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LETTER: Canada's 'dirty' petroleum may be 'cleaner' in other ways

'I am committed to minimizing energy consumption... however, I much prefer that what I do use is Canadian-sourced,' says Barrie resident
2021-11-03 Petroleum production
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The COP-26 meeting in Glasgow puts climate change top of mind for many Canadians. Our performance on this world stage will be interesting, particularly because our new federal minister of the environment, Steven Guilbeault, was once an environmental activist. 

Unfortunately, he represents a government currently building a pipeline to the B.C. coast to carry prairie bitumen while also claiming to show leadership in reducing carbon emissions. In fact, the tar sands operations are one of Canada’s largest carbon emitters and our fastest-growing source of carbon emissions. A recent interview had him rather uncomfortable. 

It is unfair to blame Guilbeault for a problem he did not make; he was elected to parliament in October 2019, around the time Trans Mountain pipeline construction began. He has just been given an impossible task; defending his government’s actions on carbon emissions while trying to present Canada as a carbon emissions leader.

I have always favoured reducing energy consumption. Over a half-century ago, my efforts were aimed at improving the fuel economy of my cars, and I was seriously good at this!

When my wife and I bought a house in southern England, it wasn't insulated. I must have been one of the first people in the area to add insulation to our 30-year-old house, spreading fibreglass batts in the attic. We had professionals drill holes in our walls and blow insulation into the space between the two leaves of brick. We had double glazing installed, then virtually unknown in England’s relatively balmy south. There was an immediate improvement in comfort and in gas consumption.

On our return to Canada in late 1988, my wife and I resisted the temptation to buy the large vehicles which had become popular. With added energy-efficiency improvements to our Barrie house, we have been saving thousands of dollars every year for over three decades.

My thinking had come full circle. Initially, I minimized energy use to save money, particularly during four years working in Kenya for a “princely” wage of $800 per year. More recently, I basked in the glow of our very modest carbon footprint. Realizing that carbon footprints don’t interest everybody, I now emphasize the monetary benefit of using less energy.

On Sept. 11, 2001 (9/11), I became aware that Middle East petroleum indirectly funds terrorism. The Saudi government didn’t pay Osama bin Laden directly, but some of the kingdom’s vast oil wealth clearly “leaked."

More recently, Saudi Arabia played an important role in Yemen’s misery. Iran directly funds Hezbollah and has undermined Lebanon for decades. Various rebels and terror groups across North Africa were sustained by Libyan and Algerian oil money.

Farther afield, Russian oil fuels Vladimir Putin’s sabre-rattling in Ukraine and elsewhere, while his own people grow ever poorer. 

The money we spend buying imported petroleum funds, directly or indirectly, actors abroad who threaten us. From an environmental point of view, terrorism and warfare make a huge but largely uncounted contribution to carbon emissions as bombs and bullets are fired and armies confront militias – not to mention the rebuilding which must eventually occur. This, of course, is separate from human suffering on a scale and intensity hard to imagine from our safe Canadian viewpoint.

That thinking led me to consider that our “dirty” tar sands petroleum may be “cleaner” than much of the petroleum we import. Moreover, our tar sands operations are politically and socially “ethical," particularly when compared to product from Venezuela, Nigeria, Russia or the Middle East.

Personally, I am committed to minimizing energy consumption, particularly of petroleum products, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. However, I much prefer that what I do use is Canadian-sourced, despite the up-front carbon emissions associated with mining and refining our tar sands.

Peter Bursztyn
Barrie

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