An adult conversation
From the June 2016 print edition
A quote from George Orwell came back to me in the wake of the devastation from the Fort McMurray wildfires: “So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot.” In some ways the metaphor is unfortunate. I don’t want to in any way, shape or form either trivialize the suffering there or appear annoyingly clever. Rather, the reason why these words resonated was because of a report that was released by the Royal Bank at the very front end of the disaster.
First, a bit of context—maximum oil sands production is approximately 2.3 million barrels per day. The fires slashed output by one million barrels, or about 44 percent. If this continues for just two weeks, Canada’s—not Alberta’s—Canada’s GDP growth for May will be brought down by one-half of one percent. I was astonished. Canada is a large country. Only about 60,000 people live in Fort McMurray. We’re talking about less than two-tenths of one percent of the entire country’s population. Yet this much value is created by so few.
And it’s important to keep the one-half of one percent estimate in context. The Royal Bank is assuming that after two weeks, it would be back to business as usual in Fort McMurray. People who had fled would return and rebuild the community. They would go back to work in the oil fields and all the industries that support that production. Because we can all agree that if not for that Black Gold, Fort McMurray would not exist. And a segment of the Canadian body politic would seem to be more than happy if this were the case.
On April 19, the NDP released a document called the leap manifesto (note: The words were not capitalized…this is how “outside-the-box” thinking this document is!). the leap manifesto begins by asserting, and here I quote in full context: “And Canada’s record on climate change is a crime against humanity’s future.” It calls for a transformation to “a country powered by renewable energy” with the transition “designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality.” There are stirring calls to pass legislation that would make it impossible for oil companies to operate profitably in Canada which means they would take their machinery and head to—literally and figuratively—greener pastures.
A few years ago, I was asked to appear as a cast member in a work of Performance Art entitled The Trial of David Suzuki. The show’s premise was that David Suzuki had accused the Canadian government of various energy related crimes and as a result he was charged with treason. But the “trial” was really about energy policy in this country, and the audience of approximately 300, overwhelmingly voted for acquittal, which really meant (remember, this was performance art) that Alberta’s Oil Sands should be shuttered immediately.
I return to the Royal Bank estimates. If production from Fort McMurray alone would be halted for two weeks, this would shave one-half of 1 percent off the entire Canadian economy. The good economic news here is that the Royal Bank believes that after those two weeks are over, there would be a surge in production and we’d be able to more-or-less make that back in the remaining seven months of 2016, so that when we tallied the ledgers at the end of 2016, it would be—at least in a macro-economic sense—as if those wildfires had never happened.
the leap manifesto cites a study suggesting that within 20 years, Canada could get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable resources. This is nonsense. Canada could get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable resources in five years, if it really had to. It could happen if there was the type of consensus that, for example, was forged around World War II when about seven percent of the population served in the military. If 2.3 million young and able-bodied men and women were trained in industrial production, we could surely make enough wind turbines and manufacture and install enough solar panels to provide for this country’s economic needs.
And in the process, rip the heart out of this country’s standard of living and quality of life. We have a very good thing going in Canada. The only reason that we could show the humanity and generosity we did with Syrian refugees is because we can afford to. Oil sands production, as this recent episode indicates, is integral to our wealth. So before we think about shutting it down too quickly, let’s have an adult conversation and give crayons and pacifiers to the 40,000 or so who have signed thE leaP manifestO.
I’m so forward thinking, that I capitalize the last letter in each sentence.