Learning to use energy on a moral and human scale is one of the most pressing challenges facing industrialized countries today, says one of North America’s leading investigative journalists.
Andrew Nikiforuk, who won the Governor General’s Literary Award for non-fiction with his book Pandemonium; Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig’s War against Oil, was the guest speaker at a presentation held at Provincial Building in Rimbey April 12.
About 50 people attended Nikiforuk’s presentation, sponsored by the Rimbey Chapter of the National Farmers’ Union and Radcap (Rimbey and District Clean Air People).
During his presentation, Nikiforuk spoke about the material contained in his latest book, The Energy of Slaves, Oil and the New Servitude. In this moral and philosophical book he compares the practice of slaveholding with the way oil is used and abused today.
He noted the slave trade, in its prime, was one of the most profitable enterprises on the planet and slaveholders looked at critics much in the same way oil companies regard environmentalists.
Nikiforuk refers to a quote from Israeli journalist Amira Hass he believes holds true for himself, as well.
“’It is our job as journalists to monitor the centre of power,’” Hass said. “In Alberta oil and gas is the most powerful industry.”
He stressed Albertans are the rightful owners of their own resources and they need to take charge of how those resources are looked after.
“They need to act like owners and exercise discretion over the pace and scale of development,” he said.
Nikiforuk noted 30 per cent of government revenue comes from oil and gas production.
“As a consequence one-third of our hospitals, roads and schools are directly funded by big oil.”
The well-known author and public speaker sees the environmental, financial and political picture as getting worse before it gets better.
“Change is coming one way or another. The first stage of the energy crisis is financial problems and we are seeing that already in the U.S., Europe and Japan.
He said in an effort to smooth over the effects the oil and gas industry is having on the environment oil companies will do everything they to create the illusion that “it’s business as usual and things are fine.”
For several years, Nikiforuk has advocated for a national debate about the pace and scale of oil sands development. And since 2010 he has endorsed a conservative and Norweigian-like solution to Alberta’s chaotic bitumen development. This solution was originally voiced by Alberta’s former premier, the late Peter Lougheed.
Slow down. Behave like an owner. Collect our fair share. Save for the rainy day. Approve one project at a time. Clean up the mess. Add value to the resources.
“To Lougheed’s original list, I would add a national carbon tax,” he said.
Rapid oil sands development combined with the ruinous impact of petro revenues on government coffers has seriously polluted Canada’s politics and undermined its economic and environmental security,” he said. “It has transformed the country into another dismal petro state.”
Nikforuk has won seven National Magazine Awards since 1989 and top honors for investigative writing from the Canadian Association of Journalists.
The Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of the Continent, which criticized the pace and scale of the world’s largest energy project, was a national bestseller and won the 2009 Rachel Carson Environment Book Award and was also listed as a finalist for the Grantham Prize for Excellence in Reporting on the Environment.
Empire of the Beetle, an account of how one tiny bug reshaped the geography of the west, was a Governor General’s nominee for non-fiction in 2011.
Sharon Caswell, from the Rimbey area, who attended the presentation, was pleased with the turnout.
“Hopeful he opened a few more eyes,” she said.
Ken Stemo from Rimbey also enjoyed the presentation.
“He let us know the path we are on is not sustainable. Oil is harder and harder to get and more and more expensive.”
Stemo noted Nikforuk’s talk helped increase awareness about how the fossil fuel industry has taken over and history shows civilizations can collapse when they become too dependent on one resource.
“We have to do what we can do and be aware of where we are.”