By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on November 28, 2019.
By Al Barnhill
In his famous 1972 comic strip, Walt Kelly depicts disastrous conditions to come. Pogo and his friend Porkypine are sitting on the exposed roots of a large, dead tree. They are looking sadly at a property covered with piles of trash É empty cans and packages, bicycle parts, broken-down cars, discarded appliances and rubber tires, colourful plastics and much more garbage, and Pogo remarks, “… we have met the enemy and he is us.”
Fast forward to the present. Excessive trash has become a serious, planet-threatening crisis. Landfills have become huge, overflowing garbage dumps. Exporting trash to developing countries has failed É the Philippines has returned boatloads of garbage to Canada. Oceans and other bodies of water have become polluted dumps. Fishes and plant life are dying from such dumping. Fires, floods, hurricanes, tornados and other extreme wind storms are ravaging every part of the world. Climatic disasters have been turned vast areas into wastelands.
Recently, more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries around the world issued a stark warning of “untold suffering” unless drastic and immediate changes are made. Such changes include “ending population growth, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, halting forest destruction and slashing meat eating.” At least two of these initiatives would impact on Canadians. Imagine you are the prime minister and trying to satisfy some westerners/Big Oil and leaving oil in the ground to satisfy Indigenous people, British Columbians, environmentalists and future generations.
A recent Lancet study of health and climate change found that “A child born today will face multiple and life-long dangers to their health from climate change as growing up in a warmer world risks food shortages, infectious diseases, floods and extreme heatÉ Children are particularly vulnerable to the health risks of climate change.”
Additional Guardian graphs were even more alarming, especially “the profoundly troubling signs – the drivers of the climate emergency.” They included the rapid increase in world population, i.e. from 4.2 billion to 7.8 billion (+53.8 per cent) between 1980 and 2018; the 800 per cent growth in the number of airplane passengers from 1984-2017 and the 50 per cent increase in meat consumption between 1980-2017. Other disturbing graphs depicted the adverse effects of increases in carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, global temperatures, sea levels and extreme weather conditions.
To many Albertans, such threatening information tends to be ignored, especially by those who are self-serving, parochial rebel rousers such as the premier and his ilk. Given their party’s recent policies and initiatives, the UCP is neither progressive nor conservative. Nearly 50 years of PC governments, in collaboration with profit-maximizing industry, have exploited Alberta’s oil deposits at an exponentially accelerating rate. The Socred policy of allowing two wells per quarter section was scrapped by the PCs during the 1970s, empowering oil companies to drill as many wells on land or under bodies of water as they could justify to the Energy Conservation Board É an “autonomous regulatory” body, dominated by the oil industry.
Big Oil and their political beneficiaries deprived Albertans of vast returns from the exploitation the natural resources of this province. Compare Alberta’s “oil savings” of $17 billion with Alaska’s $40.9 billion or Norway’s $1 trillion ($1,000,000,000,000). Another way of considering Big Oil’s ripoff of Albertans is by focusing on their financial statements. In November 2018, the Parkland Institute released a report showing that the Big Five largest oil companies in Alberta, controlling 79.3 per cent of Canada’s productive capacity of bitumen, had revenues of $140.3 billion or nearly three times the revenues of the Province of Alberta. In fact, the corporations posted gross profits of $46.6 billion, slightly less than the province’s revenues of $47.3 billion.
Seems to me that instead of threatening separation from Canada, Kenney and company should focus on getting a greater share of Big Oil’s profits and managing them like Norway or Alaska. Further, they should be pursuing former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed’s mantra of diversifying the economy away from resources exploitation, pollution and climate change. Even oil companies envision the future with declining needs for fossil fuel and are diversifying into renewable energy sources.
Al Barnhill is a Lethbridge-based writer and a former professor of management at the University of Lethbridge.