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The alternate universe

What you need to appreciate about Vancouver in the summertime is that there''s a general sense of “unreality” here, in part because many people think (or want to think) it''s northern California, the Mediterranean Coast, or that area between Lugano, Switzerland and George Clooney’s house on Lake Como for a good part of the year.

From May until September, one could imagine everyone in Vancouver is a movie star or fitness instructor bicycling through city streets on their way from yoga to kite surfing or paddle boarding lessons. It has to do with the weather, the mountains, the ocean, and the tens of thousands of palm trees that have been planted over the decades (three of them are in my yard alone).

The alternate universe manifests itself in many ways. I had a nice chat with a Greenpeace volunteer a few weeks ago, who seemed to live in it. I confess I was a big supporter of Greenpeace in the 70s, and actually did research for them on whaling, but over the decades they became more interested in cute baby seals and trees instead of those who earn their living in the fishing and forestry industries, and so my interest in their causes waned.

Anyway, this polite and well-spoken fellow was vehemently opposed to all tanker traffic in the Arctic. But he was also vehemently opposed to the oilsands (which he demonized by calling it the “tar sands”). He opposed moving oil by pipeline, moving oil by rail (duh!), and moving oil even if it was in the form of gasoline in the fuel tank of my car. He totally opposed running a pipeline to Kitimat, B.C., from Alberta, despite the fact pipelines are safer than rail cars (duh again!), and he didn’t seem to care that the Chinese will buy oil from undemocratic, totalitarian countries with (to be pejorative) despicable justice systems if we don’t sell it to them.

OK . . . I argued, what if, for environmental reasons, Kitimat’s not the right place to ship the oil to? What about shipping Alberta oil east to New Brunswick to be refined and shipped? He opposed that too.  

After a few minutes, it appeared to me that he opposed the very idea of Alberta on principle and wasn’t at all interested in hearing my argument (based on Ezra Levant’s book Ethical Oil) that I'd rather buy my oil from Alberta than from undemocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran, or Nigeria; regimes that either brutalize women, exploit the local population, decapitate those convicted of “crimes,” stone adulterers, discriminate against minorities, have no environmental standards whatsoever, or try to govern their citizens as if it’s the 8th century and not the 21st.  

Even oil from Russia or Venezuela, from a human rights perspective, strikes me as far more dirty and tainted than oil from Alberta. And of course Dubai, where they jail women who complain to the police that they’ve been raped.

The rule of law that we all abide by in Canada does not allow for state-sanctioned beheading, public stoning, the persecution of minorities, the incarceration of women who are the victims of rape; nor does it accept the discrimination of Olympic athletes who may be gay (to name but a few examples). Nor do Canadian values stand for regimes which support the annihilation of Israel, or who are complicit in the murder of innocents (such as Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi.)

So I told him if I have the choice to buy what he calls “tar sands” gasoline from Alberta at Chevron’s pump No. 1, or gasoline from a country that stones or beheads people in the name of “justice” at pump No. 2, recruits child soldiers at pump No. 3, wants to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth at pump No. 4, incarcerates victims of rape at pump No. 5, or is involved in institutionalized murder or ethnic cleansing at pump No. 6, I'll buy my gasoline from Alberta any day of the week.

But Mr. Greenpeace would have none of it. Quoting Al Gore, all oil is “dirty oil,” notwithstanding that Gore flies around the world in his jet leaving a bigger carbon footprint in one day’s flying than I do in a whole year on the SkyTrain.

He thought electric cars were a great improvement because they would wean people off of fossil fuels, but I had to remind him that in most jurisdictions in North America, the electric car is actually dirtier than any other car because most of North America generates its electricity from coal. In other words, the electric car is the coal-fuelled car. He didn’t like that either, because he, with the best of intentions, lives in this alternate universe.  

He truly believed that most of our energy needs could be met by solar and wind power, without appreciating the sun goes down, the wind eases off, and people keep buying toasters and televisions and expect their lights to go on at night and their iPods to charge. I'm all for improving environmental standards, reducing carbon footprints, and planting lots of trees to take in all that CO2. But I'm not prepared to live in the 8th century, or for that matter the 18th. I'm not prepared to stop using oil from Alberta (tar sands or not) when presented with the current alternatives.

The alternate universe also plagues those running the City of Vancouver. The current administration in the city believes it can solve every social problem imaginable through the creation of more and more (and even more) bike lanes. Bike lanes are all over the downtown core of the city. You can watch how unused they are by having a cup of coffee on a street with a bike lane and counting the very few cyclists compared to the many motorists — even in the middle of summer. When the monsoons come in November there will undoubtedly be far fewer cyclists on the bike lanes than there are now. Yet the City of Vancouver has now agreed to create yet another bike lane on Point Grey Road, which will divert 10,000 cars a day to the side streets.

The gazillionaires who live on Point Grey Road don't mind; they'll still be able to drive their cars as local traffic. But those who actually drive to work, live on the streets around Point Grey Road, and don’t want to ride bicycles in the pouring rain between October and April will just have to grin and bear it so that we can be a smiley faced, bicycle-friendly city that opposes oil and gasoline!

There’s a wonderful adage I hear from time to time: “The world needs more Canada.” Sometimes I think Canada needs more Alberta.


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