Saturday, October 1, 2011

Canada at Odds with Peace Laureates

Of the first 50 and most popular comments in response to last Wednesday’s web-based front page Globe and Mail article describing the Nobel Laureates’ efforts to persuade Stephen Harper, and by default Canada, to cancel expansion of oil sands development, all 50 were harshly blasting the Laureates’ cause as repugnant and revolting. Some of the more common responses included the following:

  1. The exploitation of Canadian resources is a decision left to Canadians…so mind your own business!
  2. The demand for oil will persist and so it’s better to get it from a democratic nation with large reserves than a human rights suppressing nation in the Middle East, Africa, or Latin America
  3. The environmental implications are overstated. Industry has put in impressive measures to reduce environmental issues
  4. There are worst things in the world right now and Canada’s oil sands are way down the list. Why bother with us? These Laureates must have some kind of hidden agenda.

Aside from the complete embarrassment I felt in reading these highly ill informed, rash, and toxic comments, I thought it necessary to put forth my own response to these comments:

First, climate change is a global and complex issue. Decisions we make in one part of the world have huge consequences on other parts of the world not privy to those decisions. To suggest that we have a right to make decisions as one country that will undoubtedly leave other countries under water, plagued by drought, overwhelmed with forest fires, and/or bombarded with hurricanes and typhoons is either a demonstration of our blatant disregard for humanity, our primitive emphasis on national sovereignty at the expense of everyone else, or complete idiocy. On top of all this, future generations not yet born will be looking back at our ignorant, arrogant, and uneducated rants demonstrating our lack of understanding of complex systems such as the climate. I’m in a time warp if a good chunk of Canadians mistakenly strive for national sovereignty over global sovereignty now that we know how interconnected national decisions are to the welfare of the planet and our future generations.

Second, any environmental improvements made by the oil sands sector can only be evaluated with a starting point of how catastrophic this process is to begin with. I have not seen any evidence to refute the very common claims that the resources required to produce 1 barrel of oil from the oil sands are several times that of light crude and that the CO2 emissions to produce one barrel is several times more than that of other sources of oil. When scientists link the systematic extraction of oil sands to the planet’s tipping point on climate change – the point of no return – there is no way that incremental efficiencies by industry are going to make any difference.

Third, as I’ve written many times before, our continual reliance on fossil fuels is no accident. To make comparative judgments on other renewable sources of energy at a point in time when government policy has supported non-renewable sources and demand for these sources pale in comparison to other environmental devastating sources is preposterous and overlooks the role of inertia and momentum in locking societies into particular sources of energy. We are so dependent on oil that movement away from the substance is going to take more than just silver bullet technologies. It’s going to take political, economic, and social courage to be part of the transition to renewable sources.

Fourth, clearly many people do not understand how interconnected our planet really is. Many of the comments I read were blasting the Laureates’ decision to prioritize Canadian actions over other atrocities that are occurring in the world today. But as the article rightly mentioned, many of the issues we’re seeing today is largely brought on by climate change. Tribal conflicts in Sudan and Kenya are primarily based on drought conditions. Imagine what will happen for several countries in the future if we continue to exploit these resources. So the Laureates are bang on because they know exactly what sorts of decisions take place in the Western world that fuel the fire of conflict in other regions.

The proliferation of these sorts of comments and other articles in defense of the oil sands puts to rest any confusion I might have had about why the conservatives are in power. Even if these comments represent a minority, it’s very clear that this is indeed a rather pervasive sentiment in Canada. I for one do not want to be included in the company of my prime minister or anyone else who doesn’t recognize the sensitivity of this issue, perceived by Nobel Laureate Williams as someone “who doesn’t really care”.

It took all but an hour to remove this article from the front web page of the Globe and Mail to several screens down and then another few minutes before it was relegated from front news altogether. We can only speculate why G&M did this. Is this what they normally do? Are they responding to public sentiment rather than putting forward the facts? Or were they influenced by some powerful individuals who would prefer that Canadians not learn about this story?

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