My good friend and 1964-5 college roommate John Butler is the editor of The Village Green, an environmental newsletter focused on the area around his home in Ontario but with much of more general interest as well.
In the latest issue he writes:
I have long been an admirer of Rex Murphy, Newfoundlander extraordinaire, insightful essayist, courteous radio host, adept and sprightly player with the English language.
But he has changed.
Now, as columnist for mildly right-of-centre publications, he rails angrily (and with inaccurate logic and evidence) at those who oppose fossil fuel projects, particularly projects in Alberta.
He doesn’t seem to be an overt climate change denier, though he savages people who propose policies to deal with climate change. He seems much more interested in touting any fossil fuel project that produces jobs, no matter how vile the outcome of those projects. He also seems near-obsessed with not offending Alberta by espousing fossil fuel reduction policies, lest we seem ungrateful to that province and thereby drive it closer to western-province separatism.
In a recent column he condemns the very idea of an aid package for Alberta to deal with the loss of oil patch jobs, calling it something we do for third-world counties but not for our fellow citizens – it might demean them. Better, he says, for Canadians and their governments to embrace fossil fuel mega-projects like Alberta’s Teck oil sands mine.
Rex Murphy has one thing right – the scale of the issue is enormous. Vastly curtailing – even eliminating – the fossil fuel industry in western Canada will be necessary if Canada is to play its fair role in combatting global heating. Part of that involves drying up the insatiable demand by the rest of Canada – and the world – for fossil fuels. Part of it should also involve concerted national investment in developing green energy jobs in Alberta to compensate for lost oil jobs (easy to say but hard to do since it involves sacrifices on the part of non-Albertans to make those investments. It also involves Alberta’s willingness to be converted).
It will be tempting to make quiet exceptions, to appease oil appetites and industries – a pipeline here, an oil sand extraction plant there – to stanch the blood. Every nation with regions that rely on fossil fuel revenues faces the same temptation. A little exception here, there, everywhere, forgetting that ultimately there is no such thing as a “little catastrophe”.
Rex Murphy’s argument seems to be a call to loyalty and gratitude – western fossil fuels have enriched all of Canada, so it would be ungrateful and disloyal of us to turn our backs on a part of the country that has done so much good for us.
Imagine your brother opened a factory next to your house. For a long time it made a profit and he shared it with you because you are family. But the factory produced toxic by-products that poisoned both your properties and the people on them. For a long time neither you nor your brother noticed this insidious poison. But now you see it, smell it, taste it. Now you know. Your brother says, “If I close the factory I will starve. For old times’ sake and the sake of the family, let’s keep quiet about the poison. It will eventually kill us and others, but don’t interfere with my operation of the factory.”
That kind of family loyalty kills people and their planet.