Rolling drunk on petroleum

This week, columnist Rob Brown draws inspiration from Kurt Vonnegut

“Dear Future Generations, Please accept our apologies. We were rolling drunk on Petroleum.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Jim, who, if they had such a category in the Guinness Book, would hold the record for the most meetings attended in one lifetime, set up the meeting. At a public forum hosted by the Albertan gas company intending a natural gas line up the Clore Valley, Jim button-holed one of the heavy hitters and badgered him into a private session.

When Al and I arrived at the Elephant’s Ear, Jim was already there with a young woman representing the gas company. After introductions she passed out business cards. Neither Jim nor Al had cards, so I gave her my Terrace Mountain Guitar School card and suggested, half in jest, that if she wanted a few guitar lessons while in Terrace, she should feel free to give me a shout. As we sipped, she told us her boss, Joe, was tied up, but would join us shortly.

I asked her how long she’d been with the gas men.

Not long she said, then added that before joining them, she’d trained to be, then worked,  in environmental assessment.

Do you believe in climate change? I asked.

She hesitated, obviously taken aback.

I assured her that I was not trying to attack her but rather give her a clear and honest picture of where I stood. Jim and Al, will probably do likewise, I suggested. Doing this, I said, will enable us to more expeditiously determine if anything meaningful can be accomplished between us. I then went on to tell her that I firmly believed that climate change was the overarching problem, and that our survival as a species depended on moving away from fossil fuels. I offered that natural gas, though perhaps not as bad as coal, petroleum, and bitumen, was still a significant contributor to the global greenhouse and extracting in from shale shelves was environmentally reprehensible.

At this point, Joe arrived, shook our hands, and dealt his cards. I looked at mine. Following his name were a P. Eng. and a Phd.

You don’t get to be a Professional Engineer and a Doctor of Philosophy by being stupid and ignorant. I immediately assumed Joe was familiar with the perils of Climate Change, appreciated the enormous contribution the fossil fuel industry was making to the problem, knew of the scientific consensus on Climate Change, understood the precautionary principle, and that he was familiar with the grave warnings issued by the United Nations on the matter.

Al picked up where I’d left off. The meeting veered away from practical matters, like potential problems in the construction phase and mitigation, and moved to a broader and more important realm.

Al asked Joe how he reconciled his job with global warming. Joe squirmed and waved his arms. He had an obligation to his company and his team, he said. Yes, he agreed that there were environmental problems, but they were outside his department.

And there it was, the nut of the issue. To rationalize, Joe compartmentalized, as if doing so would wash away all his corporation’s responsibilities on the matter.

What about your responsibility to your fellow citizens and your family? asked Al.

Joe spun his first statement on the issue, and essentially gave the same answer all fossil fuel corporations and their minions do. The fossil fuel corporations exist and profit because they operate within society. They operate on a global scale. Their exertions have a global effect. They have, therefore, a corporate responsibility to ensure that their actions are not detrimental to the global community. It’s clear, then, they are obligated to phase themselves out in favour of sustainable energy.

This is something they can do given that they are the richest entities the world has ever known. They need to use their enormous wealth to underwrite a shift to green energy production. Good governments would force them to do this, but sadly the same corporations have used their immense wealth to co-opt and enfeeble governments the world over. The US Government is in the thrall of the fossil fuel industry. Our PM is an ex-oil man and the son of an oil man, who has shown he will do anything to aid and abet Big Oil. And, we have a premier who sees her legacy in Big Gas.

The Fossil Fuel Corporations have decided that their commitment to profits and superior value for their shareholders trump their responsibility  to humanity.  What is the result? If we use war as an analogy, weather becomes the enemy. Pumping out enormous amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere provides arms to the enemy it subsequently uses to pound us with increasing ferocious storms many orders of magnitude stronger than nuclear strikes.

Acidification of the seas, air and water contamination, and the destruction of the natural world are fallout from this war, yet the largest arms dealers, like the infamous Koch brothers, spend billions on PR campaigns designed to muzzle scientists and convince the masses that climate change doesn’t exist.

We can only hope that shareholders wake up and realize that it’s entirely possible their solid returns are purchased at the price of killing their grandchildren.