Despite the promises you hear chanted on Burnaby Mountain, there is no way the oil industry will be out of our lives in our lifetime.
Oil is everywhere. It affects everything. The clothes you wear, the computer you use, the television you watch, the food you eat – all are touched by oil at some point, either at the creation stage or on their journey to the consumer.
A recent book by journalist Rose George, entitled 90 Per Cent of Everything, documents that almost everything you use in life has travelled to your destination by container ships, fueled by diesel oil. She spent a year on those ships, noting that pretty well everything we buy, we ship.
The little-noticed world of shipping, and the irreplaceable role it plays in the world, is just one example of how deeply oil has seeped into our daily lives.
Preventing a pipeline, as those on Burnaby Mountain are hoping to do, may sound noble but it will have absolutely no impact on the oil industry. It is too massive, too deeply entrenched in our society for the halting of a pipeline’s construction in a tiny corner of the world to constitute more than a tiny blip in the overall scheme of things.
The protest against the Kinder Morgan pipeline has been compared to the Clayoquot Sound "war of the woods" protest in the 1990s. The two are decidedly different. The forestry protest was about ending clear-cutting logging of old growth timber, a practice very few people had any personal experience with. but the pipeline protest is about oil, which touches everyone, every single day.
While it was easy to target the forest industry back then, it is more than a bit disingenuous for environmentalists to demonize the oil industry – including that which operates in the alberta tar sands – while they, like everyone else, uses so much of that industry’s product.
There is a refusal by many of those on Burnaby Mountain to acknowledge this unavoidable fact, and to pretend that there is no inconsistency in advocating for eliminating or weakening an industry while at the same time relying on that same industry for their livelihood.
Of course, some do acknowledge this inconsistency and say just because they drive a car, that doesn’t mean they can’t work towards curbing carbon emissions. Fair enough, but lost in the chanting and rhetoric that flows from the Kinder Morgan protesters (or enbridge protesters) is any notion of realism.
Instead, they project a romantic vision that is simply unattainable. Oil is here to stay, until there is no more of it left.
Another example of the quiet little "inconsistency" that exists for so many of those who condemn the oil industry, especially the alberta oil sands, is the pension fund they pay into.
The B.C. public sector pension fund is administered by the B.C. Investment Management Corporation, which has more than $100 billion in investments that fund the pensions for more than 500,000 people – teachers, professors, MLAs, municipal workers etc.
Public sector unions such as CUPE and the B.C. Teachers Federation have been at the forefront when it comes to attacking the oil sands industry. Yet their members stand to financially benefit from that very industry, because of the inescapable role oil plays in pretty well everything, including their pensions.
The BCIMC’s investment holdings include $603 million invested in Suncor, one of the largest oil sands companies. another $409 million is with Enbridge, while $372 million is with Canadian Natural Resources and $284 million is parked with Exxon Mobil.
All told, the BCIMC has almost $3.6 billion invested in the oil sands alone (including, ironically, a small stake in Kinder Morgan). Plus another half billion dollars in companies associated with pipelines. Plus hundreds of millions of dollars in Alberta real estate – including a property in Fort McMurray, which is Ground Zero for the tar sands – and the Alberta government itself, all of which benefit hugely from that province’s oil sands development.
Want to fight climate change?
Drive less, fly less and buy less.
But don’t for a moment think that shutting down a pipeline is going to have any impact whatsoever, other than easing some guilty consciences of people who will continue to use the oil industry just as much as they did before the protests on Burnaby Mountain.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.