Saudi Arabia as an argument for Canadian oil


in Canada, Economics, Politics, The environment

An increasingly frequent media line from supporters of the bitumen sands and the fossil fuels industry generally is that if oil isn’t produced in Canada it will be produced in Saudi Arabia instead, and that is undesirable because the conduct of people in Saudi Arabia is unethical while Canadians behave ethically. As more morally worthy recipients of fossil fuel revenues, Canadian industry can thus feel unblemished by any adverse consequences the bitumen sands produce.

Obviously it’s a weak argument. At the most basic level, misconduct by some unrelated party has no bearing on whether or not Canada’s ethical choices are acceptable. One can object factually by questioning how much Saudi oil really comes to Canada. One can make the economic argument that if we’re not burning all the oil, we should burn the cheapest stuff and avoid developing the expensive stuff. You can argue that a global transition away from oil, intended to avoid catastrophic climate change, will eventually undermine Saudi oil revenues too. In the alternative, you can argue that this is simply a deflection, not a sincere effort to critique the conduct of the Saudi government or to propose any meaningful solutions to that problem. It’s using the mistaken supposition that we can solve one problem (while actually doing nothing) to strengthen political resistance to implementing real climate change solutions.

Has anyone seen a good online rebuttal to this general argument? It would be good to have some convincing pages to link, as well as rebuttal’s pithy enough to include in a tweet or blog comment.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan January 27, 2019 at 9:49 pm
R.K. January 29, 2019 at 11:34 pm

The Saudi thing is an argument that works at an emotional level for people who already believe they are being unfairly criticized. From that perspective, it makes sense to point out a entity which you see as clearly much worse, and then to contrast yourself against it to portray yourself in a positive light. It’s the kind of argument that works when politics is superficial and emotional.

. October 20, 2019 at 2:25 pm

The tortured logic seems to be that, because Alberta doesn’t carry out stoning or saw the limbs from pesky journalists, climate change doesn’t matter.

The argument behind ethical oil has been pumped out by Rebel Media, the oil industry’s attack dogs at CAPP and Postmedia. But it’s never been clear just what audience these arguments are intended to sway.

“At least we don’t dismember our critics” wouldn’t be the first message you’d pick to win over the growing majority of the world increasingly panicked about tepid government response to looming catastrophe.

The bonesaw argument is certainly not going to sway the emerging generation of kids who are taking their lives into their own hands and have galvanized global protests unlike anything the planet has ever seen.

. November 14, 2019 at 5:36 pm

The oil lobby is lying. Canadian oil isn’t clean oil

The oil and gas industry is putting great efforts into trying to convince the Canadian public that they are making strides to be more environmentally responsible. Don’t buy it.

The fact is oil and gas companies’ total impact on Canada’s water, land, species, and the climate continues to grow. Even on a per barrel basis, oil companies are creating ever more carbon emissions.

. May 20, 2020 at 8:06 pm

Saudi Arabia is buying shares of Alberta’s oil sands companies. The ‘ethical oil’ argument is dead.

Max Fawcett: If Canadian oil and gas companies are going to accept Saudi Arabia’s money, it’s probably time for their proxies to retire arguments about the immorality of their oil

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