We’re not nearly as green as we think we are
Hypocritical Quebecers are as hopelessly addicted to oil as everyone else
Quebecers, bless our hearts, have the enduring gift of self-righteousness. There is hardly a vexing social issue in the rest of the country — nationalism, women’s rights, immigration, to name a few — that hasn’t first roiled our 1.37 million square kilometres, and we are more egalitarian, more enlightened and certainly more cultured than our brethren beyond our borders as a result.
This haughty sense of self-purpose extends well into the realm of the environment. Simply put, we think we are greener than the rest of the continent. The most recent incarnation of this came with the “pact,” a resolution written by Quebec-based scientists, economists and noted vedettes urging a collective reduction of Quebec’s carbon footprint.
More than 250,000 Quebecers, including dozens of those vedettes, have conspicuously signed since its launch in early November. Premier François Legault outdid this cloying bit of do-goodery with some particularly gobsmacking quotes. “There is no social acceptability for oil in Quebec,” Legault told reporters recently. Oil is “dirty energy,” he said, touting the province’s prowess at developing its vast hydroelectric resources.
I’ve often wondered what hypocrisy smells like. In Quebec, as turns out, it’s long-dead dinosaurs. Because no matter how much we say we hate the stuff, no matter how often our leaders suggest using oil is akin to smoking cigarettes and eating foie gras, we are as hopelessly addicted to the stuff as everyone else.
Consider cars and trucks, the source of one-fifth of greenhouse-gas emissions in the country, according to Prairie Climate Centre data. There are more than 4.7 million personal cars and light trucks on Quebec roads today, an increase of over 35 per cent since 2001.
And consider the types of vehicles Quebecers are buying. Car sales have more or less plateaued in the last eight years; instead, more and more Quebecers are buying trucks and SUVs. In 2001, there were about 843,000 such things on the province’s roads. Today there are well over double that, according to SAAQ data. That they are buying these vehicles regardless of need is itself a product of political hypocrisy. Successive governments have promised to cut carbon emissions, yet none have had the stones to further tax SUVs, the biggest pound-for-pound carbon offenders, at the risk of alienating voters.
All those cars and trucks need gasoline, and Quebec is a vociferous consumer of the stuff. Despite our vaunted hydro-electric grid, oil remains king in the province, accounting for nearly 40 per cent of the province’s energy consumption. (Hydro-electric power is a second at 36 per cent, according to National Energy Board statistics.) Including natural gas, fossil fuels account for over half the province’s energy consumption.
Factory farms are ideal because they detach the consumer from the messy business of killing animals — and I say this as a frequent carnivore. Quebecers, having repeatedly eschewed the messy business of burying pipelines under their feet, benefit from a similar cognitive dissonance.
A lot of our oil comes to us from overseas, via tanker ships, many of which make the regular trip to Montreal and Quebec City refineries. Translation: We pat ourselves on the back for saying no to pipelines, yet shrug as more tankers travel the province’s aquatic lifeline than would otherwise as a result. The rest of our black bounty comes by rail. Five years after the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, a tragedy that viscerally underscored the dangers of oil to human life, a collective amnesia seems to have set in. In fact, rail shipments of oil have only increased, in large part because of Quebec’s ever-increasing demand.
Legault’s greener-than-thou musings has prompted some chest thumping from Canada’s oilpatch, with hundreds of Albertans calling for a boycott of Quebec products. Cheap political posturing ? Sure, but you can hardly blame them. After all, Quebec has been talking green with its tank full for too long.