TheRecord: Big oil continues to jeopardize humanity’s future

Governments continue to subsidize companies that contribute to climate change

Dec 26,2019 Opinion by Susan Koswan

Susan Koswan is a University of Waterloo grad with a sustainable business management certificate from Conestoga College.

Suncor file photo for web
Suncor’s base plant with upgraders in the oilsands in Fort McMurray Alta, is shown in this photo from 2017. – The Canadian Press file photo

As this year and decade come to an end, I wish I felt more optimistic about what lies ahead. The distance between ‘the people’ and the political and corporate world has never seemed wider. We have to stop burning fossil fuels, yet we continue to subsidize Big Oil with our tax dollars. The few people who profit are jeopardizing humanity’s future. It’s always about money and power — getting it and holding on to it.

Climate scientist Michael Mann has noted a new strategy by climate change deniers and Big Oil. From outright denial, they shifted to manufacturing doubt — a tried-and-true tactic learned from the tobacco industry. Now industries are positioning themselves as ‘the good guys’ by supporting individual climate actions like bike riding and eating less meat. Personal lifestyle changes are important and necessary, but this strategy deflects attention away from government and corporate responsibility, and the need for policy changes that will have an impact on harmful business practices. This is greenwashing of the worst kind.

Climate change action catalyst Greta Thunberg is consistent in her message that climate change is about the science, not politics. But now, more than ever, we need to get political to create an enforceable, national climate action plan. Lobbyists never sleep; we need to break the connection between Big Money and our government.

Federal lobbyists are listed on the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying in Canada website. One of them is Suncor Energy, Canada’s largest oil company, and the parent company lobbying on behalf of 130 subsidiaries. These include everything from domestic and international energy investments (fossil fuel-based as well as wind power). In 2018, the company received $1 million in funding from Alberta and $5 million from Natural Resources Canada (NRC). The year before it received a total of $20,298,531 from NRC, the Ontario ministry of agriculture, food and rural affairs, and the Quebec ministry of agriculture, food and rural affairs.

The Office of the Commissioner’s lobbying summary is staggering in the number of government institutions lobbied by Suncor, regarding policies and regulations. Six senior Suncor officers and employees spend more than 20 per cent of their job lobbying, with another seven spending less than 20 per cent.

Suncor describes itself as an “integrated energy company” that is developing the Athabasca tarsands in Alberta. It is a publicly traded company and says that “delivering competitive and sustainable returns to shareholders is a top priority.”

Suncor’s 2018 annual report shows net earnings of $3.293 billion. Steve Williams, Suncor’s recently retired CEO, received $14.5 million in compensation in 2018.

Why are we subsidizing an industry that significantly contributes to climate change, and boasts such earnings?

I have no issue with profitable companies. I do with companies that are not sustainable. We cannot be complicit in perpetuating the myth that we can continue to invest in and burn fossil fuels and expect to have a livable planet. Suncor is investing $1.4 billion to replace coke-fired boilers with two cogeneration units and staying in the fossil fuel business. Imagine if they invested that kind of money instead of the comparatively paltry $300 million in the Forty Mile Wind Power Project in southern Alberta?

Just over 70 per cent of Suncor is owned by institutional investors and mutual funds. If you have a bank account or investments, you need to look closely at what your hard-earned money is supporting. You could start with the CNN Business website that lists the multiple owners of Suncor; most of Canada’s major banking institutions are listed there.

If you’re not happy with your investments or financial institution bankrolling Big Oil, then you need to talk to them about it. The Insurance Journal reports that insurance and investment companies are being pressured by a coalition of 32 environmental and Indigenous groups to stop insuring and investing in fossil fuels — a creative strategy to make Big Oil a stranded asset, unprofitable and a liability.

Despite the dire warnings of runaway climate change, hearings are still going on for the proposed Teck Frontier tarsands mine that would be twice the size of Vancouver and threaten Wood Buffalo National Park’s UNESCO status. Exercise your democratic right and help put a stop to it. LeadNow provides an online form to do so.

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