Archive for 6 November 2011

Canada’s Ethical Oil?

6 November 2011

The argument rolls around that Canada’s tar sands oil is ethical oil and therefore preferable to conventional oil from countries such as Saudi Arabia. Proponents of our ethical oil point to such things as the Saudi record on women’s rights.

Setting aside the fact that residents along the Athabasca River may have a very different view than most Canadians of human rights in Canada, let’s consider Saudi women.

Saudi women can not drive or vote. However, the king has said that in 2015 women will be able to vote and run in local elections, and be on the king’s advisory council. Saudi women require permission of a male guardian for many things, though the requirement of such permission to seek employment was dropped in 2008 (and some Saudi women argue that this guardianship is a right of women). From a western viewpoint, work needs to be done and is being done in the area of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

Against that is weighed the higher greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts of Canadian tar sands oil, where work is also being done to improve but benefits are far outweighed by growth in volume of production. Our numbers with respect to tar sands greenhouse gases are so embarrassing that the Canadian government left tar sands data out of our 2009 National Inventory Report to the U.N.

In the area of climate change, Canada is seen as obstructionist. We as a nation are climate change deniers, pushing ahead with tar sands, fracking, pipelines and increased tanker traffic.

Global CO2 levels are already high. In a best case scenario people will be feeling the effects of climate change for many decades to come. That best case scenario is not going to happen.

Globally our greenhouse gas emissions have increased more than the worst case predictions of only four years ago. We are on course for much more damaging climate change. Effects will include;

  • sea level rise, and with it not just flooding of coastal cities, but salination of fresh water and coastal agricultural soil
  • More and stronger extreme weather events, bringing direct loss of life, economic impacts and agricultural losses
  • Rapid ecosystem changes with resultant loss of species and potential disruption of entire food chains as evidenced by the approximately 40% loss of phytoplankton in the northern hemisphere since 1950.
  • Changes in disease patterns such as the appearance of West Nile virus in Canada

Phytoplankton by the way are not only at the base of the ocean food chain, but are also critical to the world’s carbon cycle and produce about half of the world’s oxygen. Rather important to Saudi women and everyone else who breaths air.

The list of possible climate change effects goes on and on. No one really knows what may ultimately happen if we don’t stop increasing CO2 levels. We do know it will be bad.

Climate change will impact Saudi women just as it will impact people around the world. To avoid a world where the struggle just to meet our basic needs takes up a growing proportion of human capital, Canada must stop promoting CO2 increases.

Canada should be leading the charge to a post-carbon future where greater proportions of people have the quality of life that allows time and energy to pursue education and to further human rights. To do otherwise, to do as we have been with the global implications that it carries, is a worse violation of human rights than any violation within any one nation or culture.

There is nothing ethical about tar sands oil.