Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ethical Oil--Up in Smoke

The argument of "ethical oil" goes something like this:  Canada has a better human-rights record than nations such as Saudi Arabia or Iran; we have women's rights.  We have freedom and liberty.  So, Canadian oil is "better" than oil produced in these other countries.  The suspicion is that the only reason this argument exists is to make folks forget about the fact that tarsands oil production is very harmful to the environment.

This argument has been getting traction, but today, on Twitter, the creator of the notion of ethical oil, tweeted something that completely obliterates the entire ethical oil argument.  Ezra Levant, author of "Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada's Oil Sands", in response to the question of whether he advocated boycotting Saudi oil--it is after all unethical oil--answered, "Impossible to do: they have too big a % of world supply & reserves. plus price would double."

So, ethical oil is a false dichotomy.  The only way oil could possibly be ethical would be if it were possible to eliminate unethical oil.  Simply naming Canadian oil "ethical" does nothing to suggest that Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Sudan, Iraq, Nigeria, Libya or Russia will anytime soon become human-rights honouring, democratic bastions of liberty.  Unless and until Canada completely eliminates imports of oil from the aforementioned "dirty" countries, we have absolutely no moral superiority on which to stand.

If we think for a moment, that we have something better to offer, the best way to do it is not to label another country "unethical" but to acknowledge our own weaknesses and work to improve them.  Canada has much greatness to offer.  That we have stooped to make ourselves look good by making someone else look bad is childish.  It's the worst form of bullying.  Every parent tells their kids that when you make someone look bad to make yourself look good you just end up looking bad yourself.

This is what Canada has done with ethical oil.  We have a problem.  It's pollution.  And, in order to make ourselves feel better (and to make ourselves more appealing to our largest trading partner--the United States) we decided that rather than address our problem, we would look for someone worse than us and point out how bad they are; thereby making us look good.

Shame on us.  When did we become a bully?  Is this how we want to contribute to healing our world?

Without the oil from all of the "evil" countries, our industrial complex would completely shut down.  So, we need their oil; ours is no more ethical.  It's just oil.  One day every government will have to find alternatives to oil.  If Canada were to provide an alternative to oil right now, then THAT would be ethical.  Until that time, wouldn't Canada be better served to foster good relationships with all our global partners.

One day, we may not be the top kid on the block.  When that day comes, how will the unethical Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Venezuela remember us?  Will they remember us as the bully who pushed their face in the mud?  Or will we be the ones who always sought to foster open lines of communication?  Will we be the ones who address our own issues--until we do that, we have no moral superiority.

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