George Orwell used parody and caricature to expose the propaganda lies of the fascists and communists who threatened humanity in the mid-20th century. Today, his talents are badly needed to counter the propaganda of corporate executives who seek self-enrichment by accelerating the burning of the coal, oil and gas here and abroad.
The world’s leading scientists agree that carbon pollution from burning these fuels is rapidly heating the planet, which will cause massive species extinction and great harm to humanity through increased droughts, storms, floods and ocean acidification. We should not be building new coal mines, oilsands plants, oil pipelines and coal ports unless the users of these fuels capture and store the carbon pollution (which is technically feasible).
The obvious necessity is to stop expanding carbon polluting infrastructure while using trade pressure and diplomacy to work with like-minded jurisdictions in preventing this expansion in all countries. We won’t convince the Chinese to burn less oil and coal if we’re trying to sell them more and burning more ourselves. Difficult as this global task is, there is no other way to prevent the harm scientists predict, some of which is already happening.
This scientific reality creates a challenge for people still bent on increasing carbon pollution for self-enrichment: they need to convince us that the bad they are perpetrating is somehow good. They need to apply the doublespeak that Orwell exposed so effectively in books like1984 and Animal Farm.
Janet Holder is the senior executive at Enbridge responsible for the Northern Gateway pipeline that will expand oilsands production and carbon pollution — in other words that will harm our children. Her opinion piece on Aug. 7 makes sure to say the opposite: “we cherish our extraordinary natural environment and hold very strong convictions about protecting it for our kids and grandkids.” She then explains that her corporation is making sure no oil is spilled on land and sea. She avoids mentioning the devastation to that very land and sea that hers and similar projects would cause through increased carbon pollution and climate change.
Orwell would not be surprised. He would understand that the very person who might — if she succeeds — become the most responsible in B.C. for causing harm to our children and grandchildren would not present herself that way. As he observed, “we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue.”
He would also not be surprised by the litany of false rationalizations used by the promoters of carbon pollution. They tell us “we’re not going to stop using gasoline tomorrow.” In fact, we need to start phasing out the burning of gasoline today so that we won’t be using it in 30 years. Expanding oil infrastructure goes in the wrong direction. Instead, we should be regulating or pricing carbon pollution and using other vehicle and fuel policies to gradually convert our transportation system to some combination of zero-emission electricity and biofuels. And corporations like Enbridge, if they truly had our children’s interests in mind, would be leading the charge in calling for these policies and promoting non-polluting options.
Another false argument is that we need the jobs and tax revenue from oil pipelines and other carbon polluting projects. But should we accept the idea that we can only create a wealth-producing economy in the short-term by destroying our environment and economy in the long-term? Humans have an enormous capacity to generate economic well-being, some of it based on extraction of natural resources in ways that don’t lead to carbon pollution, much of it based on the non-extractive ingenuity unleashed by market economies.
For example, Denmark has the same standard of living as Norway, yet possesses none of its oil. Should we believe that if Norway had forgone exploitation of its oil resources (which it is now deliberately slowing) that its people would today be significantly less well off than their Danish neighbours?
And 10 years ago, BC Hydro believed that we needed to burn natural gas and coal to generate electricity. But in the mid-2000s, our government enacted a zero-emission electricity policy that led to the cancellation of gas and coal projects, and their replacement with generating plants using wood waste, hydropower and wind. These created more jobs and the lights are still on.
The carbon polluters have the self-interest motive and the resources to convince us, and perhaps themselves, that white is black and bad is good. We desperately need another George Orwell.