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Rex Murphy (Deborah Baic)
Rex Murphy (Deborah Baic)

Rex Murphy

The oil sands have been Gored Add to ...

Well, it was a very calm and totally unexceptional week, nothing to ruffle the nerves or agitate the conscience. Things rolled demurely along and, in words that Pierre Trudeau borrowed from an inscription that ornaments many an old hippie dish cloth, the universe was very placidly "unfolding as it should." Everything was normal, predictable and just so right.

Mr. Al Gore came to Toronto (there will be deep sales on winter parkas as a result, I am sure - as being no longer necessary, you understand) and was his ever and delightfully cheerful, buoyant self. I took in a headline concerning his visit from one of The Globe's sister dailies in this great and occasionally cold city and smiled back at the paper. "Oil sands threaten our survival, Gore warns" - that was the valentine from our Earth's very own climate plenipotentiary. From the headline, I mistakenly thought he was merely talking about the survival of the physical planet - boiling core, tectonic plates, crust, oceans, mountains, plains, prairies, cities and outports - the lot, but the sentence under the headline offered a heartening expansion. The oil sands jeopardize "the survival of our species."

It was us, the Homo sapiens crowd, our climate Jeremiah was speaking of. We were doomed, all of us. And it was Alberta's fault. He made it very clear. Further on in the article, the "jet-hopping environmental activist," as he was described therein, noted his words would not make him popular in Alberta, but no mind, speak out he must because "the future of human civilization [is]at stake."

I received this as very encouraging news. For what I took from both headline and story was that the great science-is-settled climate crisis has been drastically foreshortened. It's been localized. It has, as the bard put it, a local habitation and a name: It's the oil sands and it's Alberta.

On prior visits, Mr. Gore had set alarms off in all directions. The threat was variegated and multipronged, a great cabal of nature-haters and conscienceless tycoons. It was a combination of slope-browed naysayers - the Harper government, the U.S. Congress, a gaggle of Exxon-zombies and the oil plutocracy, packs of renegade scientists, anarchist meteorologists, perverse columnists and mischievous statisticians that were holding the world to ransom, and leading us all down the rosy humid path to a sauna-bath of an Armageddon.

Mr. Gore backed up his new more limited prospectus, by the way, with a terrifically engaging disquisition on the differences between a gas tank of a Prius and that of a Hummer but this got far, far too technical for me. I can take off a hubcap but classification systems, taxonomies make me dizzy. As between genus Prius and genus Hummer, well I give up - it would take an advanced degree in Detroitology to sort out the subtleties. Besides, when Al goes technical, I lay off the Sominex.

But, if the calm declaratives of the headline and the lead sentence were anything to go by the range of agency, what's causing all this menace, has been strictly delimited. It's the oil sands that threaten the survival of our kind. It's not every day that we are simultaneously faced with a threat to the very survival of our species and told almost in the same breath that it comes from - in global terms - so picayune a cause.

The oil sands may be a deep gouge in Alberta's northern earth, but in comparison with the frantic industrialization of all of China with its 1.3 billion people and its coal-fired plants going on line every week, or the great leaps that India and its population of 1.2 billion is making toward a modern economy - the oil sands are a mere pit stop on the broad raceway to our ecological doom.

But carbon entrepreneur Gore put it out as an equation that the oil sands are the problem. "Oil sands threaten our survival, says Gore." You can see why I was reassured. If that's the only problem, the solution is at hand. Another equation. Stop the oil sands. All of us survive.

It is very refreshing when the possible extinction of the human race can be reduced to such manageable practicalities.

But, you know, I had a very naughty thought. Mr. Gore was, after all, speaking in Toronto. Was it even slightly possible he villainized the oil sands during his Toronto visit - not quite the same thing as doing it in Fort McMurray - knowing it was both safe and provocative. Were we seeing a little of that famous political guile that almost - almost, mind you - brought him victory over the wily, deep-thinker George Bush coming into play here? As I say, it was an unworthy thought and I repent it.

What I now take away from all this is very simple. The oil sands are the problem. Cancel them. We're saved. Civilization is saved. Global warming over. And Al can rest.

It was such a calm and reassuring week.

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