Obscurantism and the Gateway Pipeline

Pipeline to Prosperity” (P2P) appeared in the Feb. 1 edition of the Manitoban’s comment section. Instead of just critiquing that article, I will do what I think the author of P2P should have done and briefly outline one of the main reasons so many oppose the Gateway Pipeline, how this relates to the concepts of “sustainable development,” economic growth, and the foundation of what I see as the logical fallacies that make up P2P.

Sustainable development itself is a concept fraught with paradoxes and conmen. We now live in a culture where we are inundated with green imagery, green solutions, and many corporations have seized upon a perceived opportunity to saturate the market with (allegedly) more environmentally friendly products. This is a problem because many of the products that we are told are “green” aren’t and simply function to feed into the same old loop of unsustainable consumption.

This is one facet of what is referred to as “green-washing”: a campaign to actively deceive consumers into believing that by buying that “green” shampoo and driving that hybrid, they’re really making a difference. The more sustainable option would be not driving everywhere, and not showering seven days a week. Buying products with prefixes like “eco” and suffixes like “friendly” attached to them isn’t enough to “save the environment”; they may affect a temporary boost to the buyer’s sense of self, possibly making them more aware of their consumer habits.

What is needed is a cultural paradigm shift, away from the deification of consumption, “job security” — any jobs, lots of jobs, more jobs — and the perpetuation of the status quo, to an outlook that readily acknowledges the environmental and long-term economic concerns associated with furthering our addiction to petroleum. Many detest the tar sands and pipelines because they see anachronism in the reinforcement of unsustainable practices overriding attempts to wean away from the coarsened teat of fossil fuel.

In North America right now there are few topics more political than the proposed Gateway Pipeline. This is because it has everything to do with politics and ideology: the politics of consumer culture and our addiction to a resource that could spell our demise; the hegemony of internal combustion technology; and a distorted view of what constitutes “sustainable development.” In P2P we are to take solace in being told that this isn’t a matter of “politics,” it is about what is and what is not “common sense” — one of the foundational logical fallacies that I think makes up the article.

Here’s a smattering of examples: “Those who oppose projects like the Northern Gateway Pipeline are allowing politics to interfere with common sense . . . Allowing emotion to override logic on this issue could have a devastating impact on our future economic success . . . Those who wish to shut down this pipeline to make a political statement need to ask themselves whether the potential loss of jobs and economic growth is worth it . . . ” (emphasis added).

The arguments made by opponents of the Gateway Pipeline are mostly omitted, or set up as straw man arguments, and repeatedly framed against a backdrop of false dichotomies: emotional versus logical judgments, politics versus pragmatism, and, lastly, of “common sense” versus pinko pie-in-the-sky nonsense.

We are expected to believe that pipelines are a “win-win,” the result of an honest, logical assessment of the need for more Canadian jobs and continuing international relations with those who will be buying our oil, namely China and India. “Logical” again figures as the operative word — I found no valid premise explored in this endorsement of the further exploitation of Canada’s natural resources.

This is a matter of conflicting, polarized ideologies: some are content to challenge the ethos of a petroleum-based culture; others are focused on holding off a reckoning, resisting that challenge and preserving the status quo under the guises of “job creation” and prosperity.

We don’t need this pipeline; it won’t make or break our economy.

“There will come a time when oil is not our main source of energy,” Fernando says, implying that we do not yet have a viable alternative energy source. No consideration is given to the fact that petroleum is a limited resource or that the “costs” of extraction are increasing exponentially. The destruction of long tracts of the Great Bear Rainforest — the last intact temperate rainforest on earth — is not mentioned in P2P.

“Some people go as far as saying we need to stop using fossil fuels . . . If this is their view, they need to explain what the alternative is. If they don’t have one, then their energy could be better used studying alternative energy sources and coming up with solutions . . . If the energy that was put into stopping or slowing economic progress was put into researching and testing solutions we could make improvements in energy usage even faster than we do today.”

This is similar to saying: if you haven’t devoted your life to personally engineering renewable technologies, than you’re better off shipping to Fort McMurray to help our proud brothers up north on the tar sands, while we wait for the few qualified engineers to figure out the problem. This is an appeal to the “technology will save us from ourselves” fallacy.

The middle ground is glossed over here, and throughout the article. One of the more ironic moments is the mention of this not being a “black and white” issue. Of course it isn’t, but the statement seems completely out of line with the one-sided arguments I found in P2P.

P2P caricaturizes the debate as a matter of “common sense” and “logic” versus pie-in-the-sky thinking, and practical economic strategy versus ecological obstructionism: a rhetorical tactic commonly employed by Canada’s current government.

You won’t win the votes of intellectual Gateway supporters arguing in this manner. But maybe they don’t exist.


Bryce Hoye is the science editor of the Manitoban.

3 Comments on "Obscurantism and the Gateway Pipeline"

  1. “Those who wish to shut down this pipeline to make a political statement need to ask themselves whether the potential loss of jobs and economic growth is worth it . . . ” ”

    One of the things that remains low key in a lot of what I read is the huge risk to JOBS in BC.. a tanker spill could impact 200,000 workers and businesses! The pro pipeliners don’t want the rest of Canada to know what we on the BC coast already know.. A spill would ruin us! It would destroy our livelihoods, our environment, our peace of mind and our economy.. all it would take is one OOOPS!

  2. Sherri Ingrey | February 15, 2012 at 10:54 am |

    nice intellectual take, but the original remarks should not have been published in my opinion. The fact is that while we are stuck with this toxic substance, we should at the very very least be using it for the benefit of Canadian consumers. Selling our resources to a country with a horrible ecological and human rights record, or selling it to any foreign interest is insane and there is precedent to show that it will steal jobs from Canadians. The other precedents are that Cons selling off their resources in the past are now BUYING all their PNG….

    • “nice intellectual take, but the original remarks should not have been published in my opinion.”

      Well, that’s depressing, especially for an otherwise well-reasoned comment. Should Manitoban writers be forbidden from taking on a pro-pipeline position?

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