Type to search

Ethical oil and ethics

GB Geo-Blog

Ethical oil and ethics

Ezra Levant has done a great service by bringing ethics into a discussion of trade, markets and corporate behavior. He also has done a great service by highlighting the lack of freedom, democracy and basic human rights in many of the major oil producing countries. I am a strong supporter of exposing the rot and infection of tyrannical regimes to daylight and legitimate criticism.

However, he has left a lot of loose ends in his support of Canada’s oil sands – “ethical” oil as he describes it, and as many federal government officials are now referring to the oil sands. It appears that supporters of the Gateway Pipeline and other possible pipelines to the West Coast have no qualms about selling our “ethical” oil to China. I guess what matters for them is the origin of the oil, not the ultimate destination.

It also seems as if the supporters of these pipelines, which will have to run through British Columbia, are increasingly frustrated with the environmental regulatory delays, and the delays in negotiations with the First Nations through whose lands the pipelines will run. (I wonder how supportive they would be if a pipeline were to run through their property?) The pipeline supporters conveniently forget that there are few treaties in British Columbia between the First Nations and Canada, so that legally most of the province belongs to the First Nations. I guess when there is a conflict between legal principles and expediency; and between an equitable sharing of the wealth and maximizing the return on investment, ethics fall by the wayside.

Furthermore, supporters of our “ethical” oil do not even want to consider the possibility that we should not expand the development of the oil sands. They do not want to hear that perhaps we should consider measures to reduce global consumption of oil and to expand the development of alternative energy sources. Profits trump all other alternatives, and profits seem to trump ethics.

Finally, I do not hear the supporters of our “ethical” oil demand that Canadian companies refrain from having any dealings with the most corrupt and despicable regimes around the world. I don’t see them standing at the barricades shouting at any Canadian company, including some of the oil companies developing our “ethical” oil, to immediately leave the bottom 30 countries on the Transparency International list, or indeed to leave the “unethical” oil producing countries. I would not be surprised to learn that a number of the supporters of “ethical” oil also have dealings with very unethical countries.

If we are going to bring ethics into the picture, then let’s go all out and target every corrupt and unethical regime, or at least the worst culprits, and ban our companies from having any dealings with these countries. How about “ethical” sanctions?  (I can already hear the complaints that to do so would place our companies at a competitive disadvantage. Profits uber alles!)

No, ethics really have nothing to do with support for the oil sands.

The opinion expressed in this blog are personal and do not reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.


Leave a Comment