It's practically a given that if the Canadian oil sands are mentioned by the mainstream media, they are cast in a negative light. The oil sands seem to have been voted by the unofficial climate change cartel to the position of official environmental whipping boy and designated carbon demon. And why not? They're Canadian. They won't fight back, unlike American or Chinese coal generation or Californian heavy oil (which is more carbon intensive than Alberta heavy oil), or any number of other global energy sources who are conveniently avoided by the international environmental lobby groups. When you pick on the Canadian oil sands you get a pretty easy time of it. You get governments who care what the people think and who care about their international image, you get companies who care what the market and public thinks and who are working at constant improvement, and you get to pick on a target who won't strike back in a way that might cause real personal harm to its detractors (unlike what often happens when you challenge Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, or Nigeria, or the Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Burma, or China).
What Ezra Levant has done with his new book is to stand up and champion the case for the Canadian oil sands as a responsible and ethical global source of energy which is being developed through world-leading standards. Where national and provincial leaders have been slow or embarrassed to stand up and defend the oil sands against its detractors, Levant has come through with facts, courage and more than a little wit. By not accepting the terms that the radical environmental lobby seeks to frame the debate with, Levant shows that the common picture of the oil sands painted by those who oppose them is the equivalent of a portrait which ignores the nose, eyes, mouth and ears of the subject and renders only a chin-wart, some stray nose hairs and a chipped tooth. Levant compares Canada's oil sands with all other major sources of world oil production and export and shows how the oil sands not only hold their own but by nearly any standard of fair and ethical judgment, they outperform their competitors by ethical gallons per mile.
Levant frames the oil sands debate in proper terms, comparing it with other big-scale oil producing nations, rather than to future carbon-neutral magic pixy-dust power as the environmental lobby would have us do. He is not disparaging alternative energy but pointing out the obvious fact that it will be a long time before all non-petroleum based energy sources combined can come close to producing a tenth of the energy by consumer volume that oil does, much less replacing it, in an ever-growing global energy market. Until that time, Levant argues that the oil sands are a far more ethical source of oil than nearly all the other major producers/exporters in the world. Not only does the oil sands carbon footprint measure up to the other world sources of oil on a wells-to-wheels comparison, in most cases they outperform. For example, enviros tout the oil in the middle east claiming it's as simple to produce as sticking a straw in the sand and letting the oil flow forth. They talk about how such oil is so much cheaper to produce, both from an economic and an environmental standpoint. Levant delivers a much needed accounting audit when he factors in the cost the U.S. Navy spending $50 billion per year patrolling the Persian Gulf to keep it safe for American-bound tanker traffic, a measure which adds a US$54/barrel tax-payer subsidy to middle east oil, not to mention the carbon foot print of the tankers and the US naval fleet and all the natural gas the OPEC nations flare instead of using (as the oil sands does). And Levant compares a few dead ducks in oil sands tailing ponds to hundreds of thousands of people killed by their own governments in oil exporting nations like the Sudan, where the oil produced during the Darfur atrocities was costing 6.5 ml of murdered human blood per barrel and the same money the Sudanese government brought in through oil sales it used to arm itself and fund its program of genocide.
Countering such organizations as Greenpeace (which in so many ways is neither green, nor peaceful...talk amongst yourselves), Levant also effectively argues that the oil sands do indeed measure up to or out perform other major oil exporting nations of the world by environmental stewardship standards, but unlike anti-oil sanders, he is not satisfied to leave the debate there. Along with sustainability - what is the environmental impact of the oil sands compared with other jurisdictions and what is being done to improve their respective environmental performance? - Levant broadens the terms of the debate by comparing the oil sands with other oil exporters' performance in other areas of ethical measure such as: justice - is there access by the people of the producing nation to affordable energy (not just available to the very rich or powerful)?; peace - do the oil sands either directly or indirectly promote peace or violence and how do they compare to other petroleum producing jurisdictions?; and commitment to democracy - to what degree are the citizens of the nation and the regions most impacted involved in making decisions about their energy future and the future of development? When these other common sense ethical gauges are brought into the debate, the oil sands rise head and shoulders above its true global market oil exporting competitors.
Levant also effectively debunks some of the "silver bullet" arguments frequently used against the oil sands. By doing a little bit of journalism (something few media detractors seem capable of anymore), Levant tackles such urban myths as the high rates of cancer among aboriginal peoples living down stream of the oil sands, the mutant fish that grew a second jaw, or the ever popular image of the oil sands mines being the size of the state of Florida or the country of England, all of which are blatantly and demonstrably false. Levant merely happens to be willing to dig further than most to get to the bottom of these accusations and then when they prove false, he doesn't just mention it in passing during polite cocktail conversation but he climbs on top of the bar, kicks the drinks out of peoples hands and yells to the room that somebody has been telling some lies and its time to fess up.
Levant's polemics get ranty in a few places but no one can really blame him when he's doing the print equivalent of paddling up a waterfall of negative media and enviroganda, while people are lobbing large rocks at him from the banks. But even when his voice is the edgiest (like when he is exposing the shameless hypocrisy of so-called ethical investment funds who pronounce publicly their opposition to the oil sands all the while investing heavily in them because they make healthy returns), he is not shrill and he never abandons fact and simply resorts to name calling and sloganeering which is a common practice of the anti-oil sands lobby, whose strategy often seems to be "argument weak, yell here". Levant has single-handedly tarred and feathered those who vilify the oil sands while convenently ignoring or even defending nations whose oil production is infinitely worse by any standard of measure.
Levant isn't happy to simply rebuff the attacks on the oil sands. He proposes a positive step to make our petroleum purchasing more ethical. Why don't we implement a system whereby all the fuel and petroleum products sold in North America are labelled by their country of origin so that consumers can know at the pumps which dictatorship, which genocide-inciting country or which extremist Islamic regime they are supporting. Levant believes if this were the case, a vast majority of American consumers would be buying oil sands oil from their biggest trade partner and closest ally, the progressive democracy and global boy scout that is Canada.
This book does not seek to paint the oil sands as perfection incarnate but rather as the best large-scale oil energy option for energy consumers who are honestly concerned about supporting ethical operators and nations in their energy choices. It avoids highly technical language, making it accessible to a broad readership, and it is punchy enough that it will keep those readers entertained. There is a lot of common sense and old fashioned reason in this book which, in my opinion, deserves a large audience.
[If you have not read this book but have read this or another positive review, or watched a "documentary" which "exposes" the oil sands, and are posting a "this-book-is-a-big-lie" review to try to save some ducks and skewer some capitalist, industrialist pigs, why don't you try reading this book and thinking for yourself for a change before you attack that which you do not know. Go on, read it, find where Levant's facts are wrong. I dare you.]
on September 30, 2011
Many other reviewers have outlined the merits of this book. I won't replicate their comments.
I was not one of the virulent opponents of the oil sands project before reading the book, thinking of it as a relatively minor, though necessary, evil. In the trade-off between securing energy self-sufficiency and environmental hazard, I already felt the choice was a no-brainer. This book was revelatory in just how easy this choice should be for the thinking person.
Levant is criticized by a number of reviewers for (arguably) taking a detour to address the fallacies and foibles of the most vocal opponents of the oil sands. Granted, the (flawed) integrity of their arguments is not, by itself, an argument for the merits of the oil sands per se, but revealing the flaws in the logic and content of all the scaremongering and sanctimonious caterwauling engaged in by "players" like the ethical investment movement, is part and parcel of dispersing the fog of myth that has grown up around this issue.
For me, the most valuable aspect of this book was the "as opposed to what?" aspect Levant introduces into the discussion. Would you REALLY 'prefer' your oil to originate in Sudan, Nigeria, Venezuela, Russia and Saudi Arabia, those bastions of human rights, social justice and environmental responsibility? His analysis along these lines was an eye-opener for me.
The book puts to rest an enormous mythology that has seemingly become accepted orthodoxy about the oil sands. It's a valuable, sobering and reassuring read. You owe it to yourself to check it out before succumbing to all the reflexive nonsense being peddled by the "STOP (EVERYTHING)!" crowd.
on November 24, 2010
I enjoyed this Book. It provides great Ammo to shoot down someone at the Office cocktail party who has swallowed the popular line on Alberta's Oil riches and how their extraction compares with the alternatives we face. He makes many compelling points that compare the reality of Canada's energy program vs the alternatives we don't like to think about. Namely oil from Saudi, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, Sudan,Nigeria,Mexico. Another interesting point driven home is the cost of oil coming out of the Middle East and the hidden tax associated with it. Namely the 50 Billion the US pumps into the region with their military to keep the oil flowing. After reading this, it makes you think the only responsible oil producers are ourselves (Canadians) and the Norwegians. The best parts are when Levant drags out the dishonest practices and contradictions of Greenpeace and other so called "Ethical" investment players.
If anyone should read this, it is Americans. Know what you are buying and funding.
on August 31, 2011
I bought this book on a recommendation from a friend and I couldn't put it down. I never really had an opinion one way or the other on the Alberta oil sands, despite all the negative pontificating from all the David Suzukis, Hollywood bimboes and environmental groups. This is a well-researched book that makes you stop and think where so much of your oil is coming from: human-rights abusing, terrorist-sponsoring, closed dictatorships, all of which would never allow a fraction of the monitoring, regulations and scrutiny that the oil sands go through. The oil sands have been the victim of a lot of blantant lies and this book helps clear that up.