Green Oil author Satya Das charts course for clean energy future

Book combines climate change politics with Alberta economics, the royalty debate and an awful lot of report summaries

December 01, 2009

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However, beyond supporting a technology fix, there is little political will for drastic action on the socio-environmental or corporate takeover fronts. Like it or not, Albertans, by continuing to vote for the same party, tacitly support the status quo. Das has been on the scene too long to count on voters to elect a different political party. The Progressive Conservatives have won big majorities since 1971 in booms as well as in busts, when Peter Lougheed created the AEC half of EnCana and in the different era when Ralph Klein sold off the government stake in the enterprise.

This does not mean that Albertans approve of the way that the oil sands are handled. Polls by everyone from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers to its Pembina Institute critics show widespread popular concern about environmental effects of bitumen development and the resource management regime. The government has maintained a hands-off approach with relatively mild regulation, while referring ecological and developmental problems to committees that produce lengthy and thorough reports. The most that many of these reports will accomplish is to make it into summaries in the fifth chapter of the Green Oil book.

Das is no conspiracy theorist. He does not blame the government’s oil sands approach, or the province’s explosive economic growth and world’s second-lowest oil royalties, on an industrial-political establishment. That charge he leaves to radical environmental groups. Instead, he blames timidity among politicians.

He does not call for a coup. He urges Albertans to call on their current leaders for “strength to act on their convictions,” which he must assume mirror those expressed in public opinion polls.

“We know we have the body of knowledge. We have the capacity. We need the leadership. We need to get people to say ‘Act on this now.’”

The question is: act on what?

Das believes people should engage their MLAs by presenting them with demands based on his six recommendations. He thinks Albertans should rise up and force their politicians to exert world-class leadership in cleaning up fossil fuel production and suddenly become proactive in environmental innovation and social programming.

But his book misses one big point. If Alberta keeps on producing oil, no matter how cleanly, someone will always consume it and that’s where most emissions are generated. Or maybe Das doesn’t miss the point. After all, he is not so much arguing that Alberta should save the world from environmental devastation as he is that more public money should be extracted from the oil sands and used to buffer the province against the possibility of a future shift in energy sources and greater need for social spending. In a period when government involvement in the private sector is on the rise, free market capitalism is under siege, unemployment is running high, and the need for fiscal stimuli all but guarantees an increase in government spending, his recommendations may be right on time.

Patrycja Romanowska is a former Alberta Oil associate editor, a mother and a bicycle commuter who is currently completing a graduate degree in economics.

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