I thought of writing a post to defend the producers of the Canadian oil sands against yet another celebrity attack, after Jane Fonda flew here to lecture people, including the unemployed oil industry workers, to stop consuming fossil fuels and building oil pipelines. However, I found a weightier topic, when shortly after the Fonda visit, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a town hall meeting with ‘ordinary Canadians’ that we must “phase out the oil sands” and other fossil fuels, presumably as a part of Canada’s climate change commitment to reduce our “carbon footprint.”

Fonda is just another ignorant celebrity hypocrite who might influence somewhat the views of the most gullible and uninformed. Her visit and pronouncements will be soon forgotten. Trudeau, on the other hand, is Prime Minister and holds the political power to actually phase out the oil sands. That would seriously harm human flourishing, like Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne did on a smaller scale, when she phased out coal-powered electricity and tripled its cost in her province by replacing it with unreliable, scarce, and expensive renewable wind and solar energy. Fonda’s attack on the oil sands is inconsequential; Trudeau’s is evil.

To suggest that we should phase out a source of abundant, affordable and reliable source of energy is immoral. The most fundamental reason is that human flourishing depends on such energy. In the future, such energy may come from different sources, but most of world’s energy (over 80%) today comes from fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal). Fossil fuels heat or cools our homes and workplaces; powers our agriculture, means of transportation, factories, and hospitals; and help save lives when natural disasters strike. Energy from fossil fuels has made possible division of labor that has led to new innovations (in fields such as medicine and sanitation, among others), reduced poverty, and helped enhance human life expectancy by decades.

The argument for stopping the use of fossil fuels so as to reduce carbon emissions and thus to prevent climate change, which allegedly is jeopardizing human flourishing, is also dubious. The climate is always changing, and the impact of human carbon emissions on it has not been established. While the carbon content of the atmosphere has increased slightly since the Industrial Revolution, temperatures have fluctuated, and some research (as reported by Lawrence Solomon in the Financial Post) shows that a mini ice age has already begun. Human flourishing requires CO2 (more than the current levels, for optimal crop yields) and a sufficiently warm climate.

While Trudeau advocated phasing out all fossil fuels, he singled out the Canadian oil sands. That is completely unwarranted.  Even if human carbon emissions contributed to climate change, phasing out the Canadian oil sands, at less than 1% of the total global emissions, would not make a dent (and it would not make Trudeau the climate change warrior hero he apparently clamors to be). Moreover, the companies producing oil from the oil sands in Canada do it without violating individual rights and continually innovate to increase efficiency, minimize pollution, conserve water, and improve land reclamation. If we want to enhance human flourishing, it would be better to “phase out” oil production in countries that use its proceeds to sponsor terrorism or otherwise violate their citizens’ rights.

Finally, it is immoral for a head of a government to propose phasing out any industry and company. Such action violates the right of business to produce and trade freely—another requirement of human flourishing. Instead, government should limit itself to its only proper role: protecting its citizens’—including businesses’—freedom of thought and action by preventing and punishing initiation of physical force or fraud.

We can do our part for human freedom and flourishing by challenging evil ideas and speaking up against them when they are proposed, particularly by those with political power.

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Jaana Woiceshyn teaches business ethics and competitive strategy at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada. She has lectured and conducted seminars on business ethics to undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA students, and to various corporate audiences for over 20 years both in Canada and abroad. Before earning her Ph.D. from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, she helped turn around a small business in Finland and worked for a consulting firm in Canada. Jaana’s research on technological change and innovation, value creation by business, executive decision-making, and business ethics has been published in various academic and professional journals and books. “How to Be Profitable and Moral” is her first solo-authored book. Visit her website at profitableandmoral.com.

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