Ezra Levant’s national bestselling Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s Oil Sands (2010) presents compelling analysis on some environmentalists’ apparent preference for doing business with theocracies and other nasty regimes.
Viewing Canada’s oil sands as a blessing, Levant points out that Canada is the only genuine liberal democracy among the top ten largest oil-reserve nations. The human rights record of Saudi Arabia is no secret: women are forbidden to drive cars, teenage “criminals” have been “beheaded with swords in the public square,” and homosexuals are executed. Justice in Iran includes “death by stoning, crucifixion, or limb amputation.” There are many reports of human rights abuses in oil-producing nations such as Venezuela and Sudan.
Levant discusses the numerous environmental abuses in conflict-oil nations. Because of the lack of environmental accountability, Nigeria experiences hundreds of oil spills a year, and it adopts the “wasteful practice of simply burning off any natural gas” found with oil. Moreover, a 2009 study found that “Nigerian crude had the highest greenhouse gas emissions per barrel, at the production stage, of any source of crude in the world – 10 per cent more than Canada’s oil sands.”
Another problem he identifies is how environmental activists focus on safe targets rather than the worst abusers. For example, activists targeted Talisman Energy, a Canadian oil producer that worked hard to improve human rights in Sudan. After the environmentalists hounded Talisman out of Sudan, “ethnic cleansing of Darfur began in earnest.”
The Canadian group Kairos, representing a coalition of “liberal churches,” including the United Church, Anglicans, and Mennonites, receives some attention in Ethical Oil. Levant questions the objectivity of a group that seeks “facts” on the oil sands months after it publishes its Canadian Faith and the Canadian Tar Sands. Sadly, the use of the term “tar sands” is political: “tar, a product of distilled coal, just isn’t accurate, no matter what certain anti-oil sand groups claim; this is bitumen in Alberta’s ground: a thick oil.” Certainly, Kairos is free to censure Canada’s oil sands and promote solar and wind power, but does it consider the lives of the many Aboriginals, Atlantic Canadians, and many others gainfully employed in Alberta’s oil industry? Of the other countries it focuses on, why does it ignore OPEC countries or China where Christians are persecuted for their faith? And why is it so keen to pick on Israel? Levant suggests “the only way Alberta’s oil sands could be morally worse, judging by Kairos priorities, is if they were located in the Jewish state.”
Shining a light on the “oil sands porn” of “mass-media campaigners” who offer little criticism of conflict-oil nations, Levant argues that the “Alberta oil sands are easily one of the most technologically advanced resource operations in the world.” Holding to strict environmental standards, highly trained and educated Ph.D.s are making the oil sands “competitive in a global energy economy.” In fact, Levant claims that “Environmentally, the oil sands are cleaner than any other competing jurisdiction when measured by real pollution – dirty air, dirty water, and dirty soil.”
Ethical Oil is an important and provocative book with many excellent points. North Americans need to be better informed in any decisions on energy. As Levant explains:
If the oil sands were somehow shut down, it would be an economic disaster for Canadian families, as hundreds of billions of American energy dollars were paid instead to the idle princes of Saudi Arabia, the corrupt politicians of Nigeria, and the bellicose strongman in Venezuela. But that awful price wouldn’t make the environment any better – none of those countries has environmental standards equal to Canada’s. And then there are the other measures of ethics, from democratic rights and freedom of the press to the treatment of women.
Ethical Oil has endnotes for further investigation.