Tar sands far from ethical

Ripping a page from fellow Conservative and former tobacco industry lobbyist Ezra Levant’s book, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has taken to referring to Alberta tar sands product as “ethical oil”.

The two go back a long way, but the “ethical oil” argument they promote has holes as big as the ones in the ground around Fort McMurray.

To start, the logic is faulty. Just because a country or society is considered “ethical” does not mean everything it produces or exports is ethical.

If we are going to delve into the ethics of the issue, we must look at the ethics of energy overall. That means considering the impacts of various energy systems on people and the environment.

Here, the science is troubling. It shows that the Alberta tar sands contribute about five per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and are the country’s fastest growing source of emissions.

To date, they have disturbed 600 square kilometres of boreal forest with little or no chance of true reclamation, use enormous amounts of water and pollute the surrounding air and water.

This past summer, an independent, peer-reviewed scientific study showed that toxic byproducts from the tar sands extraction industry are poisoning the Athabasca River, putting downstream First Nations communities and the fish they eat at risk. Health studies show these First Nations communities already have elevated rare cancers associated with exposure to such toxins.

If this is the most “ethical” source of oil we can find, we need to ask other questions about the moral purity of our intensively processed bitumen. For example, if we sell the oil to countries with poor human-rights records, like China, does that affect the product’s “ethical” nature? And how “ethical” are the companies operating in the tar sands; for example, Exxon Mobil, well-known sponsor of climate-change disinformation campaigns; BP, responsible for last year’s massive oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico; or PetroChina?

In this light, wouldn’t energy from technologies or sources that limit the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and that have a minimal environmental and health impacts be far more ethical than fossil fuels? And, from an economic perspective, wouldn’t these more ethical technologies or fuel sources be doubly attractive to foreign buyers if they came from an “ethical” country like Canada?

As award-winning Alberta author Andrew Nikiforuk has argued, with proper development, the tar sands could help provide Canada with the oil and money we need to shift to a low-carbon economy. But major changes are needed. Environmental regulation and monitoring must be strengthened. Pollution and related health problems must be addressed. More of the revenue must go to Canadians rather than fossil fuel companies. And a national carbon tax would help us move from oil to less-polluting energy sources.

No matter what Levant and his friends in government say, oil has never been about ethics. It has always been about money. Those who argue the case for “ethical oil” should work to ensure that our energy needs are met in a truly ethical way, now and into the future. In the end, the only truly ethical solution is to phase out oil. The black eye that tar sands oil is sporting can’t be remedied with meaningless phrases such as “ethical oil”.

To be seen as truly ethical when it comes to energy policy, Canada must slow down tar sands development, clean up the environmental problems, implement a national carbon tax, improve the regulatory and monitoring regime, and make sure that Canadians are reaping their fair share of the revenues.

www.davidsuzuki.org

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lights shine on Nanaimo’s Serauxmen Stadium

$1.1-million lighting project will extend baseball season, says City of Nanaimo

Mural artists announced for Nanaimo’s inaugural Hub City Walls festival

Local artists Kara Dee Harrison, Russell Morland and Austin Weflen to paint downtown walls

Crews put out fire in basement of Nanaimo’s Bastion

Front Street closed at Bastion Street

Province announces plans for permanent supportive housing on Terminal and three other sites

B.C. ministry and City of Nanaimo partnering on 190 supportive housing units

City of Nanaimo looking into making council’s voting records more accessible

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong says a lot of citizens have asked for additional transparency measure

B.C. records 62 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths since Friday

Province has just over 200 active cases

Port Alberni will have a salmon derby on Labour Day after all

Alberni Valley Tyee Club reveals ‘socially distanced’ derby only for Labour Day 2020

Hotel rooms for B.C. homeless too hasty, NDP government told

Businesses forced out, but crime goes down, minister says

B.C. government prepares for COVID-19 economic recovery efforts

New measures after July consultation, Carole James says

Province providing financing to help get apartments built in Nanaimo’s Wellington area

120 apartments on Ledgerwood Road intended to be affordable for ‘middle-income’ households

Duncan model makes quarter finals in ‘Maxim’ magazine contest

Brandee Peart among top one per cent left in competition

Wage subsidy will be extended until December amid post-COVID reopening: Trudeau

Trudeau said the extension will ‘give greater certainty and support to businesses’

Fisherman snags barracuda off Vancouver Island in rare encounter

Ferocious fish, not native to Canada, was netted and released in Alberni Inlet

Most Read