In a recent column in the National Post, Michael Den Tandt heaped scorn on Neil Young and his “fellow oil sands critics” for protesting without offering “a single viable alternative”. The article, which also calls Young a “moral coward”, leaves a foul smell in the air to anyone eager for sustainable resource development and civilized debate.
Den Tandt’s article exemplifies the sad shape of public discourse on resource development, where boosters attack anyone who disagrees with them. The job versus environment formula is a cunning tactic used to arouse anxiety and discord rather than inform a healthy debate. It also prejudices the way that resource decisions are presented to and perceived by Canadians.
What we need is a rational and respectful debate that produces an energy strategy that best serves Canadians. Everyone should be able to participate without being intimidated or demonized.
In his article, Dan Tant tells us that we must accept oil sands development as ultimately “a social good”. Why? Oil development, transport, use and disposal pose hazards to public health and the environment. How far are we willing to go if it means contaminating water and air, destroying wilderness and wildlife or trampling the rights and traditions of First Nations?
What about our international commitments to cut rather than increase our greenhouse gas emissions? Severe weather is already costing the economy billions as droughts threaten food supplies, floods and ice storms devastate communities and millions around the world move in search for survival.
Presenting our choices as ‘all or nothing’ and “environment vs economy” is perhaps Mr. Den Tandt’s greatest disservice to his readers. The “environment vs economy” dichotomy is based on an outdated understanding of economics and ignores crucial social and environmental considerations. Rapid resource development makes some rich and leaves many more struggling with rising housing, food and energy costs. It does little to diversify our economy or energy supply. As everyone knows it’s unwise to put all of our eggs in one basket.
Instead, we should adopt a strategy that leads to sustainable energy, a diversified economy and a healthy society. First, let’s pursue resource development which prioritizes building strong, healthy communities, protecting the environment, and ensuring that the economic benefits extend to all Canadians, including future generations. It’s unfair to develop public resources for the benefit of only one generation and a small group of wealthy investors.
Second, we must combine oil and gas development with a serious commitment to conservation and the development of clean energy alternatives. Canada’s petroleum resources will grow more valuable over time, why liquidate them in one generation?
Finally, companies that develop, refine and ship these public resources (and the governments that regulate them) need to do a better job of protecting public health and the environment. That means pipelines and tankers built to the highest standards and performance bonds so that when leaks and spills occur it’s not the public left holding the bag when companies file for bankruptcy.
These are sensible alternatives that many Canadians support. They favour developing our resources at a pace that is safe and efficient and secures the future for us and our children and grandchildren too!
Some may agree with Den Tandt that if we were to sit idly by, watching market economics play out, we would likely see oil drilled, produced, and transported around the world for generations to come. Ok, but why would we choose to base our energy security and economic future, let alone our health and social and environmental well-being, on the whims of the stock market or the self- interest of the oil industry? Why would we support a self-fulfilling prophesy that disregards the possibility of self-determination and leaves our country with a ‘one crop’ economy based on a resource that will eventually become depleted ?
Maybe as Michael Den Tandt opines we must accept oil sands development for now, but shouldn’t we do it as part of a comprehensive energy strategy that includes conservation, careful development, investment in healthier alternatives and meeting our responsibilities to future generations and the environment? After all, the oil belongs to us. Why not use the revenue to diversify our economy and provide top-quality education, culture, health care and economic opportunities for everyone.