Friday, 27 September 2013

Environmentalism vs development - where is the voice of moderation?

In the public debate over the exploitation of non-renewable resources, the argument appears to be polarised between unrestricted development and a complete moratorium on any activity.

Where is the voice for responsible, controlled development?  Projects are proposed that have the potential to destroy or severely damage huge swathes of the the ecosystem.  Those who question the wisdom of these projects are accused of plotting to destroy Canada's economy, and sarcastically challenged to live without the benefits of plastic or fuels.

The thing is, there is room for development that doesn't destroy.  We can choose lifestyles that consume or require fewer petrochemicals.  When we go looking to remove petrochemicals from the ground companies can look at the life-cycle impacts, from generation of greenhouse gases, management of pollutants generated from extraction and upgrading of heavy oil, and risks of spills during transportation.

The burden should be on those who propose these projects to identify the risks and then to create and defend the mitigation measures.  The go/no go decision can then be made based on real risks and not on rhetoric alone.  Identify each risk and show how it will be managed.  And if risks are identified that can't be managed, then that should be a reason to stop the project until the risk can be managed.  Projects that are not undertaken because the risks are too great will not hurt us.  The petroleum isn't going anywhere unless we dig it up - if we leave it in the ground, we can come back later once we've solved the associated problems.  It will still have value in the future and in the meantime we won't be creating future problems from spills, greenhouse gases, environmental degradation, toxic waste or whatever.

Don't leave the arguments between fringe groups.  Look at the ideas scientifically, and where there are manageable solutions, move forward.  Where the risk is too great (or the cost to mitigate the risk is too great), set it aside for now.

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