The entire debate about oil sands development in Canada seems to centre around the question: “Is this good for us?” It includes aspects like the water and air pollution produced by the oil sands, the economic impact of oil sands development, the significance of the oil sands to federal-provincial relations, and similar such matters.
While that question is obviously a valid one worth discussing, it is also important to realize that it isn’t the end of the debate. Two more important questions are: “Are the oil sands good for the world as a whole?” and: “Does Canada have the right to keep developing the oil sands?”
I think the answer to both of these questions is clearly ‘no’. There is every indication that climate change is extremely dangerous. There is also every indication that once an industry develops in Canada, politicians will never have the guts to shut it down, no matter how obviously harmful it has become. Finally, there is the enormous size of the carbon reserve in the oil sands.
Canada is now deciding whether to spend additional billions developing the capability to add an enormous amount of extra carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This is at a time when the atmosphere already contains a dangerous amount of the gas – so much so that entire low-lying nations are being threatened with destruction because of sea level rise. Canada does not have the right to force climate change on the rest of the world; by extension, Canada does not have the right to develop the oil sands, and must work to substantially diminish the quantity of greenhouse gas pollution it generates.