Photo: They say radical; we say rational

Automobiles waste 85 per cent of the energy from each litre of fuel burned. And the useful energy goes to moving a vehicle that typically weighs 10 to 20 times more than the passengers it carries. That translates to about one per cent efficiency to move passengers. (Credit: Danielle Scott via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Editorial and Communications Specialist Ian Hanington.

We're not about to quit oil cold turkey. Does that mean we should continue with business as usual?

In Canada, "business as usual" means rapidly increasing oil sands exploitation and selling the bitumen as quickly as possible to anyone who wants it. It means continuing to import half the oil we use, mostly from the Middle East, while shipping oil extracted here to other countries. It means continued tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies while manufacturing and other value-added industries suffer because of our inflated petro dollar. It means low royalties and not putting away revenues for the future.

This could spell a bleak future: a failing economy as accessible oil starts to run out with few renewable energy sources to replace it; deteriorating health of citizens as water, air, and land become more polluted; increased droughts, floods, and water shortages as climate change increases.

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But it doesn't have to be bleak. We could have a healthy and prosperous future. "Canada could be seen as a world leader on energy, human rights, and global discourse. The solutions are not radical. They include such reasonable measures as slowing oil sands production, eliminating subsidies to an industry that hardly needs them, increasing royalties, setting up a rainy day fund for the revenues, and encouraging energy conservation and renewable energy development.

We could also learn to use fossil fuels more efficiently. For example, about 75 per cent of petroleum in North America is used for transportation. Automobiles waste 85 per cent of the energy from each litre of fuel burned. And the useful energy goes to moving a vehicle that typically weighs 10 to 20 times more than the passengers it carries. That translates to about one per cent efficiency to move passengers.

Part of the solution requires untangling the rhetoric. Consider what our prime minister recently said in China: "We will uphold our responsibility to put the interests of Canadians ahead of foreign money and influence that seek to obstruct development in Canada in favour of energy imported from other, less stable parts of the world."

How will selling most of our unrefined bitumen to China and the U.S. make us less reliant on "energy imported from other, less stable parts of the world"? And how are the interests of Canadians served by selling our industries and resources to countries with atrocious human rights records and rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions? How is it in the national interest to increase our own greenhouse gas emissions and pollution so that some of the world's most profitable companies can make even more money?

And why, when we know that global warming is serious and that oil will run out, are we hell-bent on using it up as quickly as possible? Author and environmentalist Bill McKibben suggests a disturbing reason why people in the fossil fuel industry and the governments they bankroll put profits ahead of the future of the planet and deny that climate change is a problem: the value of these industries "is largely based on fossil-fuel reserves that won't be burned if we ever take global warming seriously."

As McKibben notes, "ExxonMobil, year after year, pulls in more money than any company in history. Chevron's not far behind. Everyone in the business is swimming in money." If they were to slow down production, or even admit that the future of humanity depends on leaving some of the resource in the ground, it would hurt their bottom lines.

And so we have politicians and industry shills using bogus talking points to discredit or silence those who are calling for sanity for the sake of our future. They falsely accuse us of wanting to shut down all industry and call us hypocrites because we are unable to completely disengage from the fossil fuel economy and infrastructure that humans have created.

All we're saying is let's step back and think of a sensible way to go about this. And by "we", I mean most of us. I mean you and me. I mean the people our governments are supposed to represent. They can say we're radical if it makes them sleep better at night, but we prefer the term "rational".

February 16, 2012

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Mar 05, 2012
10:39 AM

Subsidies for the most profitable companies does not make sense at all! But the controls or guidelines have to be set by our governments! Otherwise a responsible company maybe doing things correctly at a cost to another corporation exploiting them and the whole situation. Unfortunately it appears the oil industry leadership and our governments behave like a bunch of psychopaths totally interested in themselves and no one else or the future. Even how they sell this behaviour as 'look how many jobs are created'. In close examination they at best often are less than one year, in short only temporary jobs. Yet if the resources were used wisely would probably create many full time jobs.

Feb 20, 2012
10:51 PM

what is the solution to centralization?

Feb 17, 2012
12:35 PM

Bill McGibbon tells it like it really is. According to the Bagavad Gita we are not the only civilization that suffered moral and spiritual blindness and stumbled toward its own destruction. Few seem to be aware that planet Earth/Gaia is a living entity. She has just about reached her limits of abuse and neglect. Every action has its consequence. Is it too late to change course and avoid the Titanic destruction? Or are we just going to continue to dance to the tune, "Nearer My God to Thee?" The irony is tragic to say the least. Then again, as the spiritual Master, Jesus, once said, "A prophet is never accepted/welcomed in his hometown." (Luke 4:24) Our Creator/Source doesn't expect us to be perfect, but does give us the freedom to choose — to try — to wake up and live the truth. The 1% are desperately trying to control humanity and continue the 3rd dimension illusion. We are living on this planet in this form, at this moment, for a reason. Will we allow ourselves to be led like sheep to the death of this age? Or will we proclaim the Truth together? — Like Bill McGibbon? Rev. Bill

Feb 17, 2012
6:36 AM

Bad things happen to the environment and economy when wealthy wealth addicts make up the economic and environmental policies. We wouldn't let drug addicts make up the health policies would we?

Politicians need to start creating policy based on the long term needs of society and not the short term wants of corporations whose only obligations are to maximize profits.

Feb 16, 2012
9:15 PM

I am a prodigy of a small prairie town. We had one tv with 4-5 channels if we were lucky enough to position the antenna just right.Our house was very small, probably a shack by today's standards, and yet as a child I had something more valuable than any fancy car, house,or 401k: nature. I remember ice fishing with my family, going on nature walks,collecting tad poles,hearing about the locals tell formidable stories about the polar bear, watching the beaver build its lodge.To many, these are merely sentimental stories that evoke temporary warm and fuzzy feelings, but are not enough to keep the lights on, if you will. I am so saddened by what we have turned into as a nation and as a global family. Money has become for politicians and corporations what cocaine is for an addict. If we want to perpetuate this sickness of greed and destroy the very soil, air, water we need, than let's keep voting for so called leaders that act without consciousness. The current government may sell us out to the highest bidder, but we can use our vote to ensure it is short lived. Canada is still a democracy and we, the people, have not forgotten that.

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