This week, my home province Alberta’s recently elected socialist NDP government announced a 3 billion dollar carbon tax—euphemistically called “a climate leadership plan”—across all carbon production in the province. The oil sands produces, such as Cenovus Energy, Suncor Energy, Canadian Natural Resources, and Shell Canada were all present at the ‘unveiling,’ as a gesture of support of the plan. (Read more in Claudia Cattaneo’s informative article in the Financial Post here). Why would the oil sands producers support such a plan, and why is it immoral of them to do so?
It is widely recognized that Alberta’s carbon tax is Canada’s sacrifice on the altar of fighting climate change, conveniently announced just in time for the UN climate summit in Paris. As I reported in last week’s post, Canada’s contribution to the world’s greenhouse emissions is very small, about 1.6% (see the figure in Cattaneo’s article). Shutting down the entire Canadian economy would have virtually no impact on greenhouse gases, and zero impact on the average temperature of the planet (a metric the significance of which is debatable). The Canadian oil sands’ share of world’s greenhouse gas emissions is negligible: 0.17%, and is likely to go down due to canceled investments, triggered by depressed oil prices, the 20% increase in corporate income taxes introduced by the new Alberta government, the new carbon tax, and the promised oil royalty hike by the end of the year.
We don’t need to second-guess the government’s motives for squeezing the oil companies and the rest of us—as I wrote in a previous post, the statist government wants to control the citizens’ lives, including controlling business. But why would the leaders of the oil companies, who are asked to sacrifice (for no other obvious benefit than Canada to look good at the Paris summit), agree to do so? Why are they not just complying with government coercion (because they do not have a choice), but doing it willingly and agreeing that such coercion is good?
The fight against climate change has reached the level of fanatic fervor. The other day, a news announcer at the CBC Radio, Canada’s public broadcaster said that the UN climate summit has been organized to address the “climate emergency” we are facing. (She apparently meant the 0.8 degrees Celsius increase in the average global temperature in the last 100 years). David Suzuki, Canada’s arch-environmentalist and the chief climate change fighter, recently equivocated the oil sands workers with slave owners (by what logic, I don’t know).
The fight against climate change has become a popular movement that just about everybody seems to be willing to join, like the crowd in the parable admiring the new clothes of the emperor—who was parading around naked. But the oil sands producers and other oil companies are not just part of the crowd. They are the victims of the movement. They may want to join in, appeasing the public and the government to gain acceptance for their product, a significant value that improves our lives. But their appeasement will not give them what they want—and is immoral.
As Claudia Cattaneo writes in her article, some oil companies may be willing to renounce the value they are creating (fossil fuels) by going along with the climate change fight, with the hope that their compromise will purify them with a label “clean oil” and get government approvals for new oil pipelines to transport their product. But such hopes evade reality, and are therefore irrational and immoral. The oil companies have been continually innovating and improved their efficiency and decreased emissions, including actual pollution, not just CO2. This has done nothing to placate their critics, who according the analysts at FirstEnergy Capital Corp. “constantly demonize” the industry, no matter what they do. Praising Alberta’s carbon tax will not stop that demonization and miraculously scrub the industry “clean.” To think otherwise, is an evasion of reality—a violation of the virtue of rationality, on which the oil companies’ survival and success depends.
In appeasing the government and compromising, the oil companies may have been motivated by a misguided hope to achieve values. However, they are undermining their values (that benefit us also) by providing the government and the climate change movement what Ayn Rand called “the sanction of the victim: … accept[ing] the role of sacrificial victim for the “sin” of creating values.” And that is truly immoral—if the achievement of values, not their destruction, is their goal.