I have to get this off my chest.
I’m currently writing an essay on the tar sands, inspired by a quote from the Canadian environment minister which claims that it is “ethical oil”. It is a pretty extraordinary claim, coined first by Ezra Levant, author of Ethical Oil: The case for Canada’s oilsands. Levant is quite an influential man – a Canadian right-wing “personality” who has worked as a political organiser and aide, writes regular columns and makes appearances on tv and radio. I was unaware of all of this however, when he interrupted a twitter exchange I was having with Ed Gillespie from Futerra:
Now see watch and see what Ezra does…
He only goes and edits my tweet to look like I’m saying the complete opposite of what I meant. I react accordingly…
Rude… and oh, yeah, completely UNETHICAL.
I get no reply from Ezra. I don’t think much of this as I think he is just some nutter doing the rounds. Until I stumble across the fact that it was his book which had inspired Canada’s environment minister to argue that tar sands oil is the ethical choice.
So I bought the book.
The basic argument is this – that oil from the tar sands in Canada is ethical because Canada is a democracy and doesn’t prop up dictatorships in the Middle East and elsewhere. However, while it might not prop up dictatorships, that does not make it ethical. That only makes it a bit less bad. David Suzuki elaborates on this point very well. I would also argue that it is the very fact that Canada is a democracy which means that they have an obligation to listen to the concerns of its people and the global community, and honour its commitments made under the Kyoto Protocol. No such luck.
Apart from being based on a premise that is largely irrelevant to the concerns of tar sands critics (that the tar sands are by far the most energy intensive source of fuel around, that they are endangering the lives and livelihoods of first nations peoples, that the toxic waste is poisoning the water and local wildlife, that they are an incredibly inefficient use of Canada’s natural gas supply), Levant’s book is incredibly poorly researched. His references are from newspaper articles, blogs, press releases – hardly an academic journal in sight.
He also makes the tremendous claim that we shouldn’t worry about CO2 emissions, because water vapour is a more potent greenhouse gas. He leaves out the crucial point that the percentage of water vapour is doubling in our atmosphere BECAUSE of increased temperature caused by CO2 emissions.
He also does not mention the ethical implications of continuing to develop the tar sands, which if fully exploited are sure to take us above a “safe” global temperature, and leaving a much less habitable world for future generations.
It is very worrying that the Canadian government is taking tips from such a man, I can’t quite believe it. But he’s a good speaker and he’s obviously a master of spin. I look forward to seeing my blog re-posted on his site as a glowing character reference!
On a more positive note, there is loads that we can do about the tar sands right now – the UK Tar Sands Network are leading a fab campaign to keep tar sands oil out of Europe and Lush have just launched a new product called Sweet & Shower (made out of treacly molasses), whose proceeds all go to organisations fighting the tar sands! Get involved!