John Vaillant, a Canadian author whose acclaimed new book draws a straight line between climate change and fire, is empathetic to the oil executive.
The oil and gas industry has given the oil executive wealth in the millions, status and a sense of place in the world, Vaillant told Canada’s National Observer.When all that is challenged, people push back to maintain the status quo.
“It’s human nature, it’s not just cynicism or denial,” Vaillant said.
“They don’t want to give up the thing that gave them everything they have,” he added.
On Monday, John Vaillant, author of Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World, spoke as a witness at the Standing Committee on Natural Resources alongside Suncor CEO Rich Kruger and Pathways Alliance VP of external relations Mark Cameron.
What Vaillant saw was the oil executives in the bargaining phase of grief, clinging on to the status quo as tightly as they can, and “riding this gravy train until the wheels come off,” he said.
The problem? The oil executives will still be alive when the wheels come off.
“You know that barge vacation that you worked so hard in the petroleum industry to finance? There may not be any water in that canal when you want to take your barge trip,” Vaillant said, referring to oil executives.
“And when you want to go do your wine tasting in Kelowna, how’s that? How’s that this summer? How is that wine tasting? A little smoky?”
The backdrop to Monday’s hearing was the worst wildfire season on record that saw over 200,000 Canadians dislocated and over 90 First Nations evacuated from their communities.
Vaillant started writing his recent bestseller seven years ago in the aftermath of the 2016 Fort McMurray fire, which burned 2,400 homes and businesses. Since then, several cities have followed the oil town’s fate, including Paradise in California, Lytton in B.C., and Enterprise in the Northwest Territories, among others.
Vaillant accords Kruger and other oil and gas industry leaders with an outsized responsibility for the climate crisis. Fossil fuels create more greenhouse gases, trapping heat like a warm blanket. The more greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, the thicker that blanket gets, driving hotter temperatures and creating long and dry fire seasons.
Climate change also makes weather patterns more unpredictable, leading to an increase in extreme weather events.
One of those weather events is increased heat waves. Vaillant points to the heat dome, which killed 700 Canadians, as a marker of the real-world costs of upholding the oil and gas industry.
At the committee meeting, Kruger vowed that Suncor would continue “decarbonization” efforts to draw down emissions during oil production. He insisted that would be good for the environment and shareholders who rely on oil stocks. But Vaillant is tired of the shareholder excuse. He believes it removes morality, absolves the industry of responsibilities to the wider world and leads to state-sanctioned sociopathy. It’s why he thinks the oil and gas business just isn’t viable anymore.
Other industries have largely been phased out, like coal, slavery and certain types of mining, for example, Vaillant said. So why can’t oil and gas end, too?
Vaillant recognizes that the climate crisis is a global issue, but on the other hand, “bitumen is the dirtiest fuel on Earth, there’s no getting around that,” he said.
“History will be very unkind to [oil executives],” he added.
Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative
By Matteo Cimellaro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Oct 17, 2023 at 12:28