The typical young Canadian professional's engagement with the oilsands is like this: You pull your smart phone out and skim through your social media feed. You see post after post about the Canadian oilsands and its negative impact on the environment. You see countless re-posts about celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio protesting Canada's poor environmental standards. After a quick read you "like" the post or possibly share it with a short comment to the effect of "This needs to change!" You lock your smart phone and head out the door with a new sense of accomplishment, thinking to yourself "I just effectively contributed to the debate on the oilsands." But what exactly did you really accomplish?
We looked at the $1.3 billion in taxpayer money our federal government currently hands to the oil industry in the form of subsidies and asked: what if, instead of subsidizing polluters, the money was invested in industries that cut pollution? We crunched the numbers and found that $1.3 billion invested in renewable energy or energy efficiency could create between 18,000-20,000 jobs.
Basing our national energy strategy on the oil industry would would lead to too many emissions and too few jobs. Increasing our dependence on oil drives up the Canadian dollar which in turn hurts export-oriented sectors like manufacturing and forestry. The petro-dollar also makes our economy vulnerable to the boom and bust cycles typical of oil. In short, it's unwise to put all our eggs in an oily basket.
The Council of the Federation meeting of provincial premiers -- which wrapped up last week in Halifax, Nova Scotia -- hit an important milestone: It placed the opportunity of the low-carbon transition and the imperative to finally do something about climate change squarely at the center of the Canadian energy agenda.