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MIT student blogger Gabe B. '13

I’d Like Your Help With My Letter to President Obama… by Gabe B. '13

What I'm up to in 21W.747 (Rhetoric) class these days.

I’m in a cool HASS (Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences) class this semester. A very cool HASS class. It’s simply called ‘Rhetoric’ and we study the art of persuasion. Now the art of persuasion, whether moral or not, is all around us. Its fruits are bore on every billboard, every cereal box, every political speech, and in the vast majority of conversations and social interactions. Through the roundtable conversations, the semiweekly reading handouts, the oral debate, or the 3 essays we’ve crafted, I have become vastly more aware of the messages and undertones of which we typically aren’t concious. Sometimes I catch myself grinning as our hockey coach, Dave Hunter, attempts to motivate us for the next period using a strong appeal to emotion (pathos). Sometimes he focuses much more heavily on an appeal to our logic (logos) by quoting statistics on shot blocks and big hits from our previous period. But the key here is that I am more aware. Professor Levine has crafted a curriculum to make us more aware of the motivations of others and of ourselves.

Our most recent essay assignment is particularly interesting to me. Professor Levine has tasked us with crafting letters to President Obama detailing our position and recommendation on the politically tortuous issuance of the presidential permit to run an oil pipeline from the Canadian Tar Sands to the Gulf Coast known as the Keystone XL Pipeline project. The permit is being pursued by a company called TransCanada, that seeks to invest ~5.4 billion dollars into this pipeline. They hoped to begin construction of the pipeline in 2009 but the President has delayed his decision indefinetly.

So, here’s my proposal:

At the very least, I post this here to give you a glimpse of what a writing assignment at MIT can look like. To preface that- I found this to be a challenging assignment and I spent a considerable amount of time on it.

At the very most, you can help me (totally voluntary). If you have any ideas on how I can make this letter to President Obama more effective, please share them in the comments. Remember who the letter’s intended audience is (President Obama). I’m not really looking for you to disagree with my thesis, but I’d rather that you help me craft a powerful and persuasive letter (tone, arrangement/paragraph structure). I have no obligation to change anything, but as the comments come in over the next week or two, I’ll continually edit my letter (so check back for updates, if you fancy). I’m basically crowd-sourcing my rewrite (but don’t worry, my professor knows I’m getting your help!)


Gabriel Blanchet
21W.747 Essay #3

Dear President Obama,

Approving the KXL pipeline will ensure a steady supply of the oil on which we are so reliant, even as we labor incessantly to transition away from it. In my Rhetoric class at MIT we’ve been examining the political reality and rhetoric surrounding this controversial issue. My entire class was struck by the fact that by 2020, shale oil extraction from the northeast corner of Alberta will more than double whether or not the KXL pipeline is constructed.[i] Supply follows demand, and the world demands oil. If the Keystone XL pipeline proposal is terminated, Canadian oil will be shipped overseas in greater quantities to places like Southeast Asia where carbon emissions and refinery techniques are poorly regulated. When opponents of the pipeline note that an environmentally-friendly president would “leave the oil underground”[ii], they neglect to account for the other nations which will undoubtedly take the same oil out of the ground if we do not. Countries with less environmentally friendly oil consumption policies will still require oil, but why ship it from our continent to theirs?

Now I don’t like oil– exploitation of this finite resource is dirtying our planet. I’m about to graduate from MIT with a degree in mechanical engineering and, frankly, I want to be a real leader in the world my generation will soon inherit from you. I am excited about the prospect of a carbon neutral agenda, just as you are. But we must overcome personal agendas and focus on steering our nation and world to a prosperous, secure and sustainable future. TransCanada’s proposal for construction of the multi-billion dollar Keystone XL Pipeline through the United States is controversial, as it should be. While estimates of scale vary widely, opponents argue that the pipeline impacts the environment too much to warrant its construction despite the US jobs created, tax revenue possibilities or the more stable nature of Canadian oil.. Even discounting the massive number of short term construction jobs created, if the KXL project is similar to other pipeline projects like the Trans-Alaska-Pipeline System, it will be surveyed several times per day by workers (by air, on foot, and via road) once constructed. Additionally, mechanical devices deployed by workers will perform maintenance inside of the pipeline daily. These devices must be designed and built somewhere (MIT!) and that, in itself, is a job creation mechanism.

The great strength of our American government lies in its ability to influence policy formation and provide incentives for targeted growth, not to micromanage individual projects. Your role as President provides you with an opportunity to approve and legislate broad-reaching policies and regulations to steer our nation to a prosperous and secure future. Here is my suggestion: Approve the pipeline project, with strict guidelines and expectations for enhanced safety measures (including detailed spill mitigation and response plans) and more careful navigation through environmentally fragile areas (such as the Ogallala aquifer and Nebraska Sandhills). Simultaneously increase the R&D funding of alternative energy technologies, with a sharp focus on immediate cost-competitive alternatives. Offset this funding increase with the federal taxes and fees associated with TransCanada’s construction and operation of the KXL pipeline.

By so doing, you will be enhancing America’s ability to lead in engineering innovative solutions to our energy concerns while addressing the loud-spoken environmentalist movement by raising taxes and fees on the pipeline. Our Nation will flourish by means of capitalism. According to a poll commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, a majority of US voters would prefer to rely on oil supplied by Canada than by other foreign countries. In fact, 80% of respondents noted that the US government should support the use of Canadian oil and the pipelines that transport it.[v] Although the environmental movement is insightful and influential, I urge you to pursue this option with vigor. Even at MIT, where groundbreaking research and innovation in the field of alternative energy sources occurs daily, we rely on oil to conduct experiments, light our classrooms, and help us do research as we innovate oil’s replacement technologies.

Respectfully, and with great admiration for the work you do and the decisions you make,

Gabriel V Blanchet
MIT Class of 2013
American Citizen
_______________________________________
[i] Omaha.com. Omaha World-Herald. “Birthplace of pipeline controversy” Published October 23rd, 2011. http://www.omaha.com/article/20111023/NEWS01/710239925 Accessed November 16th, 2011.
[ii] “Profits Before Environment.” New York Times- The Opinion Pages. August 30th, 2011. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/profits-before-environment/ Accessed November 15th, 2011.
[iii] “Jobs in the Pipeline.” Wall Street Journal Editorial. July 7th, 2011.
[iv] “Jobs in the Pipeline.” Wall Street Journal Editorial. July 7th, 2011.
[v] “Americans want more Canadian Oil, Survey says.” Houston Business Journal. November 4th, 2011. http://www.bizjournals.com/houston/news/2011/11/04/americans-want-more-canadian-oil.html Accessed November 15th, 2011.

 

 

 


So, there you have it. That’s my letter, as it stands. Comment with suggestions, but remember I’m not looking to change the thesis, but rather tweak the tone and structure to make it have a more powerful impact on President Obama.

If it’s good enough, after all, it will land on his desk :)

17 responses to “I’d Like Your Help With My Letter to President Obama…”

  1. Anon says:

    “In a class I’m taking at MIT called ‘Rhetoric’ in which we’ve been examining the political reality and rhetoric surrounding this controversial issue.”
    Take out the “in which”

  2. Anon says:

    By so doing, you will be engineering an innovative and forward thinking environment that will allow America to flourish without hindering our current status by blocking specific companies from producing wealth by means of capitalism.

    The way capitalism is used here gives it a negative connotation and I’m not entirely sure about the meaning of the sentence. Are you saying that by approving the pipeline, he will allow America to flourish by denying certain companies the oil? The sentence opens strongly but begins to sound manipulative near the end.

  3. Anon says:

    I very much like your letter. It’s quite persuasive. On a quick read through, this is what I noticed:

    “I am excited about the prospect of a carbon neutral agenda, just like you are.” – I’m personally not a fan of the phrasing “just like”. To my ear, it sounds somewhat immature, although that depends on one’s point of view. Perhaps replace “just like” with “as”?

    I love your first line. It sets the tone well, and it catches my attention. Short and sweet.

    I would consider making your thesis more explicit in the beginning of the piece. I understand that you’re trying to show the arguments for each side and then build up to your proposal, but I read half of the letter while thinking, “Alright, so which side do you support?” Of course, again, that may be intentional – I’m not you, and don’t know how you were intending to write it or for what exactly you were going.

    I can’t really give you advice as to how to write this. Your writing is clear and grammatically fine, and really, what’s left is style and tone and such, which is much more a matter of personal preference and what your goal was with the piece than anything else. I can only tell you how I would change this and write it, but of course I’m not you.

    Good luck with your letter! It sounds good so far.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I agree with Anon’s comment that you should replace “just like” with “as.” Because the “just like” is used in a comparison of “excited,” “as” should be used instead of like. This would be considered more grammatically correct because you are using “excited” as a gerund (verb acting like a noun) and “as” is used with verbs (while “like” is used with nouns) as a general rule.

    I also think you should put the course name “Rhetoric” in double quotes instead of single as this is also considered more proper (you are writing for the President, after all).

    Overall, though, I find the letter quite persuasive and well written. My AP Language and Comp teacher would love it.

  5. Anshu says:

    According to a poll commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, a majority of US voters would prefer to rely on oil supplied by Canada then by other foreign countries.

    “Than,” not “then.”

    Other than that, it’s a pretty nice letter.

  6. Gabe B. '13 says:

    hmm, ‘mit’– What do you mean? The last line of the whole letter?

  7. DanielG says:

    Hi Gabe,

    Here are my comments:

    Overall, this is a fantastic letter. I’m not sure I could write that much on an oil pipeline. Your writing is clear, cogent, and organized.

    In the first paragraph, try changing “I am excited about the prospect of a carbon neutral agenda, just as you are.” to “Just as you are, I am excited about the prospect of a carbon neutral agenda.” This helps you avoid starting with the pronoun “I”.

    Also in the first paragraph, change “which you have done well addressing” to “which you have addressed well”. It’s less wordy.

    Second paragraph: I think you have a typo in, “that well all envision for America’s future”. Maybe you could change it to, “…that holds the key to America’s future.” or something like that (not sure if you want it to be quite that dramatic).

    Third paragraph:To avoid the pronoun I (again) you could change “In a class I’m taking at MIT called “Rhetoric”” to “In my Rhetoric class at MIT…”. It’s a little confusing to say “not built.” Try changing “If the Keystone XL pipeline is not built” to “If the Keystone XL pipline is terminated…”.

    I must now go to bed–maybe I’ll comment on the rest later.

  8. Lana says:

    Could you try to make your first paragraph not about you,but either about the issue or about the President?

  9. mit says:

    Why not send him the bottom line up front? He may not read more than the introduction if there’s no substance there.

  10. Erin says:

    Your thesis is unclear in the introduction. I realize by the middle and end of your letter what your point is, and your argument is strong, but I don’t really see a thesis or know what your point is at the beginning. In fact, after your first few sentences, it seemed like you were arguing for the opposite side of the issue than you actually are. It’s confusing. I couldn’t tell until about midway through the letter which side you were actually arguing for. (It could just be my own ineptness, but clarity is always a good thing.)

    Also, you’re addressing the issue of the pipeline itself, not just the oil vs. alternative energy issue in general, right? That didn’t even come up until later on, past the intro. I would think that the president would want to know exactly which side you are taking and which issue you’re addressing from the very start, considering he probably doesn’t have a whole lot of time for reading letters. (Maybe. I don’t know, though.)

    Although I love the way you’ve introduced the letter now, I think you should add a clearer introductory paragraph with a clear thesis statement at the beginning, before you bring up the counterargument.

    Also, the line, “currently, a necessary evil,” toward the end seems a little too negative, in my opinion… I’d just take it out. The sentence stands well on its own.

    I hope my input helps! Good luck!

  11. Bidesh says:

    Have you read The white tiger by Aravind Adiga? Its writing, I believe, is a strong example of persuasiveness. If you haven’t, you should definitely read it. Also, the link below is a piece written by U.S ambassador for Nepal on the recent burning issue and I am sure will help. Of course, his audiences are way different from whom your letter is meant to. Nonetheless, I wanted to emphasize the choice of words and their use along with their effect on the overall tone and flow. Also, we should not forget simplicity too can be a bliss.

    link: http://www.facebook.com/notes/scott-h-delisi/setting-the-record-straight-on-hybrid-seeds/184148695011816

  12. valart says:

    Gabe,

    I agree with mit and Erin. Well written but the introduction should clearly state your point. Perhaps take the last line of your letter and make it the first line. I changed it slightly so it would make sense as the first line. Then start with the paragraph “In my Rhetoric class at MIT we’ve been examining the political reality and rhetoric surrounding this controversial issue.” Continue the letter as is.

    Approving the KXL pipeline will ensure a steady supply of a resource on which we are so reliant, even as we labor incessantly to transition away from oil, a necessary evil. In my Rhetoric class at MIT we’ve been examining the political reality and rhetoric surrounding this controversial issue. The entire class was struck by the fact that by 2020, shale oil extraction from the northeast corner of Alberta will more than double whether or not the KXL pipeline is constructed. Supply follows demand, and the world demands oil. If the Keystone XL pipeline proposal is terminated, Canadian oil, which would otherwise flow into the United States, will be shipped overseas to places like Southeast Asia where carbon emissions and refinery techniques are poorly regulated. When opponents of the pipeline note that an environmentally-friendly president would ”leave the oil underground”[ii], they neglect to account for the other nations which will undoubtedly take the same oil out of the ground if we do not. Countries with less environmentally friendly oil consumption policies will still require oil, but why ship it from our continent to theirs?
    End the letter with “Even at MIT, where groundbreaking research and innovation in the field of alternative energy sources occurs daily, we rely on oil to conduct experiments, light our classrooms, and help us do research.”

    Are you actually going to send this letter to the president or is it just a class assignment?

    Keep up the good work. Thanks for all you do. MIT students make the world a better place!

  13. valart says:

    I do not know how the last part of my comment became italicized. It was not intentional.

  14. polypoly says:

    It’t important to remember who you are writing to. Chances are the president of the United States is not going to read your letter. it is much more likely that one of his secretaries or aides will read it instead who will then relay the general ideas of the letters along with a few of the better (and shorter) ones to the president. So since this small number of people will be reading thousands of letter, I would suggest trying to shorten it some. More specifically I would take out the part where you talk about your rhetoric class (it sort of makes your reader not trust you and also provides alternative motivation for writing this). I would also take out the bit about in my humble opinion because that does not sound humble and sounds more like a command then an opinion. Overall I thought it was good though

  15. Gabe B. '13 says:

    Thanks so much to everybody who has commented. I’ll post my final version in about an hour!

  16. Luisa says:

    One small specific thing:

    > In my Rhetoric class at MIT we’ve been examining the political reality and rhetoric surrounding this controversial issue.

    Add a comma after MIT.

    In general, my advice is to be cautious of being too wordy. I mean, writing to the President means you can use a greater vocabulary, but mix in shorter words as well as longer, more distinctive focus words. It makes it more fluent.

  17. valart says:

    Just curious, how did you fare on the assignment? Are you mailing the letter to President Obama?