David Suzuki: Is Canada a petro-state or prosperous nation?

Imagine a Canada with an abundance of nature and wildlife, clean air and water, healthy citizens, and a prosperous economy. Sounds close to what we have, doesn’t it? But it may not be for long if we keep heading down the road we’re on.

Author Andrew Nikiforuk has argued that Canada is becoming a petro-state. “Without long-term planning and policies, Canada and Alberta will fail to secure reliable energy supplies for Canadians, to develop alternative energy sources for the country, or to create valuable resource funds for the future,” he writes in his best-selling book Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent. Because of the response of Alberta to Pierre Trudeau's National Energy Plan, Canada doesn't even have a national energy plan.

The reality is that our government is putting all its eggs in one basket, relying on the tar sands to fuel the economy. And although the government has at least come around to acknowledging that global warming is a problem, it hasn’t acted as if it’s a problem worthy of much attention. Its energy and environmental policies show that it is willing to let the economics of the fossil fuel industry trump concern for our common future.

That was made clear with the release of an audit report by the federal environment and sustainable development commissioner on May 12. Scott Vaughan’s report found that the government has overstated expected reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, is unable to monitor actual reductions, lacks transparent plans, and is failing to meet its international obligations under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.

The audit also found that the government is failing to adequately protect fish habitat. Vaughan charged the government with not knowing much about fish habitat in Canada, failing to implement some parts of the 23-year-old policy, and failing to even identify what it must do to stop harmful pollutants from being discharged into waters where the fish live.

This ongoing failure on the part of those elected to serve our interests is bad from both an environmental and an economic standpoint. A briefing note prepared for Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt last fall and recently obtained by Canadian Press warns that a lack of clarity and certainty regarding the government’s climate change policies is jeopardizing investment in Canada’s energy sector. The government promised new regulations more than two years ago but now says it is “reworking” its plan.

The briefing note says the government should have policies that facilitate investment in green equipment, buildings, and infrastructure.

But it appears that the government is really only interested in facilitating the ability of the fossil fuel industry to squeeze every drop of oil out of the ground until we are left with depleted energy supplies, devastated landscapes and polluted waters, and an economy that can’t compete with those of nations that have invested in renewable energy.

Our policies around oil extraction aren’t even that good. Mr. Nikiforuk argues in Tar Sands that, “Neither Canada nor Alberta has a rational plan for the tar sands other than full-scale liquidation.” With a more rational policy, he argues, “the tar sands could fund Canada's transition to a low-carbon economy.” Instead, “Feeble fiscal regimes have enriched multinationals and given Canada a petrodollar that hides the inflationary pressures of peak oil,” making Canada “nothing more than a Third World energy supermarket”.

It really is a case of short-term gain for long-term pain—and even the gain is only for a few foreign multinationals and their friends, and not for Canadians who should have more say in our energy future and in how our resources are managed.

And what about the long-term pain? Well, a recent report from the Lancet and the University College of London, Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change, notes that climate change is the biggest global health threat we face. The consequences include increased spread of disease as malaria-carrying mosquitoes move to higher altitudes, declining crop yields leading to food shortages, water shortages and illness related to poor sanitation, housing shortages, more extreme weather events such as flooding, and increased population migration.

And those are just the health consequences. Mass extinctions of animals and plants, dying oceans, and ravaged economies are also in our future if we don’t smarten up.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In Canada, especially, we can still turn things around if we move quickly. Citizens across the country have been showing they care, by making changes in their lives to reduce their carbon footprint. Now it’s time to let our elected leaders know that we expect at least as much from them.

Take David Suzuki’s Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org/.



Evil eye

May 19, 2009 at 5:16pm

Sorry David, you have lost your credibility as an environmentalist. Please ride off into the sunset or something. Hari-kari anyone?


May 19, 2009 at 7:10pm

I'm the first to admit to having a lack of serious credentials...I'm not a physicist or a geneticist or, more appropriately, a hydrologist....but I do know a good thing when I see it. I have a copy of a 1948 Scientific American magazine that shows a picture of a large concave, mirrored dish mounted as a satelite dish would be and using the sun's power to run a steam turbine which powered up a very large fish cannery in Vladivostock. In 1948!!! Sure..this was relatively primative but just think how this could have evolved given enough R&D resources.

As we all know, Russia and America both have a powerful petro lobbies and you can guess what happened to this simple, clean, inexpensive, renewable energy technology. It was squashed just like Dr. Suzuki's credibility as an environmentalist when he failed to understand, like the Green Party, that you are known by the company you keep. There are much better ways to provide clean energy than industrializing watersheds. It just takes the courage to stand up to the greedmongers . Surely someone on Suzuki's staff must have clued him into Campbell's ties with the Republican Party, and by extension, Big Oil?

I can commiserate with Suzuki's frustration with certain purist, idealogue environmentalists but I do share those people's mistrust of Gordon Campbell's motives for anything he does. Especially when it comes to watersheds.

He has made many valid assertions and observations in this article but his credibility is no longer what it once was so perhaps it's time for him to hang up the skates and while away the days wondering about the ultimate impact his support for Gordon Campbell will have on fish and wildlife.

I also know a few things about other clean, renewable energy sources that are still off virtually everybody's radar because of Big Oil and would eliminate all need for fossil fuels but I still like to travel and breathe and walk so I'll stop right now.


May 19, 2009 at 8:01pm

Didn't DaGucci here throw his support behind an oil pipeline to Rupert and oil drilling in the Hecate str8. Must have been a different da Gucci than this one.

Just in case it is he might want to read a Nobel Price winning economist telling us how much more efficient a cap n'trade system is than a carbon tax.


Still happy you sold out? No greater hypocrite.!!!


May 20, 2009 at 8:44am

I agree with the above comments that DS and his organization have lost much of their credibility in standing up with Ms. Berman and the Pembina Institute against the BCNDP and their Cap & Trade. Suzuki's organization has been compromised by James Hoggan, of the Hoggan PR firm, who is also a strong supporter of Gordon Campbell and the BC Liberals. Hoggan started the DeSmogBlog as an enviro type/climate change blog to decieve the public into thinking they were trying to protect the environment. While every chance DeSmogBlog gets it criticizes the BCNDP and its' stance against Gordon Campbells (in name only) carbon tax.

It is important in these times to remember that the Gordon Campbell's Liberals have been an environmental disaster for British Columbia. We no longer have Envrio.Assessments of projects that mean anything more than rubber stamping the BC Liberals approval. BCNDP has done more for the BC environment in the past than Gordon Campbell and the Liberals have in their last eight years. Ask any local enviro group in BC how devastating GC has been to the his own Enviro. Ministry, MOF, Parks & Conservation Officers, Salmon, Democracy with Bill 30 & 42.

Currently the enviro movement in BC is split, and word has it that even the David Suzuki Foundation is internally split around the general direction they are now taking. Just look at the response to the above article, anger at the abandonment by David Suzuki and company of those of us in BC who know what an environmental disaster Gordon Campbell and the Liberals have already been for BC in the last eight years and now we have to endure another four more years. This anger will not abate soon.

black goo

May 20, 2009 at 12:18pm

A bunch of enviros, including the David Suzuki Foundation, came out in support of the carbon tax - different than full-scale BC Liberal endorsement. They're all battling away with Campbell gov't on his hypocrisies and crappy env'l policies. Campbell definitely had the carbon tax ticket, but he's not getting a free ride. As someone who thinks we need a massive energy revolution and a need to stop just talking about climate change, it also sucked that the NDP's enviro platform, which had a couple of progressive pieces to it (in particular around coalbed methane and stopping oil tanker traffic and Enbridge tar sands pipeline), lacked vision, leadership and was mediocre given where we need to go. What do you do? You pick out the policies from all parties you support and push for needed climate leadership. Doesn't mean you prop up anyone because no BC party will bring us where we need to go with their current policy platforms. Maybe that's part of pathetic 50% turn-out rate - frustration at hypocrisies and lack of real leadership.

Back to the article, it's spot on in the need for curbing tar sands and Nikiforuc's book is an amazing insight into the black ooze our economy's become so dependent on. The amount of time and money that the Harper and Alberta governments are using to counter tar sands as "dirty oil" in the US given up-coming climate change regulations is beginning to match up to Exxon's anti-global warming propaganda. Scary stuff. Why not invest that time and energy into low-impact renewables?


May 20, 2009 at 7:43pm

NDP supporters launching a full on attack against David Suzuki for not propping up their party. Reminds me of when Republicans went hard after environmentalists like Al Gore for an Inconvenient Truth.

I suppose you NDP supporters feel the same way about Al Gore as Republicans do, considering his views mirror David Suzuki's and contradict the official NDP line:

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May 21, 2009 at 8:31am

Mooks reminds me of when Greenies went after Al Gore in the 2000 election took 5% of his vote away and elected George Bush. That turned out to be really good for the environment. Typical irresponsible destructive greenies eating their own