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article imageOp-Ed: The Economy and The Environment - Can They Coexist?

By G. Robert M. Miller     Jul 12, 2008 in Politics
Canada's Harper government has been blasted by many for not taking aggressive action against climate change. However, the Canadian economy is largely upheld by the ultra-dirty tar-sands industry. Is there a way to balance the environment and the economy?
If the Canadian government were a person, it would have both its hands full. In one, the feds have to protect and promote the internationally accepted image of Canada as a vast and green, environmentally forward nation. In the other, the Canadian government has to, quietly but effectively, ensure the economic stability of the nation, which in turn means protecting the dirty business of tar-sand oil production.
But before we analyze the predicament that is trying to be both environmentally forward and pro-oil production, consider this. In 2007, according to the CIA, Canadian exports totaled $569.3 billion dollars, while Canadian imports totaled $555.2 billion; thereby resulting in a $14.1 billion dollar trade surplus at the end of 2007 - a crucial statistic that in turn allowed the feds to pay off some of the Canadian national debt.
However, included in the $569.3 billion dollars are the profits derived from the 2.274 million barrels of oil that are exported each day. When we subtract the 1.185 million barrels of oil that are imported daily, Canada produces for export and profit roughly 1.089 million barrels of oil a day. And if the average price for one barrel of oil was a meager $125 per barrel (it is currently $147), those 1.089 million barrels of exported oil would translate into a $49.685 billion dollar a year input into the Canadian economy. In other words, Canadian oil production and exportation is the pivotal factor that determines whether the Canadian economy records a surplus or a deficit at the end of each year.
The essential point is that oil production is crucial to the Canadian economy - it cannot be abandoned without facing severe economic repercussions. However, with each passing day more and more serious and unavoidable environmental problems are arising, all of which need to be addressed now, not at some undetermined point in the future. And Canada - long heralded as a champion of the environment, and host to one of the world's most effective multilateral environment achievements, the Montreal Accord - needs to be a leader in the cause for North, Central, and South American nations. With a land so vast, and an economy so strong (and so dependent on environmental stability), the protection and restoration of the environment should be of primary concern for the Canadian federal government.
Without doubt, the fundamental reason that the Canadian government ought to champion environmental reforms is the strength of the Canadian economy. Given that so many nations - including Canada's neighbor to the south - are struggling to make ends meet, nations that are enjoying relative economic stability should be encouraged to introduce progressive and stringent environmental codes. And given that the strength of the Canadian economy rests on environmentally damaging industries such as tar-sand oil production, the case for Canadian action against climate change is two-fold.
Yet in recent international meetings, Canada has been blasted for its lackluster attitude toward environmental goals. In late 2007, many critics - including opposition leader Stephane Dion and NDP leader Jack Layton - let loose scathing reports suggesting that the Canadian government was 'sabotaging' the climate change talks in Bali. And more recently, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been criticized for rejecting emission-slashing proposals at the 2008 G8 summit.
To an extent the federal position makes sense. As we can clearly see, the Canadian budget is largely propped up by oil exportation. But then again, considering that the oil exports create a surplus budget, should a large portion of those profits not go towards protecting and restoring the Canadian wilderness?
More points to consider. Unlike conventional oil extraction, tar-sand oil production involves and extremely intensive, carbon heavy process. As reported by the Guardian, to produce one barrel of oil conventionally, roughly 30 kilograms of carbon is released into the atmosphere; however, to produce one barrel of tar-sand oil, nearly 120 kilograms of carbon is released.
Moreover, the size and scale of the tar-sands operations are increasing quickly and drastically. Currently, tar sand oil production totals 1.3 million barrels of oil daily. Yet by 2011, thanks to investments made by many major oil companies - including Shell, Exxon, Chevron, and Total, to name a few - which combine to total in excess of $100 billion dollars, tar-sand oil production is set to increase to 3.5 million barrels a day. And that means more carbon emissions.
So really, it is quite clear why the federal government of Canada refuses to sign international treaties which aim reduce carbon emissions; the Canadian economy is directly tied to the carbon intensive industry that is tar-sand oil production. But as the global problem of climate change (or more accurately, climate extremification) grows, more pressure will be put on the Canadian government to take meaningful action against it. And considering that Canada has a strong, healthy, and secure economy which is supported by an industry that so clearly strains and negatively impacts the environment, the feds ought to use some of the economies strength to ensure the environment is not only not damaged, but to ensure that it is restored and improved.
It is time that the federal government of Canada realized that it can balance the two largest issues at hand; the economy and the environment. By protecting the lucrative tar-sands oil field industry, the capital needed to produce effective and powerful programs that can enable environmental restoration throughout the Great White North can be generated. However, this must be the primary goal of the operations - to promote environmental rehabilitation. Considering the strain put on nature in extracting tar-sand oil, the state of global climate change, and the massive profits generated from the industry, it only makes sense to use a share of the profits to remedy our ailing environment.
What do you think? Should the feds protect the Albertan tar-sands? Should the environment be the primary focus of the Harper government, regardless of economics? Is the economy more important than the environment?
Thanks for reading.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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