My big picture on world views

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In recent months, readers of this column have sometimes complained that my opinions about politics, the economy and life as we live it in this alternately blessed and benighted corner of the unpredictable planet are inconsistent, unreconcilable and, therefore, incoherent.

What, they have invariably demanded, is my world view?

I’d give them one, if I had one.

Frankly, the one unshakeable opinion to which I cleave is that world views, such as they are, are for dictators and salesmen.

One wants you to knuckle under; the other wants to rob you blind. In either case, you’re left with few choices, other than those your political or corporatist overlords prescribe.

Still, the complaints ring with such predictable complacency that they might as well be a popular gospel.

“Why do you hate the wonderful earth we cherish so much?” one scribe asked me in early August. “How can you support the shale gas industry in New Brunswick when, as an intelligent man, you must know how much harm it causes?”

Precisely three days later, another reader accused me of runaway tree-hugging: “It boggles my mind that you, as an intelligent man, slam the only industry that has any chance of rejuvenating the New Brunswick economy.”

Again, with the “intelligent man” stuff!

Yes, I have an IQ above room temperature, but I like to think that this fortunate happenstance engenders a predilection for at least a modicum of critical thinking.

For those of you out there who are similarly equipped, here’s a question: Is it not possible to walk and chew gum at the same time?

The shale gas industry in New Brunswick has operated without incident for more than 10 years. No spills, no poisoning of water tables, no soil decimation, no air pollution have ever been recorded, reported or, even, imagined.

These facts, alone, should prove that the industry, here, understands (at least, intuitively) its “social licence”. And if it doesn’t, provincial rules and regulations governing the locations of, and practices involved in, hydraulic fracturing (which are still on the books, despite the recent moratorium) evidently enjoins it to smarten up.

That said, other jurisdictions around the world have not demonstrated New Brunswick’s perspicacity on this socially volatile energy issue. North Dakota and parts of Appalachia have all but abandoned their side of the social-licence bargain, preferring, instead, to let the industry have its rapacious way with privately-held lots, paid for willingly with up-front buy-downs and long-term royalty agreements.

The result is exactly what New Brunswick opponents of shale-gas development fear: pollution, social dislocation and (let’s face it) death by fossil fuel.

But simply transplanting other provinces’ and states’ experiences and decisions here is a meaningless exercise in organized paranoia. It supplants the agency of our own minds with that of those who are determined to dictate or sell their own agendas, either quasi-corporatist or pseudo-environmentalist.

The middle of the road, negotiating the traffic to the left and right of us, is where we must live now if we have any hope of charting a sustainable, prosperous future.

Those who demand that the world’s petrol-economy can and must end today are either hypocritical or deranged.

At the same time, those who insist that fossil fuels still promise an eternity of risk-free, environmentally benign energy are either sadly delusional or deliberately prevaricating.

The bucket slung around the world’s neck is full of oil. Currently, there’s so much sloshing around in capital markets, literally no one knows how to prevent its pricing from decimating resource-producing economies (including Canada’s).

Still, let’s say that we – all of us in this province, at least – engage in a thought experiment. Let us suppose that oil and gas were not primary commodities, but rather seed capital for sustainable energy research, manufacturing and deployment.

Let us imagine that the engines and factories that burn fossil fuel are actually generating new ways to radically curtail its casual use.

Let us hope that the judicious, reasonable use of “black gold” produces a sea-change in attitudes about the way we treat the planet we share.

Finally, let us propose that partisan bickering about “world views” falls silently, gently, coherently to the good earth we vow to protect from (who else?) ourselves.

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