Murray takes a trip to a far-off island and sees some familiar issues.
Our eldest son has dropped anchor where his partner grew up, on a small island off a big island off Vancouver, Canada. It’s more than 12,000km from our Dunedin block to this island, but we found many social discussions were the same. Pick up a copy of the local, free, rural newspaper, Country Life, and you see familiar headlines: • Demand for land drives farmland prices higher • Rising wine sales boosts demand for red grapes • Flooding wallops southern interior • Minimum wage hike squeezes farm margins
Canadian President Justin Trudeau is pushing for tar sand oil, and (oxymoronically) touting carbon withdrawal. Alberta is all for it, like our West Coasters advocating coal.
Tar sand oil is a messy mix of sand, clay, water, and bitumen (a semi-solid crude oil). It’s mined from forests in Alberta, 1200km to the north-east.
But here in British Columbia they know every tanker-load of that oil will have to pass through their pristine wilderness – for no local gain – and that has their dander up.
They will lose the fight to stop it, short term. The lobbying pressure on Trudeau, to keep the oil juggernaut going for just a little longer, will prevail.
But Alberta’s tar sands have an EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) of less than 5:1, maybe as low as 3:1. Conventional oil is dropping through 18:1 (it was once 100:1). This means at some point, the supply of tar sand oil will not be affordable.
As I’ve said to people who protest about extracting oil off NZ’S coasts or mining Southland lignite, there’s no point in fighting those proposals. The system that makes them economic
can’t be maintained.
This is something we aren’t discussing. Yet. Nor are they in Canada.
“In order to be able to protect our environment, we do need to be able to have a strong and growing economy,” says Justin Trudeau. “That’s why our plan to fight climate change features both a national price on pollution, things like the world class ocean’s protection plan, but also getting our oil resources to new markets through responsible pipelines.”
It’s good that those pipelines are responsible. It’s much better than piping it through irresponsible ones.
I could live on this island. Conifers sigh in the breeze. There’s a wonderful dawn chorus. The people are polite, friendly, helpful. There are farmer’s markets, bookshops, quirky roadside attractions. When a locally-produced film about saving the cranes of Bhutan* was shown at the town library, it was standing-room only.
The supermarket has posters urging shoppers to buy local, eat local. Each poster features one of the farmers or their family. The supermarket-bought biscuits I had with my coffee came in a paper bag. Huge swathes of the produce and products proudly claim organic status.
It’s not perfect. They drive big American cars down the street. You hardly ever see an outside clothes-line. Their lightswitches are upside down.
But I like these folks, the way they live, the way they care. Number one son has docked in a good place.
This is a small island, off a big island, off Vancouver’s coast