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Alberta Oil Sands

john kenneth galbraith on alberta’s oil sands: wwjkgd?

In the face of growing American skepticism of Alberta’s oilsands operations, it appears that Premier Ed Stelmach is assembling a Tarsands Coalition of the Willing this week as Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and Idaho Governor Butch Otter have jumped on board the bitumen train.

I can only suspect that the Governors of Montana and Idaho have about as much influence on the direction of American energy policy as the Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz would on Canadian energy policy (and so go my chances of becoming Premier of Prince Edward Island anytime soon…).

A couple of months ago, I picked up John Kenneth Galbraith‘s book The Good Society: A Human Agenda. Born in Iona Station, Ontario, Galbraith had a long career as a working for the Presidencies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, as American Ambassador to India from 1961 to 1963, and serving as the President of the American Economic Association. He was an Officer of the Order of Canada and was a two-time recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom (awarded to him by both Truman and Bill Clinton). He also taught economics at Harvard University and was the author of over 30 books.

Though I wouldn’t rush to agree with all of his findings, after reading Galbraith’s handbook for a compassionate and fiscally sound nation, I would recommend that Stelmach, Schweitzer, Otter, and the seemingly untouchable energy executives in the comfort of their downtown office towers (this means you Charlie Fischer at Nexen, Tom Katinas at Syncrude, Rick George at Suncor, Bruce March at Imperial Oil, and friends) put this book on their summer reading list. The exert below, from Galbraith’s chapter on the environment, was one that I believe is particularly relevant to Alberta in the context of how we exploit our oil sands (with their 50 square kilometers of tailings ponds filled with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and naphthenic acids).

“The market system and its incentives are an accepted part of the good society; this is not in doubt. But there is no divine right of free-enterprise, or free choice, for the producing firm. Or for its consumers. The largest community interest must be protected, as also the future climate and well-being, and there must be concern as to depleatable resources. Since automobiles must be built, have fuel and be driven, and other consumer goods and services must similarly be supplied and utilized, a compromise between the current financial and long-term public interests in essential and inevitable. As a broad rule, however, this compromise must favor the larger community interest and the interest of those to come. That is because the business and political voice and money are allied with the current economic power – with the firms that produce the goods and services, their lobbies and captive or susceptible politicians. The community and the longer public future draw on less specific support.”

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