The Big Schill

Like a pot-smoking university student, who, upon reading a study disputing the connection between drug use and brain function cries foul of all science and therefore the illegality of marijuana, watching the Harper government and the province of Alberta defend their actions at the Copenhagen summit on climate change is similarly laughable.

Perhaps a more apt political connection to the current Alberta defence of oil sands extraction, and appropriately capturing our politicians’ unadulterated arrogance, was the Bush administration’s spin and propagandizing of Iraq’s terrorist connections and weapons of mass destruction to make it incumbent upon themselves to force a war in Iraq. It’s about the continuance of self-fulfilling agendas, greed and power. Truly, that is it. Alberta is a province so entirely hypnotized by oil’s financial windfall that they’ll defend their callous actions to any extent and at any expense.

The malicious decision-making and two-facedness that Stephen Harper, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach and Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner employ is identical to that of drug dealers, mob hitmen, and the likes of Ponzi schemers Bernie Madoff or Gary Sorenson. They are selfish, sly and greedy and are irreverent to the negative impacts they have on the people around them, but exonerate themselves in the name of money. Their love for people, ideas and long-term thinking is shallow. Their commitment to the good of their province and country is skin deep. They communicate almost exclusively with their inner circles (mostly corporate power brokers), treating the rest of Canadians like idiots and that we can’t possibly understand the bigger picture. It’s sleazy and patronizing. They each hold their heads high as they walk to their cars each morning, fully knowledgeable that they’re complicit in destroying the world for their children and for others, yet are entirely and uncompromisingly consumed by the idea of wealth, power, and the expressed wishes and needs of those that support them.

That, or they’re all idiots, and I wouldn’t write off that possibility for at least two of them.

Oil sands production – the industrial rape and pillage of Alberta’s northern landscape – strips oil-rich dirt from the earth’s surface. From a moral perspective, the practice is not unlike diamond mining in Africa, asbestus mining in Quebec, or child labour in China. All are profoundly morally unacceptable, defended by their practicing parties and overarching governments because of their economical impact, and our consumerist societies increasingly depend upon them whether they help keep the costs of consumer goods low, or fuel regional, provincial or national economies. Additionally, it is every other country in the world that cries foul against them, and the offending nation defends its actions by pointing fingers at other similar offenders elsewhere. It is as though we are only interested in associating with the weakest link, rather than proactively engaging in leadership.

The fact of the matter is that this is contempt for our environment. Where do they get off having such a significant impact on the world that other people live in, simply for the sake of money? Add to this a recent announcement by Canadian Environment Minister Jim Prentice that his administration actually has plans to hit even lower targets than they’d set for themselves before, by enacting special protections and tax breaks for oil sands development under the terms of the industry being a vital (and thus unaccountable) trade commodity.

And why aren’t we trying to take the high road? Why does a man like Rob Renner go on radio talk shows defending the oil sands as an acceptable and modest practice of extracting fossil fuels, disputing science and overlooking serious health impacts in neighbouring communities? I’m not asking him to hate the oil sands or stop funding them (though engaging a realistic impact assessment is actually his job); rather I ask why he cannot simply rationalize his province’s destruction of its own natural environment for the sake of money, and call a spade a spade. He would rather dispute proven and indisputable scientific facts (which make him sound like a Rumsfeldian or Bushist idiot) than accept that what is being done in Alberta is wrong, though we make a heck of a lot of money from it. Tragically, it is because of this stonewalling that we cannot begin to make progress and walk, however slowly, towards the light at the end of our poisonous and calamitous tunnel.

The facts are clear, and they are this:

– Oil sands development and extraction in Alberta are an enormous (Canada’s worst) contributor to greenhouse gas emissions

– The destruction of northern Alberta has serious impacts on ecosystems (the muskeg and boreal forest) and wildlife (recall the deaths of over a thousand ducks in one incident), which further degrade our environment

– Oil sands tailing ponds and effluence are making people sick in nearby communities

– Oil sands depend on more resources, including fuel and water, for production than they produce themselves

– The oil sands contribute several billion dollars to both the Alberta and Canadian economies

– Other countries depend on, or will come to depend on, our oil and thus position us for a strong exporting stature (though that would be finite and thus limited)

Why can’t we all agree on these items and begin having real conversations and debates in terms of viability and our future? Why are we misinforming and therefore blindfolding ourselves?

Calling into dispute the science behind the warnings, and in fact defending the practice as sustainable and sensitive does not only frustrate those potentially interested in leading us in new directions; it makes the province and those that defend it look stupid. Again, I draw parallels to Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George Bush, who, despite overwhelming evidence against terrorist connections or weapons of mass destruction (and their lack of ability to find any afterall) pushed forward on increasingly obvious private agendas to invade and overthrow Iraq. Their leadership was laughed out of office; their ineptitude scrawled onto every historical annal that has been published and will be for a hundred years.

Alternative fuel research is being torpedoed by Alberta’s multi-billion-dollar investment in compensatory research – carbon capture and storage (CCS) – which allows oil sands development to continue unabated while these recovery techniques are explored. Additionally, CCS is unproven, theoretical, and would require even greater fuel consumption just to function. Some estimates say it would be necessary to increase a refinery’s fuel consumption by 20-40% just to capture and exhaust the carbon underground. So we’re feeding our environmental recovery by burning more fuel… Again, arrogance and hidden agendas.

K, you distract the staff, while I pocket the goods. Then we’ll be out of here with the stuff we’re after, and no one will ever know…

The defensiveness and distraction provided by our governments are nothing more than a ploy to mislead and confuse the public so that the ‘debate’ (which is truly sound science, yet the conversation has been made to be seen as unproven bias) can continue, rather than determining a better – and God forbid, different – course of action.

Presuming for a moment that oil sands are not ruining the environment, we do know that this resource will dry up eventually. What forethought, then, is the province and country putting into our next lucrative and home-grown energy export? Surely the oil companies have all the resources they need to continue business as usual (land rights, governmental permissions, legal protections), so our defence of them is very likely irrelevant. So what’s next? Why can’t we see past the ends of our noses and begin to plan for the future, regardless of what that is? And why are our elected officials schilling on behalf of oil companies anyway?

And returning back to the indisputable science confirming the negative effects of the oil sands, why aren’t we recognizing the environmental impact and our responsibility to protect ourselves, and investing in these new arenas now?

About the author cdub

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  1. Fine questions.

    Dubai obviously has moved all its eggs into another basket. Diversification is probably in order.

    Also, respect for calling it like it is. I know it must be hard living in a province that is neck deep in this goo, being surrounded by group-think and diffusion of responsibility.


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