Thursday, December 11, 2014

In defense of the tar sands

Trapped beneath 141,000 square kilometers of boreal forest and muskeg lie large deposits of bitumen, estimated to amount to 168 billion barrels of oil. Over the past few decades the machinery of free enterprise has transformed the area around Fort McMurray into a booming and vibrant economy.  Tens of thousands of people are directly employed by this project and the jobs of over a hundred thousand souls depend on it.  Wages are high, hours are long, paycheques are huge.

The oil extracted from the bitumen is used to vehicles on land, sea and air across the world.  It heats homes and is used in the production of computers, shoes, plastics, synthetic fibers and other vital components of daily life. A lot of the oil in the world is controlled by autocratic regimes who are hostile to the West, such as Venezuela, Russia or the Arab states.  The tar sands project represents an opportunity for Canada and the USA to reduce their dependency on foreign oil and to protect our nations from any sudden gasoline shortages.  It enables us to provide a valuable alternative to our closest and most important ally from the vagaries of trading with your enemies.

There are also tremendous opportunities in the oil sands projects and Alberta in general for newcomers both from out of province and out of country.  The relative economic freedom of this province attracts many who are hungry for labour and success.  Canada is the second most spacious nation in the world with a population less than Tokyo.  There is land here for the living on and we should welcome those who come to join us.  Projects like the tar sands enable newcomers to settle in otherwise unfriendly terrain.  Having a larger population makes us a stronger nation and a lot of the income of these foreign workers goes back home, to desperately poor people in the third world.  This paycheck relief offered to relatives is an incredible form of targeted foreign aid for which the hapless taxpayer need not be extorted.  We should open our doors to those who wish to come here and work and live; instead those who are too lazy or incompetent to make something of themselves scapegoat these hard working migrants.

The project is not without it's detractors.  First they object to the deforestation which preceded it. Where would Europe and North America have been if we had listened to Greenpeace et. al. a thousand years ago and never ripped out all the trees in the first place in order to build our farms, factories and cities?  We wouldn't have a fraction of the global prosperity or population which we have today. It is necessary for humanity to transform the environment in which we live from it's natural state to one which can better serve the needs of sentient human beings.  There may be issues with pollution but these can be handled by a two pronged attack of privatization and a restructuring of how the courts handle the issue.  All of the lakes and rivers, all land in general should be privatized. The reason why lakes in the past have become polluted is because they are owned by "us" that is to say by the state.  It is the tragedy of the commons.  When something is owned by everyone it is cared for by no one.  Were we to have private property in lakes then the owner of the lakes would agitate to prevent it from being polluted.  Were the offending company to own the lake then the owner of the lake downstream would sue to ensure their water was not contaminated by the offender.  And pollution must be viewed legally as the act of aggression it is, subject to criminal sanction and restitution.

Instead of slandering the great work and incredible risk taken to extract the bitumen and process the crude we should celebrate all that has been done on our behalf by the brave men and women who dared to risk the complacency of ordinary life for the uncertain reward of a modern day frontier.  The world needs oil.  The world needs Fort McMurray.

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