Ethical Oil: A truth that’s told with bad intent
beats all the lies you can invent.
by Mike Kaulbars
Nov 5, 2011 –
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then I suppose the ‘Ethical Oil’ Campaign’s [EOC] imitation of campaigns like ‘Conflict Diamonds’ is flattering. However, some of the things that the oil campaign is not imitating include actually caring about the victims they use to promote their cause, any intent to actually change the status quo, honesty about their goals and clients, sincerity, integrity, etc. About as close as they get to admitting their true agenda is putting it in their oxymoron of a name, “Oil.”
It is wonderful to see that the hypocritical sham of Ethical Oil is being tracked and exposed by Emma Pullman at DeSmogBlog, Its Getting Hot in Here, Mother Jones and others, but it’s really not getting as much public visibility as it should. This is particularly needed given the impending American Whitehouse decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline. As such W2CE (WestCoastClimateEquity) will throw our hat in the ring by compiling the oh so many ways the Ethical Oil Campaign is a farce.
The Ethical Oil Campaign (EOC)
The EOC is the brain child of former tobacco lobbyist Canadian Ezra Levant21 with close ties to the Canadian Conservative government, the Alberta Tar Sands and the oil industry generally37. The EOC attempts to demonize various oil producing countries along multiple lines from women’s rights to environmental degradation. As a supposedly ethical alternative to supporting these ‘criminal states’ they say that the only morally correct thing to do is for Canada to produce and the USA to consume oil from the Canadian Tar Sands. In this way we in the West will no longer be supporting those ‘criminal regimes.’
A truth that’s told…
Make no mistake, the many abuses and issues raised by the EOC are valid. There are serious abuses of human rights and the environment in most of the states named. That is not where the problem is. The problem is that this is the only part of the EOC that is true.
…with bad intent
It’s the oil companies, not the governments
Of the many contradictions and hypocrisies in the EOC, one of the most ironic is the fact that while the abuses of human rights and the environment cited by the EOC are permitted by the countries in question, many of the abuses are actually committed by the very oil companies EOC is working on behalf of. The only reason the are not committing identical abuses in Canada is because of laws that the companies lobby intensively to undermine and have removed.
In the ‘Conflict Diamonds’ campaign the focus was not on the countries or the diamonds, but rather how they were being extracted and who controlled and profited from it. In contrast the EOC steers clear of direct references to the extraction of the oil and accompanying processes. Equally they don’t want to talk about the morality of oil itself in a world where climate change is dooming us all. Instead they try to distract the audience by talking about entire countries as some sort of nebulous villain who one should not associate with. 16, 35, 44
Obviously without meaning to EOC and Levant are arguing for toughening up our own legislation with respect to corporate abuse of the environment and human rights, as well as calling for similar laws in the various countries they denigrate. In fact we may suspect them of some sliver of sincerity when they start demanding just such a crackdown on oil companies in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela etc.
Another deception practiced by the EOC is the false choice of either “conflict oil” or Tar Sands oil. Many authors point out that renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are perfectly valid and viable alternatives to “conflict oil” even though they would not profit the individuals and corporations backing the EOC. 35
I would add to this the option of simple conservation. Stroll through any shopping mall and try to find things that people actually need for a life of health, meaning and dignity. Simply by cutting waste, packaging, and the utterly useless dross that fills our society we could halve our energy consumption without any decrease in our quality of life. Actually it would almost certainly improve it.
Human rights campaigns often involve boycotts and other economic sanctions and it is this general knowledge that the EOC is playing on. In fact the EOC is not actually calling for a stop to or limitation of oil imports from the various countries that it defines as sources of “conflict oil.” Rather it calls for the development of the Canadian Tar Sands and leaves it to the audience to draw the false conclusion that this would mean substituting Canadian oil for “Conflict Oil.” Not so.
The development of the Tar Sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline are meant to augment the oil supply from these villainous nations, not replace it. As such there would be no less cash flow to the regimes in question. Further, some of the nations in question have interests in both the Tar Sands and the refineries that would benefit from the Keystone XL Pipeline, so the EOC proposed “solution” would actually increase their profits, not harm them. 7, 16, 18, 35, 39, 48
No actual sanctions means there is no possibility of actually influencing any of the issues that the EOC pretends to be concerned with. That would be fine with them; the EOC is not a human rights campaign, it is a PR campaign meant to look like a human rights campaign. As multiple sources point out, the way you achieve justice for a particular group is by working on justice for that group; not simply by mimicking one of the tools.
The issue of women’s rights, particularly in Saudi Arabia, is the issue that has had the most visibility with respect to the EOC. This is probably due to the fact that the EOC managed to get it’s misleading advertisments aired on Oprah Winfry’s network, undoubtedly to a large extent due to the emphasis on women’s rights. This caused considerable furor as Winfry is typically known as more of a champion for progressive causes rather than an apologist for regressive ones. 12, 17, 25, 33, 34, 41
The many articles calling on Winfry to stop showing the ads expressed the belief she had been hoodwinked, and highlighted a number of the ways in which the EOC is a sham. The main point is that whatever the truth may be about the plight of women in Saudi Arabia and other countries, the EOC would do nothing to change it.
There are those who point out the hypocrisy of Canadian conservatives feigning concern for the plight of women even as the Conservative Government has been cutting women’s programs and services. Some authors have pointed out that actually the Tar Sands seem to have made the women of Alberta less safe as the rates of violence and other crimes against women have increased in the region near the Tar Sands. 35, 41
Update Nov 5 21:30: Memo to Kathryn Marshall: Ethical Oil is a transparent FRAUD.
Today EOC spokesperson Kathryn Marshall continues the spin in a post condescendingly titled “Memo to Jody Williams: Ethical Oil HELPS Women’s Rights.” 47 Needless to say she completely ignores the substantive critiques of the EOC and her previous apologia. Instead she reiterates the same arguments that have already been discredited 18, 41 and throws in some completely irrelevant red herring statistics in a sorry attempt to seem to have facts on her side.
“Canada’s oil sands, responsible for about 6.5 per cent of the country’s human CO2 emissions, are far less carbon intensive than many other industries. Canadian agriculture alone emits more than that, and annual CO2 emissions from U.S. coal plants are more than 40 times higher. “
Apples to oranges much? So to try and make the Tar Sands seem relatively inconsequential she has to compare a single project (the Tar Sands) to entire industries? That pretty much says it all right there.
Even if it were a fair comparison, how does that change the fact that the figure for the Tar Sands is 6.5% (actually more like 8% 1 )? It doesn’t, obviously.
Anyone anxious about climate change has much bigger problems than the oil sands to worry about.”
Clearly we do: spin doctors, corporate apologists and propagandists to name just a few. One can only hope that Tzeporah Berman actually does launch a successful class action suit against the EOC for this egregious and dangerous misinformation. 46
The claim is made that the Tar Sands is somehow good for First Nations; I guess that would explain why First Nations here are almost unanimously opposed to the Tar Sands and the Keystone XL pipeline. 2, 3, 19, 20, 22, 29, 38, 44 Of course relative to the Sudan anything short of outright genocide is better, but it is outrageous to pretend that i) since it is not the worst possible action it is therefor a good thing, and ii) a few jobs are the only relevant impact on First Nations.
Here again, in many cases the ones inflicting the actual human rights violations on First Nations through “conflict oil” are the oil companies themselves. 13, 23, 36 The only reason they would behave any better here is because they are forced to by law (when it is enforced).
The issue of labour is a trickier one in that blue collar workers are divided with respect to the Tar Sands and the XL Pipeline. The unions who would benefit most are predictably for it, even though the actual number and type of jobs expected are well below the industry claims. 24, 39 Other unions that will not benefit from the jobs, but will be part of paying the social and environmental costs, oppose it. 18, 40
Further complicating the issue is the fact that while relatively well paying the Tar Sands jobs are dangerous with potentially serious health impacts. While these jobs may still be better than equivalent jobs in developing countries, are they better than equivalent jobs in the renewable energy field? 16, 43
A bottom line is that the dangerous, low paying, abusive labour conditions that the oil workers in other countries are subjected to are conditions created and maintained by the oil companies themselves. The governments in question either tolerate them or help keep them that way, but it is the oil companies that want those to be the conditions. In many cases the very same oil companies backing the EOC.
If we are talking about the oil fields themselves then it is worth repeating the obvious, that in places like Nigeria and the Amazon it is the oil companies behind the EOC that are causing the environmental disasters. The governments in question may be allowing it to happen, but it is the oil companies who are doing it. 36
To the extent that these companies behave better in Canada it is only because they are compelled to do so by law. Prior to those laws being put in place they behaved just as badly here. Further, they fought those laws tooth and nail when they were proposed and continue to lobby to have them overturned or at least weakened.
The Tar Sands themselves are and will be an environmental catastrophe in addition to, not instead of the environmental degradation that is already occurring. 1, 9, 10, 11, 16, 31, 32, 45 The premise that the environment will somehow be better off if the Tar Sands are developed is absurd.
If the comparison is Canada vs the “conflict oil” countries in question, then the EOC is playing on the perception rather than the reality. With respect to the issue of climate change Canada and the USA are two of the most regressive environmental criminals on the planet. This is true whether you look at CO2 emissions per captia or domestic and international climate policy. Countries like China and Russia, two of the states the EOC tries to demonize, are far ahead of Canada on this most critical of environmental issues. 8, 27
Further it begs the question of what is a fair comparison. I do not have the data, but I wonder how even Nigeria, Venezuela etc compare when one looks at percentage of GDP and mean income relative to spending on environmental protection. When the earnings are 100:1, a difference in allocation of 10:1 is a lot less impressive.
Human Rights Generally
This attempt by the right wing to appropriate the gay rights issue and spin themselves as gay advocates is simply mind boggling. Be that as it may, it begs the question as to whether it is ethical for Canada to be supplying oil to a state that does not recognize same sex marriage?
Then there is the issue that some of the countries which the EOC portrays as criminal states are to a greater or lesser extent client states of the USA (eg Saudi Arabia). Should we be supplying oil to a country that supports these regimes? Is that ethical?
Consider also the recent human rights record of the USA itself: water boarding, rendition, torture by proxy, subjecting civilians to military law, violation of the Geneva Convention, etc. Should the EOC not be demanding that Ethical Oil only go to countries like Holland and Denmark rather than the USA? Should the demand not be to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline until the USA shows a greater regard for human rights?
Here’s another contradiction; given that Canada imports “Conflict Oil” to the eastern provinces, why is the OEC so anxious about the moral correctness of the USA and unconcerned about Canada? Why is the EOC not suggesting that we scrap the Keystone XL Pipeline and instead ship the oil east so that Canada can live ethically? 16 Rhetorical question of course, it’s because the EOC is not and never was about human rights and ethics.
Regardless, the fact remains that the oil industry, ie the corporations the OEC is lobbying for, have an appalling record of human rights violations. 26 They are the ones we should be talking about sanctioning.
This meme is an interesting one in the sense that what the EOC is trying to suggest is that the states in question are internally unstable, and hence there is a potential risk to the West’s steady supply of as much oil as we can consume. However, if we take the term more in it’s historical sense ie oil drives the conflicts, then it is somewhat more nuanced.
Recent history suggests that certain nations do indeed pursue war for oil. If memory serves me correctly that would be the USA, with Canada as the ever eager kid brother along for the ride. If any nations need to be sanctioned for their aggression and military activities with respect to oil, it would be us.
Further, oppressive states do use the military to oppress their people, militarys armed with hardware from Canada and the USA. Where is the OEC call for an arms embargo on these countries? for sanctions and regulation of the arms providers? For prosecution of the military corporations quite coincidentally linked to the corporations backing the EOC itself? The EOC is strangely silent on this aspect of “Conflict Oil.”
Where are the endorsements?
So where are the endorsement of the Ethical Oil campaign from credible Women’s, First Nation, Human Rights, Development and Peace groups? They don’t exist. According to Ethical Oil this is because these organizations are hypocritical freedom, democracy and
America Canada hating Lefites. Actually it is because reputable organizations recognize that “Ethical Oil” is an oxymoronic, hypocritical, self-serving fraud.
“The false dichotomy between ‘ethical’ oil and ‘conflict’ oil is not only offensive and of course insulting … ”
Jody Williams Nobel Peace Laureate; Chair, Nobel Women’s Initiative 18
Yet another consistent lie through the campaign is to raise the question “Where is ____”; eg ‘Canada is more ethical than China, but you don’t hear NGOs criticising China.’ The EOC repeats this mantra about every issue, secure in the knowledge that because most people don’t recall hearing about the various NGO campaigns in the mainstream media they will assume the campaigns do not exist.
Of course these campaigns do exist, a fact easily verified with a few minutes on any search engine. However, confident that 99.9% of their audience will never fact check this lie the EOC pretends to take the moral high ground, and like the rest of the campaign it is completely false.
I have never seen anything quite as audacious as the campaign to rebrand the Tar Sands as “Ethical Oil.” Naomi Klein
The biggest lie
Discovering the plight of women and various other ethical abuses just when the proposed “solution” will earn the supporters of this campaign billions of dollars in profits seems an unlikely coincidence. 4, 5, 6, 7 Particularly given that the “solution” of developing the Tar Sands solves none of those abuses. Of course the abuses in question have existed for decades, a fact that the oil industry has been indifferent to until they thought they could profit from it.
Probably the biggest lie is the pretense that the EOC is concerned about the well being of peoples in the various countries that they denigrate. The truth is that by promoting the Tar Sands, and hence catastrophic climate change, they are working to make the lives of everyone involved much worse.
Transparently hypocritical, disngenuous, disgusting, offensive, insulting, and just a shallow marketing regime are a few of the ways that the EOC has been described. Even members of the business community don’t buy it. 14, 15, 30
“Ethical energy is energy that reaches the starving, not the obese.”
NB: even the Petroleum Economist will not say “ethical oil”, choosing instead “ethical energy.”
Worst of all has to be the fact that the EOC attempts to appropriate the legitimate suffering of oppressed people and use it, not merely for their own profit, but to do so in a manner that will greatly multiply the suffering of those people should the EOC succeed. Along the way they denigrate and dismiss the work of legitimate organizations working to ease the suffering and liberate the victims of oppression.
It is difficult to find words sufficiently harsh to describe how incredibly unethical and completely immoral the EOC is. Words like “vile” and “evil” come to mind, but even they seem inadequate. The Ethical Oil campaign is not merely a vile fraud, it is an obscenity.
A truth that's told with bad intent Beats all the lies you can invent.It is right it should be so; Man was made for joy and woe; And when this we rightly know, Thro' the world we safely go. ~ William Blake 'Auguries of Innocence'
 Dear Oprah…
 Ethical oil and Opec
 Ogoni and Oil
 The Institute