Much has been said about Stephen Harper's paranoia, his ruthlessness, his Nixonian tendencies, his quickness to dump even the most dedicated loyalist who gets in his way -- and other assorted qualities that make him, at the very least, an undesirable person with whom to have a beer.
Relatively little has been said about his grandiosity. Only months after becoming prime minister in 2006, he showed it off in an overseas speech that attracted surprisingly little attention in Canada.
Outlining his plan to turn Canada into an "energy superpower," he told the Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce in London that developing the "ocean of oil-soaked sand" in northern Alberta would be "an enterprise of epic proportions, akin to the building of the Pyramids or China's Great Wall. Only bigger."
Of course, transforming Canada into a "superpower" leading the world in an "epic" crusade to build something bigger than the Pyramids could be a good thing.
However, Harper's grandiose vision -- from which he has never wavered -- isn't about pursuing some worthy goal. It's about giving some of the world's richest people a chance to become vastly richer.
This is why Harper made his 'Let's-outdo-the-Pyramids' speech to a group of foreign investors rather than, say, to the Canadian people, or to the assembled nations at the UN.
In fact, Harper's struggle is epic, although not in the way he meant. It's epic in that it pits him and a group of largely foreign investors against those willing to act to preserve the planet for human habitation -- a group which now includes the U.S. government.
The simple reality is that much of the oil in the tar sands will have to remain in the ground if there is to be any hope of curbing the out-of-control growth of greenhouse gas emissions, currently on track to drive up the world's temperature by six degrees Celsius within a few decades -- a scenario considered semi-catastrophic by the International Energy Agency (IEA), an intergovernmental organization created by the leading Western nations.
Although the tar sands are just one source of emissions, they are growing faster and larger than emissions in any other sector of the Canadian economy.
"There is only one sector that matters most for Canada when it comes to getting emissions down: the oil sands. If oilsands emissions go down, we meet our national carbon-reduction targets. If not, we don't," wrote David McLaughlin, former president of Canada's respected National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, which saw its funding eliminated by the Harper government.
Indeed, having dismantled Canada's environmental regulatory process, Harper now stands poised to ignore massive opposition and stomp on the historic rights of First Nations people by approving the Northern Gateway pipeline, thereby putting in place a key piece of his energy superpower scheme.
What makes all of this so perplexing -- almost other-worldly -- is that it's so unnecessary.
Due to the marvels of modern technology, the world now has the technical capacity to move to a post-carbon age. The International Energy Agency is clear about this. In a report last month, the agency -- which is the energy equivalent of the OECD or the IMF -- pointed out that it is possible for the world to "decarbonise almost all power generation by 2050."
Sure, but we'd all be back in the Stone Age, right? Employment would be confined to shovel-ready pyramids.
Actually, no. The IEA estimated the global cost of moving to a post-carbon world at $44 trillion -- which sounds like a deal-breaker until you read on and discover that this massive cost would be more than offset by $115 trillion in fuel savings, resulting in a net saving of $71 trillion.
Does that mean the transition would be costless?
Overall, yes. Huge numbers of new jobs would be created as we redesigned our entire economy for a green technology age, just as happened years ago when we moved to the age of the railway and combustion engine.
Arguably, the longer we cling to carbon, the more we hinder our ability as a country to adapt as the world eventually moves on.
Some individuals would lose in the transition, of course. Those employed in carbon-related industries might have trouble adapting -- just as farriers did (they make horseshoes, if you're wondering).
The really big losers, however, would be the owners of the fossil fuel companies, who'd be obliged to forego an estimated $29 trillion by not being able to develop oil to which they own the rights.
Farriers weren't able to stop the world from moving on, but the enormously rich and powerful fossil fuel companies have so far managed to block us from transitioning to a green economy -- even though the future of the world is at stake.
And in their epic quest to hold back the tides of progress, Stephen Harper, today's aspiring pharaoh, has their back.
Winner of a National Newspaper Award, Linda McQuaig has been a reporter for the Globe and Mail, a columnist for the National Post and the Toronto Star and author of seven bestsellers, including Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and other Canadian Myths and It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet. Her most recent book (co-written with Neil Brooks) is The Trouble with Billionaires: How the Super-Rich Hijacked the World, and How We Can Take It Back.
This article is reprinted with permission from iPolitics
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