Vancouver Sun Column. December 20, 2013.
Michael Den Tandt asserts that “ … opponents (of Northern Gateway) have undermined their own argument by citing climate change as a reason to nix the project.” This claim is problematic in several regards.
First, extraction of oil from the oilsands is 3.2 to 4.5 times more energy intensive than other sources. The extraction itself will increase Canada’s carbon footprint and Canada is already among the very worst of 204 countries in per capita carbon emissions.
Second, the idea that if Canada doesn’t provide the oil, someone else will, is suggesting we cave into the logic of the Tragedy of the Commons (TOC). To paraphrase Garrett Hardin, in the TOC scenario, each actor does better in the short run by freely pursuing his or her self interest (polluting the atmosphere) because the rewards are individualized, and the costs are shared. But in the long term, the common resource (the atmosphere) becomes degraded, and everyone is worse off.
Den Tandt claims we should pursue our self interest in exporting oil because others inevitably will. This is somewhat akin to cyclist Lance Armstrong’s argument for doping because others were doing it.
Hardin argued that there isn’t a simple technological solution to most commons dilemmas. His solution to the TOC was a moral one. A little less expediency, and a little more morality, please.
DAVID TINDALL, Associate Professor, UBC, Climate Leader, The Climate Reality Project Canada”
The letter is also available online at: