Welcome to the reality edition of Wednesday Wakeup. First 42 Nobel prize winners, including Canada’s Alice Munro, signed a letter in Britain’s Guardian newspaper urging Justin Trudeau not to approve the Teck Frontier oilsands mine, after this $20 billion project spent over a decade navigating the labyrinthine, arbitrary regulatory maze. Then Teck abruptly bailed on the project anyway and the government yawned. Politicians and businessmen who’ve been going along to get along must now grasp that ideas have consequences, and they must stop endorsing bogus ones like, to quote the letter “The year 2020 has already become one defined by devastating impacts of climate change…. Governments are lagging scandalously behind what science demands, and what a growing and powerful people-powered movement knows is necessary…. there is no room for expansion of the fossil-fuel sector.” Otherwise those ideas will be acted on, Canada’s energy industry will be destroyed, and the economy and the environment will go hand in hand… off a cliff.
Astonishingly, the government response to Teck’s announcement, by the Ministers of Environment and Climate Change and of Natural Resources but not the PM, who has better things to do, has the gall to say “Teck’s consultation model is a positive example for future proponents” as if any would be foolish enough to try given this outcome. It also praises Teck for sharing the government’s vision: “We agree with Teck and leading industry groups that all orders of government need a real plan for climate action now and to reach a net zero economy by 2050.” But at no point does it express regret that the project has been cancelled. Seriously. Read it for yourself.
Meanwhile the Teck letter does not say what the government claims it says. Rather, Teck’s President and CEO Don Lindsay wrote to the Minister of Climate Change that “We are disappointed to have arrived at this point…. As a proudly Canadian company for over 100 years” but “The promise of Canada’s potential will not be realized until governments can reach agreement around how climate policy considerations will be addressed in the context of future responsible energy sector development. Without clarity on this critical question, the situation that has faced Frontier will be faced by future projects and it will be very difficult to attract future investment, either domestic or foreign.” Not exactly a high five, is it?
For those unfamiliar with Canada’s oil sands, called “tar sands” by opponents, the reason projects like this one mine rather than drilling for oil is that they involve digging up the world’s largest, and natural, oil spill and cleaning the heavy oil out of the sand. For years the government has been warned that the consequences of rejecting the Teck Frontier Mine would be enormous.
It’s not just the loss of jobs and, as politicians invariably add, tax revenue. Or the more fundamental loss of badly-needed energy. It’s the consequences to national unity of yet another blow to the West delivered with clueless insouciance as part of an apparent pattern of hostility to Canada’s energy industry. Teck itself wasted well over a billion dollars and more than a decade of time, energy and hope; when even very large firms see that kind of investment vanishing due to political capriciousness, they will not want to invest in Canada. Even many environmentalists do not like the current approval process. (It is also noteworthy that the Nobel letter plays the inevitable aboriginal card even though, as with the currently stalled Coastal Gas Link pipeline, the company had been careful to get the approval of affected aboriginal bands, many of whom are desperate for the dignity that comes with productive employment.)
For all that, the logic of the Nobel letter’s signatories is far more compelling than that of politicians and business leaders who borrow their opponent’s slogans about climate change being an urgent crisis then wonder why such projects get defeated. Including, to be blunt, Teck’s Don Lindsay, whose letter contains such self-flagellating pieties as “At Teck, we believe deeply in the need to address climate change… We support strong actions to enable the transition to a low carbon future. We are also strong supporters of Canada’s action on carbon pricing and other climate policies such as legislated caps for oil sands emissions.” Well then. Off with my head.
We might add here that while the signatories include many non-scientists including Ms. Munro, they also include many chemists, physicists and others whose expertise is relevant to climate, despite foolish claims that neither lay people nor those not specifically trained in “climate science” are entitled to an opinion on the subject.
We think the signatories are wrong. But, crucially, they are wrong about their premises not about the conclusions they draw from those premises. If man-made climate change really is upon us like a roaring lion, washing away cities, burning up continents, killing crops and so forth, then yes, we must deep-six fossil fuels and the civilization that depends on them. But if it’s not, such a step would be insanity.
So it’s time to wake up. A great many people in public life, and in business, decided long ago that it was bad PR to argue the science of climate change. They somehow convinced themselves that you could get kudos from the supposedly woke by agreeing that fossil fuels are destroying the Earth, then effectively defend their continued production in the policy arena. But as J. Budziszewski memorably warned in a different context, people generally “are more logical than they know; they are only logical slowly.” And the long run has arrived and with it the logic of alarmist premises.
As we argued last week, those who don’t really believe the alarmist argument can no longer sit on the fence and watch the amusing rhetorical fray. They must join in, because otherwise projects like this one will be cancelled, logically enough, nobody will attempt new ones, logically enough, and Canada will suffer enormous economic and political costs for no gain, illogically. So share this newsletter with friends and colleagues because as the predictable demise of the Teck Frontier project shows, it’s decision time and it matters.