Let’s have the right debate

While the piping of Albertan oil through B.C. may bring money, will this windfall cover the cost of its impact?

Well, there’s nothing quite like government approval of a controversial fossil-fuel pipeline to draw a line between opposing camps.

And we can certainly appreciate the arguments made on both sides of the debate.

Undoubtedly, there are buckets of money residing under Alberta’s soil, and the only way to bank it is to get the bitumen to willing buyers waiting abroad. And, hey, jobs! Jobs! Jobs! At least, during the construction phase.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Well, flowing crude has a nasty tendency to flow into aquifers and coastlines when things go wrong. When it does, it poses a potential life-and-death risk to flora and fauna. And what if the preponderance of scientific evidence pointing to anthropogenic global warming is right?

Announcements like the Harper government’s approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline create a sense of urgency among both supporters (let’s get this built and get the money rolling in!) and opponents (we’ve got to stop this before the first blade goes in the ground, or there may be no stopping it).

The fact is, this project is years — and legal challenges, and “meaningful” consultation with First Nations — away from happening.

In the meantime, what Canada really needs is a genuine debate on its long-term energy future. It’s fine to maximize profit potential that already exists, but at what cost? The carbon pulled from the earth to pad next quarter’s profit statement is carbon destined for our grandchildren’s breathing air, for their ever-warming biosphere.

What are we leaving them in this rush to capitalize on the planet’s insatiable need for “cheap” energy? Will they enjoy the lifestyle, culture and natural beauty that we have today? Will there still be killer whales and humpbacks to draw visitors? Salmon to feed their families and facilitate First Nations ceremonies?

Cashing in on Alberta’s crude today does not constitute a long-term energy strategy. Yes, there’s money in it.

But there’s no future in it.