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“Ethical Oil”‘s unethical illogic?

October 27th, 2011 · 2 Comments

Spinmeisters like to be well paid and the fossil fuel (especially) extraction industries have more cash to throw around than Bill Gates.  Thus, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that some of the best ‘astroturfing’ and oxymoronic terminology comes in efforts to extend our recklessly destructive addiction to oil.

Amid the Canadian Tar Sands polluters’ campaign to promote the Keystone XL pipeline, a relatively new entry has been the “Ethical Oil” effort which Americans have seen in television advertising and other press.  The basic argument:

America imports oil from Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia denies women’s rights.

America thus funds Saudi denial of women’s rights.

America also imports oil from Canada.

Canadian women have equal rights.

America thus funds Canadian women’s equal rights.

Support polluting tar sands because that will move money from Saudi Arabia to Canada and thus mean more support for women’s rights.

Like so many twisted logic streams (Jane is a woman.  Jane doesn’t want to have a child.  Therefore, women don’t want to have children.), Ethical Oil’s logic has a certain shallow logic to it.  However, as Emma Pullman eloquently lays out, Ethical Oil’s illogic doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.  She lays out three fundamental reasons that Ethical Oil’s argument is deceptive:

  1. “…  increasing tar sands output will not hurt the Saudi sheiks’ coffers.  …. As global demand for oil keeps going up, a marginal shift in Canadian and US consumption will be offset by growing demand from other countries, keeping prices high and continuing to enrich the oppressive Saudi regime. Expanding the tar sands just buys Saudi Arabia a bit more time to profit before we are compelled to shift away from oil addiction towards a clean energy future – the real ‘ethical’ choice.”
  2. “… it presents the reader with a false choice. Marshall’s bait-and-switch suggests that we must make a choice between “conflict oil” and “ethical oil”. On the contrary, you can simultaneously support women’s rights and oppose Alberta’s tar sands. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, to say the least. If we really want to hurt the regimes of oppressive petrocracies, then the wise choice is to end our addiction to fossil fuels and move rapidly towards a clean energy economy, setting a model that the rest of the world can follow.’s entire line of reasoning is a diversionary tactic designed to obscure this hard reality. It’s a red herring, and a dangerous one at that.
  3. Third, Marshall’s emotional appeal tells readers that because women’s rights are worse in petrocracries, then we needn’t concern ourselves with what’s happening in Canada. In Canada, we have female mayors and premiers. We are a liberal democratic nation that respects human rights. I agree that the plight of women in many petrocracies is grave, but that does not mean that the plight of many women in Canada deserves less consideration from Canadians.

As for that last and specifically wihin the tar sands industry,  Pullman highlights that

In Alberta’s tar sands region in particular, rates of sexual violence towards women have increased and women working in the industry have reported sexual harassment and gender discrimination. With expansion of the tar sands industry, instances of domestic violence in Fort McMurray have spiralled upwards, and few women have safe places to go, forcing many to return home to their abusers.

“Ethical Oil”‘s illogic is designed to the turn the conversation away from simple truths:

  • Canada’s tar sand projects are perhaps the most environmentally devastating projects in the world.
  • The oil that results from Canadian Tar Sands is far more polluting, ‘well to wheel’, than traditional fossil fuels.
  • Moving ahead with the Keystone XL pipeline would create environmental risks in construction and operation.
  • By easing export of product, the pipeline would enable continued and expanded tar sands production and will worsen the pollution caused by America’s addiction to oil.
  • Reducing America’s addiction to oil is far more effective — in securing, fiscal, and women’s rights terms.

“Ethical Oil”‘s logic is not just illogical it is, of course, fundamentally deceptive with the intent to change the conversation and confuse people as to the issues at hand.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 sailrick // Oct 27, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    How about a woman’s right to have her children grow up on a liveable planet?

  • 2 John Crapper (@JohnCrapper) // Oct 28, 2011 at 1:32 am

    Ethical oil – double think is alive and well. We must all re-read 1984 by George Orwell!! Thanks for the work you do on this issue!!