Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Lengths We Go to Promote Our Oil

I've been following Kathryn Marshall's postings on Huffington Post for some time. Marshall is the "spokesperson" for EthicalOil.org, an organization that promotes Canada’s tar sands as the ethical alternative when compared with the socio-political issues evident in traditional oil producing countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. For months Marshall has been blasting political decisions against the Keystone Pipeline and of course those pesky environmentalists, promoting vigorously the claim that Alberta's oil is so much more ethical than oil sourced from virtuously anywhere else in the world. While I’ve been acknowledging these columns as right-wing conservative opinion deserving their own share of airtime, this last column crossed the line in its appalling hypocrisy. I think readers need to be aware that there is a very fine line these days between free speech in the media and clever rhetoric drawing on irrelevant argumentation meant to disguise the reality of a given situation.

Her latest post entitled "Obama Flushes Canadian Interests Down the Pipeline" is a beauty. In it she quotes Obama in a statement he made several years ago regarding his promise to wean the American economy off of oil from the entire Middle East and Venezuela. All of sudden Marshall has become an expert in political commentary and truly interested in whether a politician keeps his/her promises. How sincere! She also sounds so sincere when she explains that the US is going to lose its energy security and will be increasingly dependent on despotic regimes. Again, how nice of her.

What shocks me the most about Marshall and many others who push their agenda by latching on to completely irrelevant arguments is that she is not aware of how hypocritical her writing sounds. For instance, she writes tirelessly about the injustice to the American people of Obama’s decision to cancel Keystone but doesn’t at all consider how the decision to approve the pipeline is in fact a similar if not greater injustice when considering the environmental and economic implications of its approval. What many people don’t realize is that the tar sands really only postpones the much needed development in renewable energy that can represent a huge source of economic development in the US. So the question is not where the US should get its oil but where it should get its energy.

The hypocrisy continues when she appears to claim that the US government is committing a crime in their decision to maintain reliance on oil from terrorist-harboring nations. Now she’s qualified to comment on defense. How diversified in her skill set. Clearly she really cares for these Americans. Pardon my sarcasm, but humorously she sees no connection between the need to protect American citizens from foreign oil and the need to protect American citizens from its reliance on oil more generally.

The greatest irony in her writing is that she, among others, criticize Obama for making this decision for political gain. In particular, she criticizes Obama for masking his true ambition, which is to gain voters by claiming that the pipeline is not in the country’s national interests. Hmmm, that sounds familiar. How is this any different from Marshall, who masks her true ambition of finding markets for ethical oil by appealing to the American and Canadian public on issues that have nothing to do with the tar sands.

She also appeals to the notion that large OPEC oil suppliers are crippling Canada’s oil sands and that environmental extremists are usurping Alberta’s plans to bring their oil to market. Again, this sounds so familiar. Marshall is complaining that large social actors are influencing political decisions and the view of the public on these sorts of issues yet ignores the slew of political lobbyists and right wing extremists using the same strategies to accomplish the opposite. The Canadian government, for instance, has actively lobbied in state, municipal, and federal European capitals to promote policies that are tar sands friendly. It’s as if the tar sand companies are innocently operating a lemonade stand hoping that customers will pass by, yet the unfair police office is diverting traffic from their street. Come on now, let’s be a bit more realistic. Another way to look at this is that the left wing environmentalists have learned that the only way that they can truly induce change is to adopt the tactics of those actors who have influenced public policy for decades.

She then says that "Obama's self-serving decision should remind Canadians of the dangerous risks of relying on just one single customer, and toughen our resolve to build more pipelines.” Is it not also a self-serving decision on the part of Canada to promote these pipelines at the expense of the rest of the planet? She ends with, “we must make sure that our national ambitions and our prosperity aren’t left at someone else’s mercy”. Is it not true that our decisions to advance the oil sands very much strips the ambitions and prosperity of those countries that will suffer further from the implications of climate change? Are they not therefore left at someone else’s (Canada’s) mercy?

I therefore completely disagree with Marshall and other who say, “the Northern Gateway pipeline is an all-Canadian affair…it is our decision alone whether to approve that pipeline, not that of a foreign government, or foreign interest groups”. This view is highly na├»ve, self-centered, and completely absurd. Unfortunately, our Prime Minister shares the same view. Countries outside of South America have for the last decade imposed substantial pressure on countries surrounding the Amazon rainforest to put in place policies that preserve the forest. This is because they realize that any degradation of the rainforest will have catastrophic implications for the entire planet. Country boundaries are a social construction. The planet doesn’t discriminate along these lines meaning that decisions made by individual countries can have dramatic impacts on other countries. One only has to look at the severe environmental conditions of developing countries imposed by the actions of developed countries to see this. So I think that foreign interests have every right to voice their democratic right to oppose decisions of another country especially if those decisions affect their livelihood at home.

Now I recognize that Marshall is just doing her job. She has a cause and she’s finding every and any possible way to further that cause as spokesperson of EthicalOil.org. But at some point you have to draw a moral line in the sand that separates opinion to further a cause from the highly insidious attempt to distract the public from what is really underlying the implications of that cause. The sad thing is that Marshall’s strategy here is to instill a sense of frustration among readers by tapping into their emotional triggers. But at the end of the day, she doesn’t care about whether politicians in the US keep their promises. She doesn’t care about whether the US is less dependent on unethical sources of oil. She simply uses arguments to which the audience is sensitive to push her agenda, which is to get more oil to the US. That’s what she cares about and that’s what EthicalOil.org stands for. The mask behind which these individuals hide is as fascinating as it is shameful.

Perhaps this is the job of the editor of Huffington Post. Should they be publishing columns by someone who clearly has a conflict of interest?

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