If the world’s climate were not changing as a result of the greenhouse gases we’re adding to the atmosphere, there would still be several strong arguments against the use of fossil fuels. Burning coal and oil pollutes the air, contributing to smog and acid rain. Coal mines are notoriously dangerous to the miners, who may die quickly in mine collapses, or slowly, from black lung disease or certain cancers. Oil spill disasters are frequently epic in scale, the BP event practically destroying the Gulf of Mexico.
Yet the fossil fuel industry, especially “Big Oil,” has its defenders, as well. The question is: does anyone support the industry without receiving massive personal gain for doing so? It seems like the apologists for oil are industry execs themselves, or conservative politicians receiving massive campaign contributions. Are there any independent, objective observers with an argument against transitioning away from non-renewable fuel sources?
Let’s run through the list. This Maclean’s article quotes some of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s statements on the subject. The PM warned Canadian citizens as early as November that “significant American interests” were trying to screw up Enbridge’s Northern Pipeline Project. Harper knows that if there’s anyone Canadians are more suspicious of than the prime minister himself, it’s those damn Americans. His concerns seemed partly based on President Obama’s failure to commit to the Keystone XL project. (The president did indeed kill the project this month, but the reasoning was hardly based on environmental considerations.)
Harper has argued time and again that he is looking out for Canadian interests. With the power of the entire government of Canada behind him, he’s “stood up” against small environmental groups, declaring them enemies of the country when they haven’t fallen in line. But do most Canadians want more and more drilling, more and more tar sands, more and more pipelines? No!
The PM has tried to marginalize critics of Canada’s oil projects, characterizing them as “environmental and other radical groups.” But is concern for the environmental and human health such a radical ideology? Especially in this day and age?
A major talking point with Harper and his ilk has been this odd new slogan, “ethical oil.” It started out with a book by Ezra Levant of the same title, which was focused on the further development of Alberta’s tar sands. Levant is a Sun News TV host. Sun Media is Canada’s major conservative media conglomerate.
Now there’s an advocacy group. Ethical Oil (with capital letters this time) has recently been attacking the BC not-for-profit, West Coast Environmental Law, unleashing a series of TV attack ads. But as West Coast writes in their response, Ethical Oil is the group that a) commands enormous funding that most not-for-profits could not dream of, b) refuses to provide the financial transparency most not-for-profits willingly provide, for example in disclosing its mysterious funding sources, c) won’t even reveal the identity of its board of directors.
Ethical Oil accuses West Coast Environmental Law of secretly working for American interests, because they (openly) receive some funding from American environmental organizations. Whose interest does Ethical Oil represent? They attack the critics of tar sands development, but on whose behalf? Would it surprise anyone to find they are completely funded by oil companies, have oil execs sitting on their board of directors, and disperse money for ad campaigns and political contributions under the identity of this third-party advocate?
And if the organization is indeed funded by oil companies for the ultimate purpose of promoting oil development, this isn’t really a non-profit in any meaningful sense of the word, is it? They don’t need to provide transparency; the situation is transparent enough as it is.
There are advocates for oil. But if you look closer, they’re really advocates for themselves.
Photo credit: Daniel Schwen
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