What happens to a society when a commodity and those who have been made rich by it takes control of economic and political decision making? What happens when commercial benefit tops the interest of the vast majority of citizens? The result is that rational evidence based decision making is thrown out the window. Decisions get made based on ensuring the share value of securities held by the wealthy elite are protected and their flow of profits is maintained or increased. Short term commercial benefit becomes the compelling rationale that ‘trumps’ science. It trumps logic and the public good. Bizarre, irrational positions are ferociously adopted as absolute truth by business and political leaders and usually by the media as well. Even suggesting a rational evidence based approach will be ridiculed as naïve and unrealistic and result in being angrily denounced and even portrayed as a form of treason.
Fact one: 15,000 scientists from around the world are agreed that the continued use of fossil fuels, will drive climate change and cause increasingly frequent and more powerful weather events. They also agree it will have devastating effects on the ocean’s ability to support life. The Munich RE (a leading global insurance company ‘reinsurer’ and risk analyst) chart below tells a clear story. The scientists are right. Climate change is leading to huge costs and severe damage to the economy.
But the oil and energy lobby and government argue that we need to ensure we have a growing economy. At the same time their actions hit at the heart of the economy destroying lives and infrastructure. As the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes, “More notable than the high frequency of these events is the cumulative cost, which exceeds $300 billion in 2017 — a new U.S. annual record.” That is in the US only. The annual global cost is in excess of a trillion dollars and rising. The biggest threat to our economy in the long run is using oil.
Fact two: The continued use of fossil fuels will rain enormous hardship on our children and grandchildren over the next five decades and cost many trillions of dollars more in damage to our economy and society. It will happen unless we have the wisdom to leave a significant percentage of our known oil and gas and coal reserves in the ground.
Fact three: The Scotian Shelf off the coast of Nova Scotia is close to one of the richest fisheries in the world and washed over by daily tidal flows in and out of the Bay of Fundy with the world’s highest tides. It is one of the riskiest places on earth to drill for oil and gas.
Fact four: The bitumen that comes from Alberta’s tar sands can be very difficult to clean up in waters with a lot of sediments if a pipeline ruptures or an oil tanker sinks or leaks. Most people in British Columbia do not want this toxic substance flowing across their land and rivers or floating on their beautiful coastal waters, sinking to the bottom or coating the shores.
Fact five: In 2007 there were 34 pipeline leaks in the United States and 8 so far in 2018. Pipelines leak with regularity. Since 2005 there have been five oil spills from Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and since the mid-1950s six in the Jasper National Park. An estimated 400 tankers a year will be going from Burrard inlet in Vancouver to the open sea. The question is not if there will be a pipeline leak or a tanker accident. The honest question is how often.
Fact six: Permission to drill on the Scotian Shelf includes acceptance that in the case of a well blowout (like the one in the Gulf of Mexico) it would take two weeks to get the equipment in place to stop the massive flow of oil and another week or two to get the flow to stop.
Fact seven: Abandoned or orphan oil wells could end up costing Albertans billions of dollars. The oil was found, extracted and the profits pocketed but the funds put aside to clean up the enormous mess are only a fraction of what will be needed. The people who made the profits can walk away from the mess.
The above facts are based on statements by the Canadian government, the government of Alberta, respected organizations and Kinder Morgan.
So what decisions have the government/oil industry consortium made?
- BP, the company whose drilling rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 workers and creating the largest marine oil spill in world history, has been authorized by the governments of Nova Scotia and Canada to drill on the high risk Scotian Shelf with a high probability of an accident and massive fishery losses. Presumably gambling with the fishery is not much of a problem.
- Kinder Morgan’s Trans mountain pipeline expansion has been approved by the government of Canada with strong support for the Government of Alberta.
- Tax payers are subsidizing BP and Kinder Morgan. We are compelled to subsidize what amounts to an attack on our children and grandchildren so that the superrich owners of the giant oil companies can make greater returns on their investments with lower risk.
- The governments of Canada and Alberta are saying they have a right to force the people of British Columbia to accept whatever they put in a pipeline or ships no matter: how toxic the substance; how certain the spills and shipping accidents; how difficult the cleanup; how devastating the environmental damage. The people of BC have no right to even have a say. If the people of BC refuse to accept the pollution of their land and water ways, they are attacking the national interest of Canada.
So now the questions.
So is the question who do the democratic governments of Nova Scotia, Alberta and Canada work for or is it which oil company do they represent best? Is this a democracy, a quasi-democracy or a so called democracy?
Alberta is a special case. Is it possible for a government in Alberta to get elected if they do not do what the oil companies want? Is that a sort of democracy? One might argue that selling out the interests of Alberta’s grandchildren indeed has the support of the majority of Albertans. It is deemed to be in the interests of Albertans to export huge quantities of toxic bitumen rather than refining it in Alberta to provide jobs for Albertans. Indigenous peoples are left with the terrible environmental mess and the corporations get the profits.
What would happen if the government of Canada stopped subsidizing the oil companies and instead, in partnership with Alberta, poured a couple billion dollars into renewable energy jobs and renewable energy development? What if the renewable energy companies were created as co-operatives less likely to pollute, unlikely to relocate, with the gap between highest and lowest salaries being 15 to 1 or less, with work available for women as well as men and equal pay for equal work? We could do that! If oil wells were owned by the people and communities who lived around them would we have the orphan well mess? What if refining co-operatives owned by Albertans were encouraged (like Peter Lougheed did with gas co-operatives)? What if common sense ruled instead of the oil industry? What if energy production and distribution was co-operatively owned rather than being owned by huge corporations whose purpose is not to supply us with energy but to further enrich the 1% regardless of the consequences.
Could I, as a Nova Scotian, support that massive expenditure to spur a world leading renewable energy industry in Alberta just so my grandchildren could live reasonable lives in a stable climate with less pollution? Not sure about all Nova Scotians but it sure looks a lot better to me than continuing with the irresponsible madness we are now witnessing. Does our society and economy really care about our children and grandchildren? The evidence says no. Could we care about them? Sure we can.