Is there such a thing as an ethical non-renewable resource? Taking anything out of the earth that can't be renewed is problematic. We do it all the time, of course, from diamonds to coal, and humans are, both by nature and out of necessity, rapacious. We also have a habit of using things up, and then wondering where it all went and what to do next.
Now, oil is fundamentally nasty stuff and, as a species, we'd have been better off never figuring out how to use such a cheap, easy fuel in the first place. But we did figure it out, and now we're addicted to it. What a street-corner stimulant it is: crack cocaine for our bad, bad transportation habit.
The oil sands are especially nasty. They emit too much pollution, cost too much to refine, and promise lattices of pipelines through pristine Alberta and B.C. wilderness to transport the sludge elsewhere. As Edward Burtynsky's extraordinary photos also attest, the sands are a scar, a gash, in the landscape, one that's getting bigger and bigger. But there's a lot of oil to be got, and a lot of powerful interests are determined to get it. So the sands are a going concern, and won't stop being so, I suspect, until they're gone.
And does being an especially nasty oil reserve merit the title of being unethical, or perhaps "more" unethical? Either oil itself is an unethical fuel source or it isn't. As well, aren't we asking crack addicts - i.e., ourselves, with our cars, our trucks, our jets, our lawnmowers - whether or not drugs are bad for you?
We need to get clean, then have the conversation. Once - or maybe if - we get there, we may well conclude that oil was unconscionable, and, phew, aren't we lucky the planet survived that bad idea?