Yes, We Can Criticize Oil While Still Relying on It

I was born in Fort McMurray, Alberta. When I tell people from other parts of Canada about that, the most common response I get is “I’m so sorry,” and I understand where that sentiment comes from, despite how much it frustrates me. For anyone reading this who may not know, Fort McMurray is the centre of Canadian oil sand production. Anyone who was raised there was likely also instilled with some sense of loyalty towards that industry, a sort of microcosm of the “us versus them” attitude that Alberta often displays towards the rest of the country whenever they are in the news. And it isn’t hard to see where that comes from when so many of Alberta’s moments in the spotlight involve people criticizing either the province or the oil sands.

When Neil Young toured across the country on a crusade against the industry, the pro-oil camp decried the hypocrisy on display when he left his tour bus running overnight. The same sentiment was shown to Leonardo DiCaprio when he travelled via private jet. When the cosmetics company Lush took a stand against developing pipelines, it led to people across Alberta calling for a boycott of the company, with some reports on Facebook of people calling one of their Calgary locations to harass store workers. Anytime that protestors use products derived from petroleum, it is virtually guaranteed that some Albertans will focus on this apparent contradiction as if it invalidates the statements they are making. That is the rhetorical device that we are here to talk about: this idea that if people rely on petroleum products, then they cannot criticize oil or the industry that produces it, and these people simply don’t know as much as they think they do.

This is, of course, bullshit.

It’s the same as saying that people who use social media are not allowed to criticize our reliance on social media. These things have become so essential to our daily lives that it is difficult to avoid using them. That is precisely when it is most important to apply a critical eye to them.

Why is it so difficult to avoid using oil-based products? What allows that monopoly to exist? Isn’t it strange that people who criticize the oil industry are still so reliant on these products for commodities and travel? Sure, maybe some of them are just hypocrites who don’t actually believe their environmental message. But that doesn’t mean that all of their criticisms magically become invalid or incorrect. Because no industry is above criticism.

So why are Albertans so enamoured with these bad-faith arguments?

Well, speaking anecdotally, a lot of the people who make these arguments take said criticism as a personal attack. It’s just a bunch of intellectuals and celebrities who have no idea how hard they work telling them that their livelihood is evil and needs to change. And change is scary, especially when it feels like both provincial and federal governments are seeking to abandon the oil sands when it becomes politically inconvenient. And it doesn’t matter if those politicians are publically, vocally pushing for pipelines to be built to support the industry when they are also pushing for carbon taxes and emission regulations. Those people are outsiders with an agenda who just want to use the oil sands to their benefit when it is convenient, and who will abandon it when it stops being convenient.

Or that’s how it feels, at least.

And those feelings are further legitimized in their eyes anytime that they feel Alberta is hung out to dry or made into the world’s punching bag, or whenever someone makes a bad-faith or factually incorrect criticism that shows they do not fully understand the oil industry. But the thing is, those instances do not invalidate other criticisms. And whether or not you believe in the idea that we are poised on the edge of complete environmental catastrophe (I do), eventually the supply of oil will not be able to match the demand. Even if that doesn’t happen for another one hundred years, it will inevitably happen. And at that point, if the majority of our infrastructure still relies on petroleum, then it will no longer be able to function. It just makes sense to begin investing in energy alternatives before that happens; even if we don’t need them today, eventually we will.

And I know that by saying all of this, I am painting an enormous target on my back. I can already see the comments: the radical left will call me an “oil apologist,” and the right will call me “a dumb tranny SJW.” Both of which are true.

But I really hope that the rest of you will use this article as the basis for a more compassionate approach to discourse. We only have one planet, and all of the energy we put into demonizing each other is energy we could put towards saving it.