Capitalism vs. Environmentalism: An essential conversation tainted by distrust of our ruling class

ESSAY No.2 – “Laissez-Faire Enough”

Our planet’s never-ending battle royale of ideologies knows no winner for as long as there are humans, there will be conflict. We’ve repeatedly proven to be victims of our own existence. Rather than finding common ground, we religiously promote terminologies like “left wing” or “right wing” which only serves to further divide us. We weigh out the pros and cons of a capitalist society, then manufacture new terms like democratic socialism in an attempt at a clearer view of how life should be collectively approached. Mother Earth. She is in the exact tumultuous state that she was destined to be in. A world divided with each corner claiming ownership of the answer to an equation with far too many variables.

On January 20th, 2021, just hours after being officially sworn in as President of the United States Of America, Joe Biden signed an executive order that halted construction of the Keystone XL pipeline extension in an attempt to leave his mark on the march towards energy efficiency. The project, which has faced its fair share of hurdles, was set to transport over 800,000 barrels of oil from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries in Steele City, Nebraska. This would result in an estimated “$30 billion in tax and royalty revenues for current and future generations of Albertans,” according to the Alberta government’s official website. In addition, TC Energy, the company responsible for KXL, boasted that the pipeline would create thousands of jobs in both Canada and the United States (although critics highlight the fact that less than 100 of these jobs would be permanent positions).

Unsurprisingly, members of the Canadian government—most notably Alberta Premier, Jason Kenney—have expressed negative feelings about Biden’s decision. Kenney explained in an interview with Fox News:

“It’s very frustrating that one of the first acts of the new President was, I think, to disrespect America’s closest friend and ally, Canada, and to kill good paying union jobs on both sides of the border and ultimately to make the United States more dependent on foreign oil imports from OPEC dictatorships’’.

This statement echoes the thoughts of many, but his calls for retaliation against the U.S. in the form of trade sanctions seems nuclear in my opinion. This would virtually guarantee unnecessary damage to the Canada-US trade relations during a time when Canada—and the US—needs to focus on bringing structure back to its people’s lives.

Money aside, it’s our civic duty to address all aspects of this debate as it is the classic case of capitalism versus environmentalism.

Environmentalists argue that greenhouse gas emissions from tar sand oils is substantially higher than that of crude oils. In 2014, following the State Department’s assessment of the pipeline’s environmental impact, the US Environmental Protection Agency reiterated this sentiment stating that "compared to reference crudes, development of oil sands crude represents a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions”. This is also partly because more pipelines means oil is extracted at higher volumes which naturally results in the release of more greenhouse gases.

Although TC Energy has since claimed that they could in fact achieve net zero emissions “by buying renewable energy from electricity providers”, the project has been faced with other environmental questions. For example, what would happen if the pipeline leaked in a critical location like the Ogallala Aquifer which provides water to farms and locals in eight different states? This fear is valid considering pipelines do leak, sometimes. As of late, this branch of the discussion has been widely ignored. The popular argument today goes as follows: Whether the Keystone XL pipeline is completed or not, Alberta’s tar sand oil will be extracted and distributed to refineries via other avenues (i.e. Railroads) which might actually result in more greenhouse gas emissions than if Keystone was to be completed. This argument admittedly holds weight, but Biden’s administration could argue that their decision was made with the interests of potential pipeline victims at heart. It’s either that or it was just another political move. Hear ye, hear ye! Joseph R. Biden cares about climate change!

I am a child of capitalism; it is the monster I know. I recognize its contributions to the growth of our world. But perhaps it’s time, if the conversation revolves around climate change, for this system to answer some pressing questions regarding its negative impacts on society. This mustn’t mean abolishment—biting the hand that has fed some—but it must be delicately and, allegedly, very swiftly recalibrated. Understandably, many fear that demands for a more energy efficient world is just a smokescreen that hides a socialist-like agenda. However, to my understanding, the implementation of policies that protect the middle and lower class functions in parallel with efforts to achieve our planet’s climate goals. As Phil McDuff stated in his article for The Guardian:

The impact of a dramatic reconfiguration of the industrial economy require similarly large changes to the welfare state. Basic incomes, large-scale public works programmes, everything has to be on the table to ensure that the oncoming system shocks do not leave vast swathes of the global population starving and destitute.

If the industrial powerhouses of our world are to transition towards a more energy efficient way of feeding capitalism, there must be safety nets arranged to protect the livelihoods of the general public in the aftermath of such major change.

I will never claim to have a profound knowledge of the issues concerning global warming. I’m no rocket scientist, especially in environmental matters. I still get nervous when I’m tryna’ to throw out a juicebox and there’s more than one colour of garbage containers to choose from. Where do I put this f*cking juicebox? Excluding scientists, the average person’s view on the topic is virtually a mirror image of their views of a god. We severely lack knowledge. Since my escape from adolescence, I’ve viewed the world through skeptical lenses. “Through him all things were made,” they said. “And without him nothing was made that has been made”. Although this creates a sense of peace and contentment, religious ideas remain moot, so I’ll preserve any concrete decisions for a time when we collectively agree on which god is most worthy of praise. On the other hand, science insists—and I must stress that I’m paraphrasing—that we spawned from nothing, and as obstacles arose we overcame them through the sheer power of adaptation until we naturally evolved into these miraculously intelligent beings plagued with the responsibility of earth’s demise. I really like that one. The irony is poetic. But due to the successes of medicine, technology etc., most people have been compelled to respect science to a certain degree; to acknowledge it as its own form of a god. So, if science insists that global warming must be handled immediately, unfortunately, I’m nowhere near equipped to argue a solid case against that. Paranoia—a symptom of distrust regarding the true agenda of governments and our ruling class—coupled with a sprinkle of ego, are the forces of nature stopping us from accepting this. Maybe rightfully so.

* * *

Even if the Biden Administration’s decision to cease pipeline construction seemed, to many, counter productive in the fight against global warming, it serves as a signal to the world, indicating a shift in the way we should be thinking about our home, Earth. Perhaps TC Energy, Alberta and Jason Kenney were just scapegoats in an attempt to send an urgent message: “Time is of the essence” (Biden, 2016). The canadian economy will survive without Keystone XL. From a business perspective, Jason Kenney’s call for an iron fist response from the canadian government will do more harm to the nation than good. There are other ways in which Canada can capitalize on it’s oil sands if we insist on taking that route towards economic glory. “One is to focus on the completion of Trans Mountain Pipeline,” according to the former TC Energy Executive Vice-President. This is an expansion of an already functioning government owned pipeline that would increase the system’s capacity from 300,000 to 900,000 barrels daily. The expansion, which faces its own criticism, could result in $46.6 billion in government revenue over the first 20 years of operation.

The show goes on.

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