Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Real Motivation behind the Opposition to Alberta's Energy Sector: An open letter to Ms. Vivian Krause, tax researcher

Dear Ms. Krause -

Your recent contribution to the Financial Post ("Canadian pipelines targeted by US funds" - June 26 2012) has pushed us past the tipping point, and we are now fed up enough to take the time to state the obvious regarding your over-interpretation of the tax data you have compiled.

You have diligently pursued the flow of environmental funding in Canada, and seem to have found irregularities in how some environmental groups in Canada handle their finances. Although we have seen no evidence of 'moneylaundering' (as bizarrely implied by the Harper Government) or other wrong-doing, such irregularities should rightly be investigated. Everyone should play by the rules. However, in your recent article, as in many that have preceded it, you continue to assert that the goal of US funding to Pacific Canadian conservationists is to landlock Alberta's bitumen for the benefit of the US, at the expense of the Canadian economy. 

Really? But Ms. Krause, you do not have data on motives - you have tax data. And while such data may tell us how money flows, they do not tell us why it flows. Your conclusions about motive are therefore mere speculation, and continuing to assert that the primary objective of conservationists is to cripple Canada's economy for the benefit of the US thus borders on conspiracy-theory, particularly since you blithely dismiss the stated objectives of concerned Canadians and their funders. By engaging in such speculation, you insult all Canadians concerned about the consequences of oil spills and the contribution of Alberta's energy industry to climate change, painting them as dupes of nefarious US economic interests.

Ms. Krause, are you and your enablers truly so ideologically isolated you cannot believe Canadians are actually concerned about risks to the natural environment and the services it provides? Many Canadians believe that the risks from pipelines, particularly in remote, pristine areas, are just too high. Unsurprisingly, many also believe the independent economic analyses of Robyn Allan and Robin Gregory, both of which suggest either minimal economic gains or even economic losses to Canada from unfettered bitumen development, more than they do the simplistic analyses and inflated claims of large oil companies focused on their own bottom line.

Why do environmental groups target the diluted bitumen ('dilbit') pipelines out of Northern Alberta? Perhaps because they present tremendous risks to marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems. Or because the pipelines are adamantly opposed by the vast majority of First Nations, for whom a contaminated environment would be so devastating, that no amount of money could compensate for the loss. Or because fully developing Alberta's bitumen reserves will raise atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to a level that will put human civilization at risk (by adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than has already been added by fossil fuels in the last 150 years (James Hansen, NASA). Or maybe because future generations deserve more than an environment degraded for short-term profit by foreign-owned, multi-national corporations, which is a plausible outcome given the relevant data (i.e., not just tax data).

Everyone understands that restricting pipelines and slowing the pace of development in Northern Alberta will have economic consequences. However, this is more complicated than the oil- and growth-obsessed would have us believe. Slowing development may actually be economically beneficial for Canada, as indicated in Allan's economic assessment. Furthermore, many Canadians continue to hold values beyond economic ones, values which may trump any potential economic consequences. They are willing to pay more for products, including gasoline and plastics, to ensure social and ecological values are preserved. Does this make them 'radicals' determined to block trade and undermine Canada's economy?

Concerned Canadians are opposing tarsands and pipeline development as a means of protecting invaluable natural resources from degradation. And while this may incur some short-term economic consequences, assuming all consequences will be losses and imputing that such losses are what pipeline opponents seek (rather than side-effects of conservation and risk avoidance) is simplistic and distasteful. It assumes - without evidence - the worst possible motivation when a plausible positive motivation is in plain view. The truth is that many accept economic consequences as necessary in the pursuit of the true end objectives of sustainability, ecological integrity, and a healthy environment for future generations. We therefore respectfully ask that you stop over-reaching your data, and desist from intentionally or otherwise confusing the means and end objectives of those opposed to the expansion of Alberta's bitumen reserves.


Edward J. Gregr and Kai M.A. Chan

EJG is PhD Candidate working with KMAC, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, UBC, in Vancouver British Columbia.
Contact:; twitter: @EcoRational