We’re not nearly as green as we think we are

Hyp­o­crit­i­cal Que­be­cers are as hope­lessly ad­dicted to oil as ev­ery­one else

Calgary Herald - - OPINION - MARTIN PA­TRIQUIN Martin Pa­triquin is a writer based in Que­bec. Twit­ter.com/mar­t­in­pa­triquin

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.

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