“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” So goes the Serenity Prayer, recited around the world in 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Another place where the credo should be mandatory reading? Any and every discussion about the future of Canada’s oil and gas industry, and how it fits with our obligation to lower greenhouse-gas emissions.
What would happen if we took the mantra to heart? We’d be Norway.
The Nordic social democracy is an oil and gas superpower, just like Canada. In fact, its high standard of living is even more dependent on fossil fuels, as it produces and exports more than Canada, relative to its population. Norway’s industry is also expanding, and since the invasion of Ukraine its rising natural gas production has helped Europe disconnect from Russian gas. Norway’s government is not trying to shut down or diminish its biggest industry. Quite the contrary.
But petro-superpower Norway also has a much better environmental record than Canada. For example, drivers face high carbon and fuel taxes, with the price of gasoline in Oslo the equivalent of around $3 a litre. Nine out of 10 cars sold this year are fully or partly electric. The country is also aggressively moving to lower emissions from oil and gas production. Put it all together and Canada’s greenhouse-gas emissions per capita are 130 per cent higher than Norway’s.
Canada should have the courage to do as Norway is doing, the serenity to not do as Norway is not doing, the wisdom to know the difference – and the self-awareness to talk honestly about it.
What is within Canada’s power to change? How much carbon we emit within our own borders. What’s beyond Canada’s control? How much carbon the rest of the world chooses to emit – and how much or how little demand there is beyond our borders for carbon-based fuels.
Norway gets this. Does Canada?
Conservative politicians would mostly prefer to pretend the environmental imperative doesn’t exist, and the last thing they want to talk about is how voters might have to pay so much as one red cent to reduce pollution. Politicians on the left would prefer not to mention that the oil and gas industry represents one-fifth of Canada’s exports, with its royalties and revenues playing a significant role in all of our incomes.
To slow global warming, the world needs to burn less and less fossil fuel. That’s not an arguable proposition. But even if Canada shuttered the oil patch tomorrow, it would have little to no impact on global demand for oil and gas. It would, however, cost our economy hundreds of billions of dollars, and the money would instead end up in the pockets of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia. That’s also not an arguable proposition.
Last fall and earlier this month, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed to temporary cuts in oil output, in a bid to boost prices in the face of a slowing global economy. The cuts add up to nearly four million barrels a day, or about two-thirds of Canada’s output. In other words, if Canadian oil disappeared tomorrow, Autocrats R Us would laugh all the way to the bank. Riyadh and Tehran and Moscow would be able to pump more oil while enjoying higher prices per barrel. It would be a win for them but a double loss for us, because absent an enforceable global agreement lowering fossil-fuel demand, this big whack to our economy would deliver approximately zero environmental gain for the planet.
Norway understands that. Does Canada?
In fairness, Canada is stumbling its way toward a Norwegian strategy, though nowhere near as aggressively or honestly. The Trudeau government talks loudly about greenhouse-gas reductions, as it should. But it’s less eager on the subject of how it bought an oil pipeline to the Pacific so that it will get built, or how it is committed to the completion of LNG Canada, Canada’s first liquid natural gas export project. The Liberals know how much of our prosperity is tied to oil and gas, but they don’t think their voters want to hear it.
And though conservatives from coast to coast never fail to make a big show of opposing carbon pricing – the right to cheap gas having somehow become a core tenet of Canadian conservative ideology – even Alberta’s government has quietly gone along with a push to lower oil sands emissions.
And then there’s Norway. It’s a more left-wing country than Canada by most measures: higher taxes, more income redistribution, richer social programs, less inequality, less poverty. And of course those high environmental standards.
But at the same time, its motto might as well be “Drill, Baby, Drill.” As long as the global market wants oil and gas, Norway will strive to provide the cleanest oil and gas possible – and as much as possible.
Norway lives in the real world. Does Canada?