Ethical Oil is Snake Oil

Don’t buy it …

Source: Globe and Mail, July 2011

Talking about ethical oil is like saying guns don’t kill people.

Well they don’t. People kill people. But sometimes they use a gun to do it. Oil isn’t ethical or unethical (unless you add corn … get it? ethyl alcohol? Sorry, corny I know, but I couldn’t resist. And it does raise another, ethical problem with our oil addiction: growing crops for gasoline additives.).

Oil is oil. It’s how we produce it and use it that’s ethical or unethical. There’s no such thing as ‘ethical oil’. It’s a shell game (no pun intended): “Look over here while I sneak a few more barrels of oil out of the ground over there, devastate the land, wreck someone’s backyard and put a few more tonnes of CO2 into the air.”

We need oil – let’s take that for granted. But what we do with oil should not be taken for granted.

Is it ethical to use oil in the wasteful way we do in the West? Canadians use up more oil per person that Americans and way more than the Chinese. Every Canadian uses 26 barrels of oil a year. In China, each person uses two.

If everyone in the world were to use oil like we do, we’d need 4 earths. It is ethical to say to developing countries, “Now that we’ve made our way in the world, at the expense of your environment, we’ll cut our emissions if you cut yours”? How is that leadership, especially now that China has called our bluff by agreeing to sign on in 2020.

And what, in God’s name, is ethical about pulling the stuff out of the ground in such a way that it sickens Aboriginal communities downstream?

Reports from the climate talks in Durban South Africa say that Peter Kent, our Environment Minister is “keeping a low profile.” No wonder. I hear Archbishop Tutu is looking for him.

Ethical oil is snake oil. Don’t be conned.

© David McLaren 8 December 2011

During the Climate Change talks in Durban, Natural Resources Minister announced that the huge Joslyn North oil sands project will go ahead. The joint $9 billion venture with Suncor is expected to yield 100,000 barrels a day starting 2018. (


And in other news …
Statistics compiled by Environment Canada show that greenhouse gas pollution from oilsands companies, which require an energy-intensive production process, have jumped 300 per cent since 1990, exceeding those of all cars on Canadian roads, not including light-duty trucks, and cancelling out reductions in emissions from other sectors. The latest federal data also shows that the oilsands producers are no longer reducing the pollution per barrel of oil produced, contradicting claims made in a separate industry-sponsored marketing campaign.
(From “Ethics of Canadian oil companies overseas challenged” Postmedia News September 22, 2011)


About David McLaren

David McLaren is an award-winning writer. He has worked in government and the private sector, with NGOs and First Nations in Ontario. He is currently writing from Neyaashiinigamiing on the shore of Georgian Bay and can be reached at In February 2015, he won the nomination for the NDP to represent the riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound in the 2015 federal election. See that page for writings during the campaign.
This entry was posted in All Categories, The Economy, Turtle Island. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Ethical Oil is Snake Oil

  1. Munroe Scott says:

    Snake oil indeed. This “ethical oil” phrase is a dandy example of Orwellian Doublespeak, something the Conservatives are becoming very very good at employing. It’s an offense against the English language and as such should be an indictable offense.

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