egyptian Royal by birth and served as co-regent of Egypt with her husband from 1352 BC to 1336 BC. Some say that she might have actually become Pharaoh herself for a brief time after her husband’s death (Tharoor). This bust is identified as very obviously being Nefertiti because of her characteristic crown, which she wears in other surviving and labeled depictions of her. It is made of limestone with painted stucco layers. They eyes are made of quartz and the crown on her head has a golden band around it. The perfect symmetry of her face is reflective of the classical Egyptian art style. She has a long elegant neck, a distinguished nose, and high cheekbones, able to command authority at a glance. During Nefertiti’s time of power, Egypt was in relative stability. Her calm face shows this peace, eyes calm and bright and not looking for war. The Egyptians valued art and created it for the sake of their gods, from which they believe all of their rulers descended. This is evident in the great care taken in the creation of this bust, including the beautiful colors that would have been difficult to create and brighter in their time. She certainly does have something godly about her, with its smooth perfection and any signs of aging having been removed to show Nefertiti as perfectly flawless and a symbol of timeless beauty and peaceful power.

The Juno Ludovisi is interesting not only because of its colossal size but because of that fact that Antonia Minor is portrayed not as being god-like, but rather as being a goddess herself. She is idealized, youthful, and made in the likeness of the goddess Juno. The name “Ludovisi” comes from the fact that this statue was added to the collection of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (Wikipedia). The giant size suggests that it was something of a cult statue of a goddess in a temple, despite being sculpted as the figure of Antonia Minor. She has a serenely beautiful face, idealized features, a youthful hair style, and straight lines throughout her face, everything conforming to the Roman physical conventions for deities.
Antonia Minor was the younger of two daughters by Marc Antony and Octavia Minor. She was the mother of Emperor Claudius and great-grandmother of Emperor Nero. She was celebrated for her virtue, beauty, and fairness. Although freeborn women in ancient Rome were citizens, they had a limited public role unless they were from powerful families, in which case they could exert some influence as rulers and idols. Clearly, she was part of a very important family in Roman history and was one of the most prominent Roman women.

The statues may not appear exactly similar at first glance, but when considering the contexts and intentions of both pieces, they are very similar indeed. They both depict powerful women of their times in idealized ways that suggest a godly quality inherent in their forms. Both women were looked up to by their societies and held power during peaceful times, visible in the peaceful perfection of their busts. Despite the limitations placed on women in their respective societies (such as not being able to vote in Ancient Rome), these women were highly regarded and respected.

Obviously, created fifteen hundred years apart, there are bound to be differences. Visually, one is significantly smaller than the other, one is painted, and they are visually representative of their races. The ideal Ancient Egyptian woman does not look like the ideal Ancient Roman woman, even though they are both perfectly symmetrical and both have perfect lines on their faces with smooth skin. Limestone does not carve exactly the same as stone in any case, and the busts were created with different highlighted features. Antonia Minor does wear a crown of sorts on her head, but her hair is unbound in the way of youth. Nefertiti’s hair is not visible with her crown/headdress. They both have a strong, commanding presence about them, albeit in different ways given these different distinctions between them.

Although women are not generally regarded as having many rights in the Ancient world, there were exceptions. Antonia Minor and Nefertiti are two prime examples, as they were both clearly important, powerful leaders in their times. Their likenesses were immortalized in these two busts that we can still observe and learn from today, both in a historical sense as they were representative of their societies, but also in an artistic sense as they were both illustrative of the movements in their cultures.

Antonia Minor. (2014, October 1). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:32, January 25, 2015, from

Hurley, D. (2006, February 14). Antonia Minor. Retrieved January 25, 2015, from

Nefertiti Bust. (2015, January 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:32, January 25, 2015, from

Tharoor, I. (2012, December 6). The Bust of Nefertiti: Remembering Ancient Egypt’s Famous Queen. Retrieved January 25, 2015, from

With Divine Roots: A Comparison of the Busts of Two Powerful Women From Two Different Ancient Civilizations

High Costs with No Chance of Refund or Return: An argument against the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline

The Keystone XL Pipeline is currently a hot button issue in the news owing to President Obama’s vetoing of a bill permitting TransCanada from constructing this oil pipeline.  Many are arguing the political implications of this gargantuan project, set to link Alberta Canada to the Gulf of Texas to gather and transport oil, without understanding much about the Pipeline, its purpose, and its implications.  To begin, the process the Keystone XL Pipeline will use to collect oil must be understood.  In order to obtain the oil in the ground, TransCanada has to extract tar sands from the earth first.  Tar sands are a combination of clay, sand, water, and a compound called bitumen.  The bitumen must then be melted and pumped out of the ground after the ground has been heated for several months.  Large amounts of water are required to extract the tar sands, and then large amounts of energy are required to heat the water and ground to separate the bitumen.  It takes four tons of bitumen-laden earth to produce one barrel of oil; only 10% to 15% of harvested sand contains bitumen (Palliser).  These tar sands are very dangerous, as is the oil itself while it is being transported.  The Keystone XL Pipeline should not be built because a spill would devastate ecosystems and the animals that live in them, its extraction of oil would harm public health, and it is another expensive and fiscally unwise quest in the insatiable pursuit of oil when the money could be better spent funding alternative energy solutions.

The Keystone XL Pipeline would have many negative environmental impacts.  Tar sands extraction will destroy forests where migratory birds nest and mining ponds that store toxic waste from the extraction will poison animals.  Furthermore, there is a high likelihood of leaks and spills given past similar projects.  The maximum spill volume from a structural failure of the Keystone XL Pipeline would be an estimated 2.8 million gallons, according to a consulting editor for the Science Scope journal, Janna Palliser.  Spills cause both immediate physical problems, such as drowning animals in oil or destroying landscapes, as well as toxicological problems, which can linger long after any leaks or spills actually occur.  “Toxic effects on animals include direct mortality; interference with feeding or reproductive capacity; disorientation; reduced resistance to disease; tumors; reduction or loss of various sensory perceptions… drowning and hypothermia” (Palliser).  Any animals that are affected may be scavenged by other animals, spreading the problem still further.  There will be habitat loss and barriers to wildlife movement that will result in reduced survival and reduced reproduction for many species.  Thirty-five state-protected species will be affected by the Pipeline, and twenty-three species protected by the Endangered Species Act (Slocum).  If the Pipeline were to cause harm to a generation or more of any of these species, the damage may be irreparable and the entire species unable to recover and pushed closer toward extinction.

Animals are not the only ones affected.  The Pipeline would cut primarily through grasslands, rangelands, croplands, forests, and wetlands.  Clearing bottomland hardwood trees for construction can result in permanent damage to the forests because many of these larger trees, shrubs, and grasslands require decades or even centuries to be reestablished.  With air quality damaged as well, many existing plants and trees are also likely to suffer.  Just as with animals, recovery could potentially be nearly impossible.  An investigative journalist previously published by the United Nations, Dan Lieber, found that in Alberta alone, the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline would mean the destruction of over 65,000 square kilometers of forest.  This is about the size of California’s Mojave Desert (Lieber).  Granted that the Pipeline has not yet been built so these are purely based on potential scenarios, but reliance on similar historical examples to predict what will happen shows evidence is strong that many animals and ecosystems will suffer if construction is permitted to continue.

A case of tar sands extraction in Alberta (which is exactly where the Pipeline will start and exactly what the oil companies will be doing there) shows an extremely similar situation to what will happen if the Keystone XL Pipeline is allowed to be built, and foreshadows exactly what will happen to the health of those living near the Pipeline.  The Lancet, one of the world’s most prestigious and oldest peer-reviewed medical journals, did a case study in Northern Alberta where people living near a site of tar sands extraction began reporting ill health effects.  The heavy oil production nearby caused them dizziness, headaches, muscle spasms, vomiting, sinus infections, and throat congestion.  One individual was even believed to have a terminal illness until he moved away from his farm and his symptoms disappeared.  Residents in the Peace River Valley of Alberta initially welcomed the Baytex Energy oil company to their area, believing that it would bring jobs and boost their economy.  When they complained to Baytex of their health problems soon after tar sands extraction began, they received little response and no offers of assistance.  A researcher in toxicology and human health, Margaret Sears, stated that bitumen, a product of tar sands extraction, contains compounds that can be acutely toxic to human health (Edwards).  Bitumen contains aromatic hydrocarbons and reduced Sulphur compounds, both neurotoxins.  Some of these compounds are carcinogenic, others have endocrine toxicities, and still others have neurodevelopment toxicities.  Bitumen also contains heavy metals including mercury, lead, and cadmium, the peer-reviewed investigative Lancet writer Jocelyn Edwards writes (Edwards).  What happened in the Peace River Valley is not unique, nor are their tar sands very different from what would be extracted by the Keystone XL Pipeline.  Not only would those near extraction be at risk, but also all of those near refineries or anywhere where bitumen emissions would be released.  “People living in areas surrounding the refineries had experienced difficulties breathing and nausea, symptoms in some ways mirroring those of the residents in the Peace River region” (Edwards).  A particularly sad point to note is that landowners would have their health put at risk without any say of their own.  Many landowners would have their land claimed via eminent domain and would not be able to do anything about it, posing a risk not only to agricultural land but also property rights.  In fact, many Native American tribes have already spoken out against the Pipeline because eminent domain will force them to give up rights to a number of sacred tribal grounds, including the Ponca’s Trail of Tears (Graef).  This Trail of Tears, in which the Ponca people were forcibly removed from their homeland in 1877, is one of two other Native American treaties that would be violated by the Pipeline; the Oceti Sacowin Treaty and the Laramie Treaty are the other two (Boos).  Many tribes have banded together in protest against the Pipeline for this disrespectful treatment by the United States government in disregarding treaties.

The harm to public health does not only come from extraction and refinery points.  The proposed pipeline route would pass through the Ogallala Aquifer, which is one of the largest sources of fresh drinking water in this country as well as 30% of the country’s groundwater for irrigation.  A spill in this essential body of water would contaminate drinking water for millions of Americans.  There is a unique chemical makeup of tar sand oil that causes it to sink in water, meaning that any spills that would occur in the Aquifer would be particularly difficult to clean up and would have long lasting impacts on the supply of drinking water for all of those that depend on the Aquifer.  Unless construction is prevented, the Keystone XL Pipeline will more than likely produce detrimental health effects to all those living along the pipeline.  This includes parts of Alberta, Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska (Slocum).

There are many dire repercussions of exasperating our fossil fuel dependency by constructing the Keystone XL Pipeline, including detrimental effects on the environment that will start out badly and only continue to get worse.  The Pipeline will add greatly to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a compound at the forefront of climate change, historic global weather extremes, and major declines in this planet’s ecosystems: more than 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide over the course of the pipeline’s lifetime, or the equivalent to the emissions from an extra ten million cars annually (Lieber).  Tar sands oil is even worse than conventional crude oil because of the complicated process of extracting bitumen.  If the Pipeline were to be built, it would set the precedent for more tar sands development and therefore impede progress toward sustainable energy and economic renewal.  In fact, the tar sands industry has already stated that they want to expand to producing 7.6 million barrels per day, or the equivalent of the emissions of 38 million cars per day (Lieber).  Not only would the Pipeline put more carbon dioxide into the air, but it would also be destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of forest that turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, exponentially exacerbating the problem.  Climate change means not only environmental and ecological destruction, but also agricultural impairment, which could potentially have a devastating effect on global food production.  It is not only environmentalists that are arguing against the Keystone XL Pipeline because of the resulting climate change contributions.  A group of scientists from Carnegie, Stanford, Princeton, and other universities and research institutes came together last year to write to the President to warn him of the climate catastrophe that will ensue, stating that “it’s imperative that we move quickly to alternate forms of energy instead – and that we leave the tar sands in the ground” (Lieber).  Just as with the direct environmental harm of bulldozing forests to make room for construction, damage to the climate is something for which there is no recovery.  The consequences would not only have to be dealt with in this generation, but would worsen for every future generation to follow.

The main arguments coming from proponents of the Keystone XL Pipeline are that it will create a substantial number of new jobs and will give the United States and Canada more energy security and independence.  Many politicians and big oil companies argue that the demand for oil is already there and cannot be ignored, and it would be cheaper and more ethical to have more of our own oil in the United States rather than continue our dependency on international sources, particularly those in the Middle East.

To address the first claim, independent researchers have found many flaws in TransCanada’s calculations as well as the State Department’s findings that the Keystone XL Pipeline would create tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of new jobs.  Based on the current budget, Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute has determined that there simply is not enough funding nor enough need for there to be so many positions opened.  The project would create no more than 2,500 to 4,600 temporary construction jobs for two years, and likely less than 34 total permanent jobs (Cornell University Global Labor Institute).  Even indirect labor, such as the construction of the primary material inputs for the pipeline (namely, steel pipe), would not increase employment in the United States.  The Global Labor Institute has found that there is a strong evidence to suggest that the majority of this steel pipe has already been manufactured in advance of the issuance of the permit to begin construction, and it was produced in China and India.  In addition, the likelihood that there would be spills and other accidents, as evidenced earlier in this paper, means that the project could actually kill jobs because of the bonus costs of clean-up operations and spill damage that diverts public funds away from productive economic activity.  In 2010 alone, “US pipeline spills and explosions killed 22 people, released over 170,000 barrels of petroleum into the environment, and caused $1 billion dollars’ worth of damage in the United States” (Cornell University Global Labor Institute).  To reference back the argument posed earlier that our country’s finances and efforts would be better focused on the green economy, the Global Labor Institute has determined that green energy has already generated 2.7 million new jobs within the United States and would generate many more with this sector’s growth (Cornell University Global Labor Institute).

As for the argument that the Pipeline would offer energy independence, this is also an unsubstantiated claim made by the oil companies.  There should be no mistake that the Keystone XL Pipeline is a global project that is driven by global interests.  It has attracted investment capital from mainly Chinese corporations, and the main refinery (located in Port Arthur, Texas) for the oil that will be extracted is half-owned by the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia (Cornell University Global Labor Institute).  If that were not enough evidence as to the multinational interests at stake, it needs to be noted that the Pipeline will divert tar sands oil exports from refineries in the Midwest to these Golf Coast refineries, meaning that oil will be actually taken away from the United States rather than added to it.  “That diversion will enable tar sands oil to be exported and to be priced in accord with a much higher international benchmark price” (Slocum).  Owing to this, the price of heavy crude oil in the Midwest can be expected to increase by almost $2 billion dollars annually and escalating for several years, and consumers in the Midwest can expect to pay 10 to 20 cents more per gallon for gasoline and diesel fuel, adding up to $5 billion to the annual US fuel bill (Cornell University Global Labor Institute).  The Keystone XL Pipeline is an oil pipeline THROUGH the United States, not TO the United States.

Although there is truly no telling exactly what would happen were the Keystone XL Pipeline to be built given that no one can tell the future, there are enough examples of other cases of tar sands extraction and oil production that can predict what will likely happen.  Even if the Pipeline were to run flawlessly and never have any spills or other accidents, there are many other factors that prove this is a very bad idea for a plethora of reasons.  There is a substantial amount of both current and historical evidence from a collection of differing viewpoints that the Keystone XL Pipeline would be harmful for animals, ecosystems, public health, the climate, and the environment as a whole, and it should therefore not be built.



Boos, R. (2015, February 19). Native American tribes unite to fight the Keystone pipeline and government ‘disrespect’ Retrieved April 15, 2015, from

Cornell University GLI. (2011, September 7). Pipe Dreams? Retrieved March 29, 2015, from

Edwards, J. (2014). Canada’s oil sands residents complain of health effects. The Lancet, 383(9927), 1450-1. D+-oi:

Graef, C. (2014, September 22). Nebraska’s Cowboys And Indians Unite Against Keystone XL Pipeline. Retrieved April 15, 2015, from

Lieber, D. (2012, Mar). KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE CLIMATE CATASTROPHE. E : The Environmental Magazine, 23, 27-28. Retrieved from

Palliser, J. (2012). The keystone XL pipeline. Science Scope, 35(9), 8-11,13. Retrieved from

Slocum, T. (2013, April 15). America Can’t Afford the Keystone Pipeline. Retrieved March 29, 2015, from

High Costs with No Chance of Refund or Return: An argument against the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline

Research Proposals

1) Should elephants be kept in zoos?

It recently hit the news that Ringling Brothers Circus plans to phase out elephants from its performances.  I completely agree with this decision and cheered it (along with many animal rights groups).  I will argue that this should be taken one step further and that elephants should be removed from zoos as well, with the exception of being there for rehabilitation purposes.  These are large, intelligent creatures that roam an average of twenty miles a day in the wild and should not be confined in small spaces where they become bored, frustrated, and trapped in an unnatural existence.  The argument against this is that without elephants in zoos, many people do not have the opportunity to learn about these beautiful animals and be inspired to help those that are being poached and driven off their lands in the wild.

2) Should the Keystone XL Pipeline be built?

Another recent topic buzzing in the news is President Obama’s veto of a bill allowing the Keystone XL Pipeline to be constructed.  Essentially, “Keystone XL” is an oil pipeline that will stretch from Canada to the Gulf of Texas.  I will argue for Obama’s decision and against the construction of this Pipeline.  This Pipeline could devastate ecosystems, pollute water, harm public health, and is another environmentally expensive and fiscally unwise quest in the insatiable pursuit of oil.  I believe the money would be better spent funding alternative energy solutions.  The argument for the Keystone XL Pipeline is that it will create many jobs and give the United States and Canada more energy security.

3) What should be done to reform immigration laws?

My personal stake in this is that all four of my grandparents were born and raised in Mexico.  My mother’s parents were able to come to the United States legally, start a business, attend college, and be overall successful as far as the “American Dream” is concerned.  My father’s parents, however, came illegally and were never able to get citizenship (they have long since passed away).  My paternal grandfather worked in the fields until he had saved enough money to bring over my grandmother, and together they had to work hard in labor intensive jobs in order to remain in this country and try to make something of themselves.  My argument would be that the current immigration system is broken.  An illegal felon should not be treated the same as an illegal hardworking mom with a child born here in the United States.  The laws need to be reformed to be able to reward those who want to become a part of our great melting pot community in this country.  The argument against this is that far too much manpower and resources would be required to investigate individual cases and essentially prioritize individuals for citizenship, and it is far simpler to create general rules that have people falling into a one category or another and nothing in between.

Research Proposals