Many observers, including President Barack Obama, believe transition from Age of Fossil Fuels to Age of Clean Energy has already begun
David Suzuki’s recent comments equating the Alberta oil and gas industry to American slavery are offensive, demonstrating why it’s time for the grand old man of Canadian environmentalism to quietly retire.
Suzuki was interviewed Monday on SiriusXM’s Everything is Political with Evan Solomon. He said that the ante-bellum Southern states supported slavery because it would have destroyed their economies, which is an immoral position. Then he said Alberta was doing the same thing by supporting the oil industry instead of abolishing it to combat climate change.
“All I was saying was that southern states argued that abolishing slavery would destroy their economy and that is like the fossil-fuel industry arguing against action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will destroy the economy. In other words, they are putting the economy above the matter of slavery and climate change and I think that is immoral,” Suzuki clarified in a later email to the show.
In other words, slave owners defended slavery by arguing their economic interests, Albertans defend the oil sands by arguing their economic interests, ergo Albertans are kinda like slave owners.
Here are five reasons why Suzuki is wrong:
One, he keeps wanting to fight a war he and his fellow eco-activists have probably won. As I argued in a column two weeks ago, the real significance of Keystone XL is that fossil fuels’ social license has been destroyed in the Oval Office. America is now leading the global attack on fossil fuels and even noted climate skeptic Stephen Harper committed Canada to help decarbonize the world economy by 2100.
But in a Maclean’s interview earlier this year, Suzuki railed against Big Oil and blustered about fighting 1970s battles all over again. He truly is yesterday’s man.
Two, the important difference between the good old days of environmental protesting and today is technology. Forty years ago, renewable energies like solar and wind, and electric vehicles, were a glint in young David Suzuki’s eye. Now, a growing consensus of thinkers, scholars, activists, politicians, and pundits believe we have begun the transition from the Age of Fossil Fuels to the Age of Clean Energy.
Three, the focus has shifted from kick starting the new Age to managing the transition. This is a frequent theme of Obama’s when he talks about his climate change agenda. The transition from a dominant technology to a new, more efficient technology usually takes 50 to 75 years, give or take depending on the circumstances. In this case, we’re talking about a wide range of technologies for the global economy, so a century or more seems pretty reasonable.
A safe bet would be that oil and natural gas will be with us for decades yet. Obama and other pro-climate change leaders have said as much.
Then why rail against Alberta? Why should “dirty” oil from Placerita, California or Venezuela or Nigeria be refined in Texas Gulf Coast refineries but not oil sands crude? Is the former more moral than the latter?
Four, fossil fuels are not inherently immoral. They helped build the modern, sophisticated civilizations we enjoy today.
And every civilization stands on the shoulders of those that came before. Some day, future generations that enjoy solar powered homes and drive electric cars will look back on the Age of Fossil Fuels as a necessary precondition to the sustainable economy and cleaner environment in which they enjoy a higher standard of living than their forebears. From this point of view, fossil fuels are highly moral, not the opposite.
Five, making ridiculous claims – like Albertans are the moral equivalent of slave owners – sidetracks more important debates. For instance, China and India are building hundreds of new coal power plants – and using horrendously dirty 1950s era technology – every year. That’s an issue that needs protesting and petitioning.
Not the Alberta oil sands, which now has to adapt to a hard emissions cap, a carbon tax, and tougher scrutiny from regulators.
Just as Fonzi on water skis jumping over a shark signaled the decline of the popular 1970s sitcom Happy Days, so David Suzuki comparing Alberta to Southern slave owners is a sign the time has come for Suzuki to shuffle off the public stage, perhaps retiring somewhere as an eco-activist emeritus, writing blog posts no one reads, and ranting on social media to the few people who also still think we’re stuck in the decade of bell bottoms and disco.
The rest of us, including Alberta and the oil sands industry, have important work to do ushering in the Age of Clean Energy.
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