“Community” and the Alberta oil sands – special issue now out

This special issue on ‘community’ and the Alberta oil sands from the Canadian Journal of Sociology looks very good. Here is the link to the journal page.

Vol 38, No 2 (2013)

Table of Contents

Fort McMurray, Wood Buffalo, and the Oil/Tar Sands: Revisiting the Sociology of “Community” Abstract PDF
Sara Dorow, Sara O’Shaughnessy 121-140
Community by Necessity: Security, Insecurity, and the Flattening of Class in Fort McMurray Abstract PDF
Claire Major, Tracy Winters 141-166
In the Shadows” Exploring the Notion of “Community” for Temporary Foreign Workers in a Boomtown Abstract PDF
Jason Foster, Alison Taylor 167-190
Where is Fort McMurray? The Camera as a Tool for Assembling “Community” Abstract PDF
Andriko Lozowy, Rob Shields, Sara Dorow 191-210
Cautionary Tales: Making and Breaking Community in the Oil Sands Region Abstract PDF
Clinton N. Westman 211-232
Epilogue: Through the Forest of Time Abstract PDF
Sourayan Mookerjea 233-254

Review Essay/Essai bibliographique

Balises pour une lecture croisée des textes de Luhmann sur la religion PDF
Diane Laflamme 255-267


Why are Canadians getting sick from tapwater? – And some other news too

Lots going on in Canadian water lately. There is a new Act going through the house of parliament on drinking water – an Act that some believe will fail First Nations.41spd6fqg1L._SL500_AA300_ Sean Atleo stated that he doesn’t think the Act is anything different from the government (once again) deciding it knows best and enforcing its will on First Nations.

There was also a recent book put out by Chris Wood and Ralph Pentland titled: Down the Drain: How we are Failing to Protect Our Water Resources

The book has been getting some coverage over at The Tyee. And Chris Wood was speaking on CBC’s great show “The Current” yesterday. You can hear that conversation or read a description of it here.

These are all pretty timely given the large spill of “produced water” (which is the wastewater from energy extraction) last week in Northern Alberta.

Yesterday, Alberta announced a voluntary agreement to increase water use efficiency.

And, in addition to the Rosenberg Report on the Mackenzie River Basin last week, the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives issued a report on that makes the case for improved water use reporting in British Columbia (PDF).

The end(s) of ethical oil: connecting dots on radicalism and re-regulation in Canada

A couple of years ago, a triumphant Ezra Levant pilloried opposition to Alberta’s Oil Sands on a simple premise: we all need oil, so it is best to buy from producers that respect human rights. Today, the “ethical oil” profiteers argue that Canada is not compromised by selling oil, or control over it, to countries (China in particular) with abysmal track records on everything that supposedly made buying our own oil so great: human rights, fair wages, democracy… the list goes on. I think I get the logic: yesterday’s moralizing is today’s norm.

Now, having created the narrative, it is necessary to police its boundaries. Such as through spying on environmental activists deemed a threat to national security.

But I’d like to revisit the ‘ethical oil’ narrative, the poverty of its logic and to connect it to re-regulation in Canada.

Ethical oil: as bad as you remember

Perhaps it has been awhile since Ezra Levant’s book, Ethical Oil, fell off your nightstand. If so, here is a quick re-cap. Levant pitches his arguments in a thought experiment designed to convince 20-somethings studying vegetarianism at McGill University that, since we all need oil, its better to develop the Alberta’s bitumen deposits than it is to buy oil from countries with paltry records on human rights or working conditions. The conclusion? There is not only an economic reason for developing the Canadian Oil Sands, there are moral reasons as well.

In addition to the poor reasoning of Levant’s book that I’ve noted previously, almost any student of vegetarianism will likely read Peter Singer. And these students would only get a few pages into one of his central works, Practical Ethics, before they would read a statement like this: one of the central tenets of ethical reasoning is that you cannot start out with premises that intrinsically favor certain groups over others.

Most of us recognize this logic straightaway; its unethical to begin with ideas of male superiority in decisions about gender equity. But either Levant doesn’t see this, or he reasons poorly. Either way, Ethical Oil is, in its sloppy normative rhetoric, simply a statement that if you like Canada better then buy oil from it. But I think we can do better than Ezra.

 Fast-forward to re-regulation

Move ahead a few years in Canadian politics, and the ‘ethical oil’ campaign has now entrenched its narrative. In fact, it is increasingly the case that the entire country has its economic future (at the very least its fortunes) pinned on the price of Alberta bitumen, at least according to the federal finance minister.

Once seen in this context, the dramatic re-regulation of Canadian environmental laws in 2012 becomes more clear as a not-so-subtle outworking of a moral argument. And it helps to explain why an industry letter on environmental regulations [PDF] predicts so many of the actual legislative changes.

Today, Reuter’s is reporting that Canada is close to releasing its emissions plans for the Oil Sands. It will be very interesting to see what those plans entail. Canada has had 4 environment ministers in the last 7 years. All of them have said similar things, and so I’m not holding my breath.

One thing that is worth noting is that the moral ends of ethical oil are now in the maintenance of the policy norms it sought to install. And so there is a dramatic narrowing of the vision of public policy: one that conflates ill-conceived moral ends with those of political economy.

Alberta’s Oil: sustainable development vs. the race for what’s left

There is a lot, and somehow an ever-heightening, showdown playing out regarding bitumen in Alberta. And it is playing out as a global drama where everything rides on just one pipeline: Keystone XL.

Last week, Canada’s Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development, Scott Vaughan, issued what will be the last report under his tenure. Among other things, it dedicated an entire chapter to the federal support of the fossil fuel sector [PDF]. The entire report can be found here, which is much more wide ranging, and considers Arctic energy, liabilities for environmental accidents and marine protection.

Also last week, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, John Baird, met with John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state. On the agenda was Keystone XL, a proposed pipeline that would transport somewhere around 500-700 000 barrels of bitumen per day to the large refineries on America’s gulf coast.

As has been on-going for awhile now, there is considerable opposition to Keystone XL, with a day of action planned for February 17, if I’m not mistaken.

That day of action will take place in the context of two vastly different approaches (both replete with their own “science and facts” agenda) to the Oil Sands.

Canada’s political position is crystal clear. Get the pipeline built and get the oil flowing. That position has not changed for some time, and was reiterated last Saturday (Feb 9, 2013) by the Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver on CBC Radio’s program The House (listen here). The facts that support this argument rest on arguing that, proportionately, Canadian bitumen is a very small sliver of carbon production pie – one certainly dwarfed by coal, or the oil consumption of larger economies. The news out this morning that Alberta is developing a new oil development strategy to get its resources to market.


On the other side, folks like Bill McKibben and Michael Klare (author of “The Race for what’s left), are so opposed to this one pipeline that it is taking on planetary importance. Klare’s recent essay  argues the pipeline portends the end of (what is left of) climate stability. And that Obama’s decision on the pipeline could “change the world.”

In this context, a very interesting article also came out last week on Open Canada, which is a great source of thoughtful debate. The article is by Jim MacNeill, the lead author of the Brundtland Commission report on Sustainable Development published in 1987.

Here is the first paragraph of his article, which is very interesting given the current debate, which is positioned ever more between ‘sustainable development’ and crisis discourses from all sides (the global economy, the global climate, the global supply of resources, and so on):

Brundtland Revisited

“Exactly 25 years have passed since the Brundtland Commission presented its landmark report, Our Common Future, to the United Nations General Assembly, which, following an extensive debate, endorsed the commission’s call for a rapid global transition to more sustainable forms of development. I was the secretary-general and a member of the commission at the time. During a recent conference in the Netherlands, I was asked to look back on our work during the mid-’80s and comment on the progress – or the lack of progress – since then. I was also asked to look ahead and examine the prospects of getting off the largely unsustainable path we are still on.  This article is based on those remarks. While my conclusions will seem pessimistic to some, I believe they offer some prospect of a turnaround toward a more sustainable future, providing Mother Nature doesn’t suffer a terminal heart attack before we finally get our act together – terminal not for planet Earth, of course, which is in no danger, but for the narrow range of conditions that enable human life to thrive on it.” READ MORE HERE.