Opinion » Eco Logic

Oh, the hypocrisy

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The news, Dec. 20: the oil industry has been running a covert campaign to rewrite American car emissions rules; nine U.S. attorney generals sue the Trump administration over its intent to open the Atlantic Coast to oil and gas companies; the world's biggest investors tell a UN summit we need to tackle climate change or face a financial crash, urging substantial taxes on emissions; a Vancouver city councillor seeks a "climate emergency" declaration; and U.S. congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweets, "Our goal is to treat Climate Change like the serious, existential threat it is by drafting an ambitious solution on the scale necessary—aka a Green New Deal—to get it done."

This litany represents an open letter to the fossil-fuel industry stating that climate change is pushing us all in a new direction, and it must either get on board that train or be run over by it.

Meanwhile, de facto position letters are all the rage, whether posted privately or as searing opinions in mainstream and social media. A recent open letter from the loopy "Friends of Science Calgary" galloped in like some psycho-ward knight on a climate-denying unicorn to rescue damsel-in-distress Tim McKay, president of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL), who'd been forced to take precious time off from hauling moneybags to craft a propaganda-filled response to the Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) own recent missive to CNRL, part of West Coast Environmental Law's campaign for climate-cost responsibility, a mantle shared by 53 local governments in B.C., who, in a most polite Canadian way, joined the global trend of jurisdictions asking (well, mostly suing) oil companies over the incurred costs of climate damage.

Instead of the international arch-villains most municipalities targeted, the climate scofflaw the RMOW saw fit to address was a Canadian company. Unlike dozens of similar letters, however, Whistler's oddly made the rounds of creaky oilpatch fax machines and a coordinated backlash ensued from the usual suspects: whiny conservatives, hard-done-by oil execs, and Luddite online trolls whose comments made clear they'd never even read the letter let alone graduated Grade 5. But why was Whistler targeted? Surely not because CNRL founder Murray Edwards also owns Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, Whistler's de facto competitor? Nah, that's just too conspiratorial.

If there was one uniting thread in those defending-the-indefensible responses, it was that calling out the oil industry for climate duplicity was somehow hypocritical. Shame on us for fingering our own! For piling on the frightfully mismanaged Alberta oilpatch as it lays off workers while still posting record profits! For making clear that if we're willing to pay for our own climate sins as a town dependent on fossil-fuel-driven tourism, then producers should share the responsibility!

Oil-industry apologetics—memes used to derail any meaningful conversation about climate change—are perennially topped by this childish trope calling people hypocrites because they/everyone uses oil. Ditto Pique's letters section (Dec. 20). But here's a lesson in critical thinking: equating our inescapable dependency on oil with the proven criminal behaviour of an industry bent on creating that dependency, and that further saddles customers with the full costs of its pollution, is facile, iniquitous, illogical and completely irrelevant.

"There is nothing unfair in a municipality suing the fossil-fuel companies to recover the costs associated with climate change even though the municipality, like all of us, have and continue to contribute to climate change in one way or the other," Vancouver lawyer Joseph Arvay told the Vancouver Sun, adding that courts will determine proportionate—not sole—responsibility, and that fossil-fuel companies doubtless bear significant responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions (CNRL's global share is 0.08 per cent—a large number).

And they can afford to pay. For example, the $675,000 in fines (spills, gas leaks, deaths and non-compliance) CNRL paid since 2015 are mere annoyances in the face of the $3.4B profit it posted for the first nine months of 2018. Yet Whistler is on the hook for 100 per cent of costs for a climate problem created and perpetuated by an industry that: a) knew of it decades ago; b) covered it up to drive the economy into dependence on their product and away from renewables; c) actively funded climate denialism, and; d) continues to profit on the back of hefty public subsidies while increasing emissions, campaigning against regulations, and lobbying for exemptions from national action.

This adds up to a staggering litany of malfeasance that deserves the numerous lawsuits, divestment ($6.3 trillion to date)—and, yes, letters—it has drawn.

Oh, but apparently we're the hypocrites.

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