There has been plenty of controversy over the proposed Keystone Pipeline project that will see an oil pipeline stretch through Alberta into the U.S., carrying unrefined oil from the infamous Athabasca tar sands to refineries in the south. Of course, in many ways I support the opposition to this project with their concerns about the environment, and I share in the concerns, but I also see hypocrisy and plenty of “not in my backyard” sentiment that concerns me. The unfortunate fact is that we rely on oil so heavily that even measures being pushed to reduce our dependency cannot, at this time, result in the elimination of our need for oil.
We rely on oil not just for cars and machinery, but for plastics, which are a huge part of our lives. Every time we use a bank machine, for example, we are using plastic. And it’s not just the card – much of the ATM we use is made of plastic and relies on oil for the smooth running of all its mechanical parts. We all still rely heavily on oil in our transportation of people and goods, and it will continue like that for many years in the future, despite lifestyle changes we are making and should continue to make. So, oil and fossil fuels are at this point still a huge part of our lives. We just can’t get away from it quickly.
Yet, we do not wish to take any of the risks that come with extracting and transporting the stuff. We want to keep the environment here pristine, so we fight against these projects in North America. But, the fact is, by using foreign oil, we are being far more reckless, heartless, and destructive.
The exploitation that comes along with the use of foreign oil has been appalling. We have tough, strong environmental protections in place for the most part in North America that many of the countries we are exporting oil from do not have. The Niger Delta has been completely destroyed from oil spills due to a lack of environmental controls or enforcement, and large oil companies taking advantage of this fact.
Often, those who do the hard manual labour in the extraction or construction process are exploited, working long hours in terrible conditions for little pay, something that I saw too often in my time in the Middle East. Again, our safety standards are high compared to those in many oil-producing countries. Furthermore, those doing these same jobs in North America are well-paid in comparison.
Our reliance on foreign oil has helped prop up brutal regimes in a number of countries, forcing millions of our fellow humans to live in situations none of us wish to live in. And, of course, we have seen devastating conflict over oil, most notably during the First Iraq War where Saddam Hussein took over Kuwait to gain more control over oil in the region. We see oil fields playing a large role in the ongoing conflict in Sudan as well. People in far-off countries are dying over the oil that we often end up using.
So, at the moment, we take advantage of all the benefits of oil, but wish to take none of the risks. Instead we want those other nameless, faceless people to take all of the risks. What is ethical or environmentally friendly about all of this?
It is unfortunate that we are so reliant on oil. It is such a big part of our daily lives, often in ways we don’t even think of. Of course, we have to focus on reducing our dependency all together for the good of the environment, but that isn’t happening anytime soon. In the meantime, we can no longer say “Not in my backyard!” We must not put the burden of our oil dependency on the shoulders of others in far-off lands. We must accept the risk as well. We can’t protect North America’s environment on the shoulders of the well-being of foreign countries. That is exactly what we are doing now. It’s time to say, “Yes, we have to do this in our backyard. It’s the responsible way to do it.”