THERE’S SCIENCE and there is political science.
Most petroleum engineers are flummoxed by political science.
It doesn’t make sense, they reason, to ship oil by rail when pipelines are safer. It also isn’t clever to give up market share to American competitors who frack as they damn well please. And the engineers are correct — it doesn’t make much sense — logically.
LOGIC CAN BE A BLINDSPOT
Logic isn’t going to solve the present challenges facing western Canada.
In northern Alberta where colossal clumps of crude are unearthed using engineering genius, ‘political science’ is also digging up the dirt.
Hollywood actress Jane Fonda helicoptered over the oil sands, and disgusted by what she saw essentially told Albertans, “you’ll have to find something else to do.”
Ms. Fonda, of course, relied upon petroleum resources extracted from the ground to fuel her ride, but no matter. It doesn’t have to make sense that an engineering marvel and extraction process in northern Alberta — a thing of beauty to petroleum engineers — has been conflated by activists into ground zero for the destruction of the planet.
Jane Fonda is not alone. Not by a stretch.
Albertans need to set aside logic to understand why we are tarred with getting in the way of progress.
THE ADVOCACY ECONOMY
The role of American investment in efforts to put the kibosh on tidewater access for western Canada oil & natural gas is fairly well-documented. Anti-tar sands campaigns deploy money funnelled through large US philanthropic organizations to ensure oil export pipelines are delayed and blocked. We even self-sabotage; in 2016, a cap on oilsands production was imposed by the Alberta government to purchase ‘social licence’.
It’s not just climate change crusaders helicoptering over to do good that rattles engineers’ sensibilities, there is also geo-political illogic.
And in the early going of the last century, the British Royal Navy proclaimed the Turner Valley oil field in southern Alberta to be in the ‘strategic interest’ of the Commonwealth. Frigates and destroyers had switched from coal to bunker fuel prior to The Great Depression. And it didn’t matter how much it cost or whether it was good business sense to develop the field, it was a military priority; England needed to have an assured supply of oil come what may — World War Two.
OUR MAN STRONG
“We may get to the point where the only way of saving the world will be for industrialized civilization to collapse. Isn’t it our responsibility to bring this about?” — Maurice Strong (1992)
Maurice Strong has an interesting business history. He was a player in companies like Power Corporation and caught the eye of Ottawa. In 1976, then prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau handpicked him to lead Petro-Canada, as the government oil company’s first chair & CEO headquartered in Calgary (we’ll tell you more about this remarkable fellow, later in the series).
And if there was doubt about Strong’s commitment to reshape the world and how it’s governed, in the proceedings of the Rio Earth Summit, he states:
“It is clear that current lifestyles and consumption patterns of the affluent middle class… involving high meat intake, consumption of large amounts of frozen and convenience foods, ownership of motor vehicles, golf courses, small electric appliances, home and work place air-conditioning, and suburban housing are not sustainable… A shift is necessary toward lifestyles less geared to environmentally damaging consumption patterns.” — Maurice Strong (1992)
Strong’s genius (abetted by Al Gore, the American politician who capitalized on a hit film An Inconvenient Truth) was to create the conditions for a fiat economy of ‘carbon credits’ through an internationally-sanctioned Act of Enclosure of the earth’s ‘atmosphere’.
CLOAK OF GREEN
A quarter-century-ago in her book, Cloak of Green, investigative journalist Elaine Dewar connected the dots between business, politics & the economics of advocacy in the hustle of environmental movements of the day.
She describes how Canada’s David Suzuki, appalled by the clearing of the rain forest in Brazil (where he was on location shooting a documentary for television) telephoned his wife long-distance in Vancouver, and with that call jumpstarted an advocacy campaign to save the Amazon.
Brazilian Indians decked out in full regalia were soon fund-raising in Toronto. They were a sensation — what you might call a ‘thing’ these days — feted and supported by the city’s cultural elite, including luminaries such as author Margaret Atwood and singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. Also in attendance, Elizabeth May, enthusiastic as ever after the conference in Rio.
“Advertised as the World’s Greatest Summit,” Elaine Dewar writes, “Rio Earth Summit was publicly described as a global negotiation to reconcile the need for environmental protection with the need for economic growth. The cognoscenti understood that there were other deeper goals. The shift of national regulatory powers to vast regional authorities; the opening of all remaining closed national economies to multinational interests; the strengthening of decision-making structures far above and far below the grasp of newly minted national democracies…”
It was quite the show in Toronto!
Elaine Dewar was taken in by the spectacle of traditionally-dressed visitors from the rain forest, and their story of cultural survival. But something tweaked her journalism spider. She checked her emotions at the door. And after poking and prodding uncovered how well-meaning Canadians were being guilted out — encouraged to turn a blind eye — the hard sell being these beautiful people from the Amazon needed our help now without reservation.
Dewar, nevertheless, questioned the Brazilian Indian’s legitimacy and where all the money was going (and there was lots and lots of it, including the gift of an airplane). Saving the rain forest, Dewar learned, was not job one for the Brazilian Indian parachuted into Toronto. In fact, his business — as a tribal leader — was to exclusively control the sale of access ‘rights’ to gold miners and timber companies (infuriating and alienating the tribes who were left out in the cold).
FOLLOW THE MONEY
Dewar’s piece is cautionary as much as it is instructive.
It’s a primer to comprehend the logic behind today’s advocacy antics & fundraising initiatives. But you need to stop being logical. Remember: this is political science.
And an Economy of Attention doesn’t have to make sense (think about polar bears on thin sea ice… uh-huh). And where there’s environmental smoke, there’s money — and power.
Our Man Strong, as one of the key advisors to the World Wide Fund for Nature, befriended a younger man who would later go on to lead the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) organization (as it was renamed) in Canada. The mother ship for the NGO is in America, and it’s been cited as the planet’s “largest, richest environmental campaigning group.” And they really know how to grow money from trees (be sure to read the link). Any ambitious person out to change the world would naturally be attracted to this well-endowed organization. And that person’s name is Gerald Butts.
Gerald Butts is a key & the most senior political advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He’s in the Prime Minister’s Office — practically lives there. For years, he’s called into question the very existence of the petroleum sector. “Truth be told, we don’t think there ought to be a carbon-based energy industry by the middle of this century,” Butts said in 2012 as CEO of Canada’s WWF. “That’s our policy in Canada and it’s our policy all over the world.” No wonder his current boss Justin Trudeau publicly let it spill in 2017 that Alberta’s oil sands should be phased out.
PLEASE SPARE US THE CONCERN
For the first part in this series, we needed to set the stage on how colonial ambitions for the country affected indigenous people on the plains — displaced and starved them out — a vision that was methodically executed by an elite who claimed to know what’s best for Canada.
And we know how that turned out.
Regardless, the federal government and its agents at the time gave themselves a pass because they believed what they were doing was in the name of progress. Of course, that doesn’t make it right — not at all!
When Jane Fonda uttered, “you’ll have to find something else to do,” she may as well have been speaking the lines written by countless do-gooders scolding families trying to make a go of it on the Canadian prairies.
If you’re looking for logic, it’s this: historically, there’s been no limit to the harm so-called progressive thinkers can do in the name of progress.
Advocacy groups and their ilk need to curb their missionary zeal to save us from ourselves.
We are in nobody’s way.
We need to get on with the job of keeping Canada’s energy supply secure as climate change leads to inevitable differences about Arctic sovereignty & the risk of global warring in the near future (more on that later).
This column is the consensus opinion of the writers Donna Kennedy-Glans & Don Hill.
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