Editorial Comment

Conservation Consternation

    In 1971, when I was in Grade Six, back when my worldview included the fat girls had cooties, I recall having a class in "conservation". I remember it had a special workbook that talked about conserving in much the same way more modern Reduce, Reuse and Recycle programs do. The new generation may find it hard to believe we understood the tragedy of wastefulness and the need to husband our resources wisely before they came along. With all the profound political understanding of a preteen, looking back, I actually thought at the time, that with a name like the Progressive Conservatives, they must be the most environmentally responsible political party ever! They were both progressive AND they like to conserve!
    We didn’t even have the Green Party back then, after all. We hadn’t seen Greenpeace, either, until that same year; 1971. We also didn’t have oilsands development back then. Construction on Syncrude was still two years away. No one was attacking us Albertans yet, but those ominous clouds were already forming on the horizon.
    The ideas that were brought forward in the weekly conservation class seemed to make a lot of sense to that eleven-year old boy. I was excited when I saw these same concepts on one of my favourite TV shows; The Nature of Things. I thought David Suzuki was the coolest guy on the planet. I don’t feel the same way about Suzuki now as I once did. I am left wondering if I changed or did he? Probably both, is my guess. Since then, I have had reason to alter my opinion about many things, besides the belief that girls were tragically infected with the mysterious malady of cooties. 
    I learned that not all Conservatives are interested in conservation, nor, indeed, are all environmentalists interested in the environment. I wondered what had changed in those forty years, particularly about the latter group. Politicians will always go where the votes are, not necessarily where their conscience lives. That isn’t anything new, and wasn't very novel, even back then.
    Environmentalists, on the other hand, once seemed to be genuinely working to conserve our resources and support industry in advising how to husband those resources wisely. Now they appear to simply be using planet-saving vocabulary to line their pockets. It was a shock to my psyche when I realized that some groups, organizations and individual environmentalists,  associated with the ecological movement,  are driven by greed, rather than altruism. Given human nature, I suppose it shouldn't have been that big of a surprise. There is no group on the planet with a monopoly on greed, after all. 
    It has been quite a journey in my mind for the environmental lobby, to go from being my heroes, to being seen as part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. It seems many of these Save the Planet-types have lost their way, especially those that engage in, condone or support in any way, eco-terrorism.
    Let's look at this rationally. We will use the anti-pipeline people as an object lesson. The arguments they have usually are with regard to worries about spills and leaks. Of course ruptures and the accompanying environmental damage is a real concern and there have been many errors made in the past. However, like everything, the technology of pipeline monitoring is improving all the time. The pipelines that are failing now are the much older ones that have not yet been upgraded to the new standards. It is hard to believe people can argue that it isn’t safer to transport heavy oil products in pipelines than traveling about the country in railcars. Not many people are struck and killed by a pipeline. Even when there are unfortunate accidents with oil pipelines; ruptures, for example, that cause environmental crises, there is little opportunity for loss of life. I can’t ever remember reading in the media about a pipeline leak with a death toll. We all sadly know we can’t say the same thing about rail transportation as the horrific incident at Lac Megantic shows. Shipping by rail is also no way to ensure there will be no ecological catastrophes as the people of Wabamun Lake, and far too many others will attest.
    So, given that one would have to believe that an environmentally-conscious person such as an eco-terrorist has pipeline accidents as the worst case scenario in his potential futures, how much sense does it make to blow up the pipeline causing the worst case scenario? 
    These extremists might argue their real aim isn’t just pipelines, but the entire oil industry. However, no one in their right mind would want to stop oil consumption overnight. It would destroy civilization. Transitioning to renewable resources is a laudable goal but it won’t happen in the short term. We aren’t there technologically yet. We need to continue to develop our oil-related resources until we are advanced enough to wean ourselves off them.
    Even those not quite so dangerous,  in their zeal for their environmental causes,  do much damage with their ignorance. Many anti-“tarsands” agitators never acknowledge, by accident or design, the improvements that have taken place in bitumen-related industries. The carbon footprint of non-conventional oil extraction is shrinking yearly. Internal combustion engines weren’t nearly as clean burning as they are now. It would have been impossible to hold back the technology until it had improved to today’s standard, however. That took almost 200 years. It is an ongoing improvement process, just like oilsands development, just like pipeline development, just like every field of human industry and technology. We will always need technology before it has been perfected. We didn’t stop throwing rocks until bullets were invented. That doesn’t mean we don’t continue to minimize impacts on the planet, or employing conservation techniques to maximize the resources we were blessed with, but neither does it mean we haven’t been trying to be good stewards of the environment for at least my lifetime. 

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