Colin Robertson on the oil sands

by Milan on July 27, 2010

in Climate change, Climate science, Ethics, Oil sands

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, has written an article arguing that Canada should ‘act like an energy superpower’ and aggressively drive the development of Alberta’s oil sands. He argues that doing so would produce jobs and enhance national security.

His analysis doesn’t make sense in the medium to long term. When we think about the next 50 or 100 years, rather than the next 10 or 20, it becomes clear that the real economic and security risks the world will be facing are those associated with dangerous or catastrophic climate change. We simply cannot burn too much more of the world’s supply of fossil fuels, without risking the creation of a climate that is thoroughly transformed and quite hostile to humanity. While there are many short-term temptations that make oil sands extraction look desirable, it is in the best interests of Canadians and the world to leave unconventional oil and gas underground and make the transition to zero-carbon and renewable forms of energy.

Alongside calls to increase oil sands exports to the United States, there are increasing calls to ship unprocessed bitumen to Asia for processing. These plans are driven partly by an awareness that the United States may eventually get serious about climate change and impose a price on greenhouse gas emissions that would make the oil sands less competitive.

Those who want humanity to continue to exist in a stable climate similar to that in which civilization emerged ought to hope that carbon pricing and other climate change mitigation policies finally emerge in the United States soon, with complementary policies emerging in places like China simultaneously or not long after.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan July 27, 2010 at 3:52 pm

I sent this letter to the editor of The Globe and Mail.

. July 27, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Colin Robertson
Senior Advisor – Washington, DC

Colin Robertson focuses his practice on U.S.-Canada government relations, advising clients on policy issues that involve perspectives from both sides of the border.

Before joining MLA he was a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and is the current president of the National Capital Branch of the Canadian International Council and is a Senior Research Fellow of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. He writes on international relations and is a regular commentator on CBC and CTV.

A career foreign service officer, Mr. Robertson served at the UN and Canadian Consulate in New York, in Hong Kong, as Consul General in Los Angeles, and the first head of the Advocacy Secretariat at the Canadian Embassy in Washington. He was part of the team that negotiated the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the NAFTA. He also held executive positions at Citizenship and Immigration and the Treasury Board Secretariat and with Petro-Canada International Assistance Corporation. He served as president of the Historica Foundation from 2006-2007.

Alison August 2, 2010 at 5:51 pm

I like your letter to the Globe. If Canada wants to be a sustainable, it ought to make investing in sustainable energy a serious priority. What would Canada look like as a “sustainability superpower”?
What incentives do you think need to be in place for these investments to happen, and what political climate is needed for these changes to happen?

Milan August 10, 2010 at 3:16 pm

A sustainable Canada would be one where pretty much all of our energy comes from renewable sources: solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal, biomass, etc.

The necessary incentives include a price on carbon, and possibly additional measures like floor prices on transport fuels.

We need a political climate that pays more attention to long-term issues, and the needs of future generations.

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