Climate change science, Joe Oliver and the pathologies of petro states

| May 7, 2013
Climate change science, Joe Oliver and the pathologies of petro states

"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'" -Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

All major scientific bodies whose expertise bears directly on the issue of catastrophic climate change concur with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that "the current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years." This quote is from the website of that notorious left-wing think-tank, NASA

 The Economist ran an editorial which opens with, "A hundred years from now, looking back, the only question that will appear important about the historical moment in which we now live is the question of whether or not we did anything to arrest climate change." Meanwhile Joe Oliver, Canada's Natural Resource Minister, has decided that this is an opportune moment to launch a broadside against one of the world's foremost climate scientists, James Hansen.

 CO2 levels and NASA

There are obviously those who simply don't buy the science. Many of these will now, after a couple of decades of denying that the climate is warming, agree that climate change is actually happening. They do not, however, accept evidence that it's humans that are making the planet into a greenhouse for rising sea levels and growing droughts, or that we really need to act on it. The evidence isn't 'incontrovertible.'  

But as George Craven so elegantly points out in What's the Worst That Could Happen, given the possible catastrophic consequences -- devastation to life on earth for generations to come -- the onus is not on the climate scientists, but on the deniers to provide incontrovertible evidence that humans are not having a catastrophic effect on the climate.

If they are wrong, if there is any uncertainty, the price to be paid by future generations is far, far too high. To quote The Economist again, "Everything else -- the financial crisis, the life or death of the euro, authoritarianism or democracy in China and Russia, the Great Stagnation or the innovation renaissance, democratisation and/or political Islam in the Arab world, Newt or Mitt or another four years of Barack -- all this will fade into insignificance beside the question of whether we managed to do anything about human industrial civilisation changing the climate of Planet Earth."

In disagreeing with every major serious scientific institution of our era by attributing global warming to sun flares or the agit-prop of environmental radicals, eco-terrorists and socialists, and by building an 'energy powerhouse' based on fossil-fuels, the Canadian government is behaving like the first of the three little pigs. We're going to build our house of fossil fuels, we're going to toot our flute and not give a hoot, and just hope upon dope that the wolf of global warming doesn't huff and puff and blow our house of oil up in smouldering droughts.

'Ethical oil'

 The Canadian government's current rationale for foisting millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere via the tar sands is that Canada's oil is 'ethical'; more 'ethical' than other sellers of oil like Pakistan, or Iraq or Libya.

This premise of 'ethical oil' wove its way into the Canadian government's energy and foreign policy a whole lot faster than tar sands bitumen (the vast majority of which is mined by foreign states or multinationals whose human rights' records are not always pretty) makes its way along a pipeline without being diluted by light oil (which is frequently purchased from places like … Pakistan). Once the Canadian government decided that tar sands oil was 'ethical,' it wasted no time in paving the way to roll out the barrels.

It bailed on the Kyoto Protocol. It barred the passing of Bill C-300 which would have codified rules ensuring Canadian mining companies live up to international human rights and environmental standards. It tarred opponents of global warming as 'radical ideologues' and, ominously, poured billions into the prison system. Dissenting orgs had their funding cutscientists were muzzled, and CIDA funds were funneled from grassroots NGOs to, you guessed it, mining companies.

The Canadian Revenue Agency was given a steroid boost to watch over charitable orgs to ensure that they did not engage in 'political activity' (read, environmental advocacy) for which they would lose their charitable status. And now, in a flourish which has given rise to the Idle No More movement, it's passed Bill C-45 drawing back protection from 90 per cent of lakes and rivers previously protected demonstrating, categorically, that it sees oil as more important than water or the rights of Canadian Indigenous peoples.

Now here's an irony: while Team Canada busily brands itself as the 'ethical' alternative to a dozen other corrupt, violent or regressive petrostates around the world, it is simultaneously beginning to engage in the very practises it claims to so deplore in them.

This is one bad little pig.

The petro state vs renewables

While Canada, in increasing isolation, abandons its global and domestic ecological responsibilities in compliance with the fossil fuel industry, other countries around the world are transforming their energy systems away from the very product that Canada has banked the next couple of generations on selling.  

The EU, against an extremely vigorous (and expensive) lobbying campaign from the Canadian government, has upheld the classification of bitumen as 'dirty oil.' Germany is reconstructing its energy sector on a scale equal to reconstruction after World War II, and China and India have leaped ahead with massive investments in renewable energy. Norway, in a climate similar to Canada's, already acquires 61.1 per cent of its energy from renewables while Sweden is at 47.9 per cent.  

While other nations move beyond the fossil fuel bubble, diversifying their energy sources, and the technological and employment strategies that follow on that diversification, Canada slogs away in the fossil fuel sludge in an increasingly unlikely gamble -- a gamble that is genuinely hostile to its own Indigenous peoples who have opposed pipelines across their territories, to many of its own citizens who believe in future generations and renewable energy, and to the atmosphere of the sole known planet capable of supporting life.

One might fairly ask, as this little pig stands increasingly alone against the world community (willingly collecting its yearly slop of 'fossil of the year' awards), the global tide of energy consumption and innovation and, according to all serious climate scientists, life on this planet… has this little pig lost its marbles?

Addiction to oil

Maybe the reason that the little pig appears to have lost his marbles is that little pig is a junky. The actions of addicts, aligned as they are with acquiring their fix by any means necessary, can appear extremely self-destructive, irrational and paranoid.  But their actions, once the addiction is discovered, can be seen to have an irrefutable, albeit self-destructive, logic.

Addiction is, in the words of addiction psychologist and theologian Gerald May, "a state of compulsion, obsession or preoccupation that enslaves a person's will and desire." North America is, as former U.S. President George 'Dubya' Bush so magnificently declared in his 2006 State of the Union Address, "addicted to oil," and the tar sands are Canada's opium fields. Canada is a tar pushing wannabe petro state and its banking its wad that there are still going to be enough junkies out there willing to pay a little extra for its ethical fix.

Addiction is a form of enslavement within a dictatorial system, with the object of the addiction (in this case oil) as dictator. Its relentless modus operandi and inevitable logic is to clear the ways and means of acquiring the object of its addiction. Everything and everyone is simply reduced to an object which either enables, or is an obstacle to, acquisition. It has a highly developed and motile propoganda department which can flood cracks in resistance with a tidal wave of messaging, actively undermining the will towards choices enabling greater freedom. As with any tyranny it becomes increasingly isolated and paranoid, distrustful even of those with the very best intentions.

Within an addictive society values become reversed, doublespeak burgeons, and democracy becomes a tool to be exploited rather than a means of discovering the will of the people. Folks proposing a vision and plan for a sustainable future and who are dedicated to ensuring the well-being of future generations are, to the degree that they threatens the object of the addiction, seen as 'hijackers' and 'radical ideologues.'  The tar sands, globally viewed as a carbon pariah and singled out by 'Eradicating Ecocide' as a model to stage a mock 'ecocide' trial in the Supreme Court of England (the Tar Sands were found guilty), is seen as the flagship of 'Ethical Oil.'

When pushing an oil addiction to a planet in the midst of catastrophic climate change is called 'ethical,' we have indeed entered a very Orwellian world, where words come to mean their opposites. Calling Canada's oil more 'ethical' is precisely as logical as saying my crack dealer is more 'ethical' than yours.  If I was buying crack I might buy Canada's ethical crack but crack addiction is, not uncommonly, a terminal affair.

Canada needs to kick being the most savvy fossil fuel pusher in the world. It needs to start pulling its weight on limiting its carbon output. If it wants to live up to its claim of being 'ethical' in its resource extraction industry it needs binding legislation to ensure that Canadian mining companies live up to international human rights and environmental standards. It needs to accept opponents of global warming as concerned and decent citizens of our democracy. It needs to offer renewables the same kind of subsidies that the fossil fuel industry receives so that they can compete in a fair market.  

Canada needs to affirm that dissent is healthy in a democracy, that federal scientists require free speech, and that mining companies don’t need to supplement their profits with federal funding previously targeted to development aid. The steroid boost given to the Canadian Revenue Agency needs to be directed to offshore tax evasion and a financial transaction tax, not towards promoting the controversial ideological agenda of a single political party.  It needs to respect the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which it signed in 2010, affirming the need for the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous peoples with regard to the use of their land and resources.

Most of all our first little pig needs to get it's rump into rehab. But our first little pig is a fossil fuel junky; as myopic, paranoid and self-destructive as any other addict. I think we know what it will say to that suggestion: "No, No , No." I think we know how that sad that story goes.

So, a final question: what does a Canadian fossil fuel intervention look like?


Nik Beeson is the Digital Communications Director at a Canadian Human Rights org. He is also a musician and composer.



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