A Response To A Reader

This is a response piece to “ditch_witch” on MyMcMurray.com, who replied to a post I made there. You can read the MyMcurray.com piece here.

Posted on MyMcMurray:

Thank you for responding Ditch_Witch – conversation around topics as important as the environment & industry need to happen. All opinions need to be properly expressed and shared in order for the right, and informed, decisions to be made. So thank you for sharing your thoughts – I can see that you are quite passionate about the topic.

I thought about ending my reply there…. but I did write some points down, and they can be found on my blog here: https://myoilsands.wordpress.com. Please take the points as you wish.

My Response

Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, do I suggest companies be allowed to break the law or that large corporations be given a “dead bird credit”. If that’s something you thought I mentioned in the two articles, then I suggest you read my words again.

Companies, just like individuals, should be held accountable when they break the law. And if public opinion changes around what is acceptable or unacceptable behaviours, then the laws need to reflect those changes. That’s the great thing about democracy – we all get say (or so They tell me).

I am not certain that birds which regrettably landed in a tailings pond and were covered in heavy oil could fly for hundreds of kilometers without fully functioning feathers. But then again, I am not an ornithologist or a wildlife expert, and my opinion is just one of a bystander with no data to substantiate my claim other than what I’ve experienced in my own lifetime. Perhaps your experience is quite different than mine, though I do not like to talk on behalf of others, so I cannot know for sure.

Is a tarred duck “worth more or less than a bird killed in downtown Toronto”? I’m not sure how to answer that.

In my writing, I did not make any value-based comparisons of Alberta ducks versus Ontario birds. I only highlighted that:

  1. 7,000 birds died from collisions with just three buildings in Scarborough over a ten year period,
  2. There is on average a vehicle-animal collision every minute within Ontario (and that’s just reported collisions), and
  3. That roughly 17,000 animals were involved in vehicle collisions on Alberta roads in 2005 (and by “animals” I’m talking about vertebrates, as I am unable to find reliable statistics on insect-vehicle collisions).

I’m just trying to show some other numbers. It is up to you to process that information and make the according changes or shifts in attitude as you see fit. If you see it as an attempt to redirect, then so be it. If you’d like, however, I can pull up some stats on other industries, but then, I rather hoped readers would be curious enough to do their own research and come to their own conclusions.

Frustrating is only one word I would describe this situation, there are many others I could think of as well. The oil sands industry has been slow to react to the flow of anti-tarsands campaigns that are out there. They’ve been pretty much caught sleeping at the wheel, and that sucks.

That sucks because I work with folks who are trying extremely hard to reduce the impact that the industry is having on the surrounding region and environment and their efforts and work is not being effectively broadcast to the world. Is the oil sands process perfect? No, absolutely not. Is it constantly getting better? Yes.

I do not blame my friends and family who give me a hard time about making a living up in Fort McMurray. All they’ve been seeing is one side of the story – of course they think it’s an environmental wasteland (which, by the way, I must stress is *not* the case).

Instead, I blame the companies themselves for playing ostrich, thinking that if they stick their heads in the sand that this will all blow over. Well guess what? It’s not blowing over. The companies are slowly starting to see this, but it may be too late.

I completely agree on one point when you refer to the oil sands companies as “basically just a bunch of ‘crack dealers’. We do alot of harm. But we also have what the addicts want and we can make a lot of money selling it. So that makes it ok, right?”. And the point I agree on? We as a species are addicted to oil.

In fact, I’m relatively certain that the computer you used to type out your response could not have been made possible without the benefit of oil. I could write more on this, but you’re right, we’re addicted to oil, and people want the product. If no one wanted the product, then there would be no market, and there would be no reason to continue. But they do, and we are here, providing them a service.

I have a nice piece on why I chose to write this blog which goes into more detail – you can find it by clicking the “About” tab of this blog. Let me know what you think about that piece, I’m curious as to your response.

You’re right about Greenpeace. If I were the CEO of Greenpeace, I would target the oil sands as well, it makes absolute sense. The owners are slow to react, old-school and conservative, there’s lots of money involved, it’s located in a democratic country, it’s an industry that’s relatively localized, it’s an industry that’s highly regulated so there’s all these stats available to scare people with, and the world needs it so they’ll pay attention when a big hoopla is made. Perfect.

You’re right, the smart money is on the oil sands. If Greenpeace went after some of the other oil producers around the world, well, the protesters might not come back alive… at least here they are treated with the accordance of a democratic law system.

Your last paragraph touched on a couple areas, the first being a “sky scrapper”. Were the buildings I mentioned in my post apartments? Or were they office buildings?

It doesn’t really matter though, because I’m not sure if buildings downtown automatically = less urban sprawl. I suppose I would need to look at urban development in more detail, and then try to make an informed opinion, while always keeping my mind open to other alternatives.

Am I for a higher density dwellings with less impact on the environment? Yes. Do I think we can make huge strides towards sustainability? Yes. Do I like to make sure I am informed before I express my opinions? Yes. Do I think I have a reasonable grasp of the details or am an expert in urban development? No.

I am not sure where you get the “3000 birds drowning in the toxic muck of tailings pond” reference. I’d be happy to do some reading if you point me to an article or two around that. Last I saw the number was about half of that.

And your last point is around the cumulative effects… which is totally justifiable. You’re right, there is a cumulative impact there. But do you care to tell me how it reflects against other industries? How about the coal industry? How about the coal industry in America? Or in China?

In fact, let’s not even talk about comparing it to another energy sector, but how about comparing it to the cumulative effects of the farming sector? Even if we focus only on the corn industry… Or if we look at textiles, we could just focus on cotton. Or how about electronics? What is the cumulative impact on the environment for electronics like the computer you used to reply to this post?

I guess I don’t really expect an answer to those cumulative questions, or even to this whole response which I admit, is a looong one.

My main point, and I hope the point of the original blog post, is that we take a lot for granted in our lives, and that we don’t often stop to think about the entire picture.

We live in an age where we turn on our taps and cheap, clean water comes out and never seems to run dry. Can you imagine how that must appear to people who travel for 15 kms by foot to get dirty water from a well?

We live in an age where we have cheap power that allows us to continue to be productive well past the sun going down. Did you turn out your lights on Earth Hour? I did. It was a remarkable experience, one that taught me how much I rely on electricity. What would our electric life look like to generations pasts?

We live in an age where you can have access to the internet, no matter if you’re on the road to Edmonton, or halfway around the world in the Sahara desert. Who could have foreseen that a century ago?

We live in an age that would have been impossible without oil. The energy within fossil fuels has allowed us to transform from an agricultural society, to an industrialized society. For good or bad, we are here, and we are now.

Do we need to take better care of our one and only planet? Absolutely. We’ve been taking advantage of the Earth for much too long. Do we need to start transforming our society from an oil-based society to a sustainably-driven society? Yes. In the long term, it has to happen or I think that we as a species are in for a rough ride.

Are we there yet? No.

And until we are there, the oil sands industry will continue to make improvements, continue to strive to be better, and continue to provide the world with oil.

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