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The costs of greed

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"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
-Upton Sinclair

You may not have noticed it, but for just a moment over the weekend, the Earth stopped spinning on its axis. Almost imperceptibly, and virtually without precedent, in one corner of this great country, self-destructive greed was hobbled, if only symbolically. Let us make no mistake, greed was not thrown over for a higher moral course. And the hobbling of greed was, in itself, a Hail Mary pass to save money, which is almost as good as making money if what you've been doing is unprofitable.

Rachel Notley, Dead Premier Walking of Alberta, ordered the province's oil producers to cut output by 8.7 per cent. Under ordinary circumstances, any premier of Alberta, especially an NDP premier—though Ms. Notley being the first, and likely last, how would we know?—would have had to make such an announcement from inside a hardened, concrete bunker if she or he wanted to get out alive.

But, and this is why the Earth stopped turning, she wasn't the first to float the idea. Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party and likely the next premier of Alberta, called for it last week. A strident Conservative, Kenney was minister of almost everything under the regime of Stephen Harper. While it's easier to describe him by enumerating the things he's against—abortion, gay marriage, niqab-wearing women swearing the oath of citizenship, the usual fundamentalist nonsense—three things he's always defended are free markets, smaller government and fewer regulations on business.

With Thumper Kenney providing cover, it was possible for Ms. Notley to announce the production cuts. This came after a week of Chicken Little performances decrying, in no particular order, the federal government, the federal courts, environmentalists, the province of B.C. and the price of Coca-Cola.

Ms. Notley, in a head-shaking speech, tried to astound her audience by pointing out that Coca-Cola, mere sugar water as she described it, costs more than the thick, sticky Alberta tarsands oil. While this sounds shocking, it is little more than sophistry on parade. Coca-Cola has always cost more than oil ... or gasoline. I don't know why but even when oil was north of $100 per barrel, Coke still cost more. So what.

But sophistry is what this drama is all about. Whether it's Alberta politicians, oil company executives, energy sector workers, the general population of Alberta, much of the rest of the country and the world, and virtually all of the media, everyone is pointing fingers in the wrong direction.

The federal government gets a major share of the blame. Why? Because they couldn't convince the province of Quebec to go along with the Energy East pipeline. They couldn't convince B.C., many First Nations and quite a few of the municipalities it would pass through to go along with twinning Kinder Morgan's—oops, Canada's—pipeline.

As flawed as the court found the vetting process of the Trans Mountain Pipeline to be, it was clear from the start the feds weren't out to derail it. They were its loudest cheerleaders. For the whiners to lay the blame at the feet of the federal government is disingenuous at best. But then, the oil barons, used to getting their own way, don't give a rat's ass about the court's findings, climate change, anyone's interests but their own or, really, anything other than producing and selling their product.

As George Fink, founder of Bonterra Energy said, as reported in The Globe and Mail, the prime minister should act unilaterally if he cares about Alberta. Trudeau should be strong enough to say, "Look, we're just going to proceed with Trans Mountain."

Courts? Law? Consultation? We don't need that. We need a pipeline. Now!

So who is to blame for this mess? Whose fault is it that Alberta's sub-par oil trades at a historically huge discount?

It's the oil producers' fault.

You read it here first.

It's the fault (sic) of the sainted Market. That would be the Market that runs on the law of supply and demand. Too much supply? Prices go down. And when you couple too much supply with an inferior product, prices go way, way down.

Alberta's tarsands producers are reaping the harvest of their own greed. They've stripped too much muck out of the ground. They've over-supplied the market with their sticky, heavy crude. They've just assumed someone, anyone, would provide a way to get their product to market. When they were producing at a level the existing pipelines could handle, they made a reasonable profit on their product. But that wasn't good enough. They wanted more. And they wanted it now. People who said leave it in the ground, it's only going to get more valuable, were seen as idiots.

So they produced and produced and continued wearing their blinders, assuming more and more pipelines would be built.

And now they're trying to scare the rest of the country into supporting pipelines much of the rest of the country don't want. They're crying about the $80 million a day they're losing, the country's losing. These are, of course, the same folks who don't want to share the windfall they'll reap with B.C. if Trans Mountain were to be built. Privatize the profits; socialize the costs. Old trick.

Just the announcement of production cuts drove prices up. Duh.

Are they satisfied? Hell no. They want more. They want to be able to strip as much muck out of the ground as fast as they possibly can. Make hay today and bugger tomorrow.

And don't give them any nonsense about climate change or the need to invest in alternative energy. Oil is king. Oil shall be king until we're gasping our last breath in a world incapable of sustaining human life and human greed.

Ironically, I can't get too upset with the oil barons of Alberta. In a lesser way, their hellbent chase after self-interest is all too common. We really need look no further than our somewhat unhappy mountain home.

Whistler cries for its own pipeline. Of course, our pipeline is affordable housing. We desperately need more affordable housing because we desperately need more workers because we desperately needed to grow and grow our business. There was never a time—and there will never be a time—when we're satisfied with what we are, how big we are, how profitable we are, how successful we are. We will always want more. More visitors. More businesses. More sideshows. More profit. As is and has always been the case, we shall seek more. And when more comes, we'll cry out for solutions to the problems of more, be they bigger roads, more housing, more foreign workers.

Oh, Alberta, I feel your pain.

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