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not all is equal. what choice will you make?
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It Didn’t Look Like Hiroshima to Me: Guest Post by Matthew Raketti

Ethical Oil September 25, 2013

Just the other week I had the opportunity to tour the Athabasca Oil Sands and meet with some of the brightest minds working in the Canadian energy sector. I learned a great deal from the experience. Above all, my main “take-away” is an acknowledgement of the tremendous gulf that separates activist opponents to the development of the oil sands from what is actually happening on the ground.

The activists’ campaign to ”demarket the oil sands” is premised on an ideology that is, at its core, anti-human. Whether the activists recognize the nature of their campaign – I suspect that most do not – it nevertheless remains that their effort to roll back the use of oil and gas, if permitted to unfold, would severely undermine the capability of human civilization to produce the energy resources we need in order to sustain critical global infrastructure, up to and including the complex food supply chain upon which every human person depends.

I can only speculate as to the motives driving the extremist anti-oil sands environmental movement (a movement I hold in strong contradistinction to that venerable and well-established movement for conservation).

We should ask ourselves: who will benefit from the “demarketing” – an ideologically loaded term if there ever was one – of the Canadian oil sands? The activist crowd seems bent on separating their idea of oil sands development from the reality. Neil Young likens Fort McMurray to a “waste land” and reckons that the developed oil sands landscape resembles Hiroshima (presumably, Hiroshima circa 1945). Such hyperbolic statements serve only to injure the more than 70,000 men, women, and children who call the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo home. It is an indication as to the extent to which the ‘eco-conscious celebrity pseudo-intelligentsia’ has not the slightest interest in visiting the oil sands to gain any real knowledge of the real people who depend on its development for their livelihoods – which is pretty much everyone.

Instead, their aim is one predicated on an ideology that contemplates industry and economic growth as being against the public good. The more sophisticated within this movement likely subscribe to a kind of “neo-Malthusianism” which holds to Malthus’s central thesis that there are limits to human growth – limits that will be apprehended by a sudden calamitous collapse in the various supply inputs necessary to sustain industry. Largely, however, such musings are speculative and Malthus’s prediction of collapse was negated by human technical ingenuity and mankind’s remarkable penchant for adaptability.

Ironically, the long decline of classical Malthusianism reached its peak with the green revolution – a turning point that itself was made possible by the petrochemical industry. Today’s Neo-Malthusians (e.g., Neil Young, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., David Suzuki, Al Gore, and Bill McKibben) made up their minds decades ago on the climate question and have spent decades advancing a largely ideologically founded campaign to limit growth via the mechanism of environmental alarmism.

Reclaimed Tailings Pond

These activists have raised the costs associated with accessing reliable information about the science of the planet and the vital role played by the energy industry by way of confusing the issues with hyperbolic doomsday prophesying. Theirs is a dangerous game. They fail to recognize the limits of human understanding on the one hand, and extrapolate definite conclusions from a contested scientific domain to advance anti-development, anti-industrial, and even anti-humane arguments against the energy industry.

Reflecting upon my experience last week I am convinced that it is up to those of us with an understanding the radical anti-human ideology that underpins today’s environmentalism to highlight the remarkable gains that we have realized on account of oil and gas. The radically ideological demonization of this industry must stop.

Where global demand for oil is in excessive of 1,000 barrels per second it behooves all of us to, at the very least, express some gratitude to those who have dedicated their lives to developing a resource vital to sustaining our civilization. Indeed, there is an intrinsic goodness to the work that is being done by countless men and women every day in the Athabasca oil sands. They contribute to an economic activity that is value added – unlike much of the anti-oil sands pontificating of which many of us have become weary. Moreover, based on my time speaking with leaders, workers, and stakeholders, it is clear to see that there is a tremendous devotion to those values that provide for human flourishing: hard work, environmental stewardship, love for one’s neighbour, and rule of law.


Matthew Raketti is a second year law student at George Mason University and a research assistant at the George Mason Law & Economics Center.

Guest posts are reviewed but not extensively fact checked. We invite your comments, corrections, and submissions at amanda.achtman[at]gmail.com.

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