Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Satya Das & Ezra Levant Square Off Over Oil Sands at LitFest.

The Edmonton Litfest is all about non-fiction literature and promises to be great event this year.  One of the highlights for Albertans will be a presentation of differing views about the Alberta oil sands by Satya Das the author of Green Oil-Clean Energy for the 21st Century and Ezra Levant the author of Ethical Oil.
Satya Das
Ezra Levant

Full disclosure I am the publisher of Green Oil and Satya is a long time friend and my business partner. I have purchased but not yet read Ezra's book...but I will soon. I have read a considerable amount of media on the Levant book and was at a dinner meeting with Danielle Smith, the leader of the right-wing Wildrose Alliance Party last Monday and she repeated the premise of Ethical Oil in her presentation.  That being while we in Alberta may be dirty oil providers from the oil sands, compared to the alternative suppliers we are, on the whole, a much better ethical option for American fossil fuel needs.

I whole heartedly agree with Ezra's premise and have in fact posted a blog giving some free advice to Premier Stelmach in his recent meeting with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  I suggest the American political interference in the middle east, the dishonest premise to start the Iraq for example is about US taking "blood oil" relative to our "dirty oil."

Where I think Ezra and Das (and I) would part company is while the premise is Ethical Oil is well founded it is insufficient to fix the problem of our so-called "dirty oil."  I don't think the ethical arguments gets Albertans, as owners of the oil sands, off the hook...and we know it.  We need to develop our oil sands with a higher ethical bar than we are the best of a bad lot.  We know from our conjoint research done in conjunction with the Oil Sands Research and Information Network at the University of Alberta that environmental stewardship is the driving ethical values Albertans what to see guide and drive our oil sands development.

Creating prosperity without an integration of habitat protection, set standards for land, water and air quality, reclamation assurances to support on-going biodiversity and a focus on fixing the carbon footprint of development we are not really ethical oil.  We expect more or ourselves than just being socially better and more secular than Saudi Arabia.

So come to Litfest on October 19 at the Stanley Milner Library Theatre to hear and participate in the Das-Levant discussions on the future development of the oil sands.  The full Litfest program and ticket info is available at Tix on the Square:

Advance Passes and Individual Event Admission Tickets on sale now from Tix on the Square,online or by phone 780.420.1757 or Toll Free 1.877.888.1757.  (Address - 9930 102 Avenue). 

As a publisher let me suggest you buy the books and read them before hand.  You can get them in better book stores in Edmonton.  Green Oil is also available as a download from

If you want a progressive political culture in the Next Alberta register now for RebootAlberta 3.0 at


  1. Ken,

    I will be here... sitting in the front row.

  2. Tavis Ford1:26 pm

    While those working towards greater environmental and social justice should rejoice that Mr. Levant has, perhaps inadvertently, opened a new "ethical" front for criticism of Oil and Gas development, there are countless omissions and flaws in Ezra's arguments. But let's focus on just two.

    Granted, I have not had the chance to read his book yet, but I am responding to two interviews in which Mr. Levant appeared: one debating Mike Hudema of Greenpeace and another debating acclaimed Alberta author, Andrew Nikiforuk. In both interviews, Levant's arguments came across, in the literal sense as well, loudly and clearly.

    The first flaw with Mr. Levant's arguments, and arguably the most insulting one, is the omission of the well-documented culpability of "Western" corporations, secret services, economic hitmen, government agents and militaries, and various other players in subverting the interests of the very petro-states that Ezra decries. We ought to find it profoundly disingenous that Mr. Levant asks us to condemn these countries for unethical behaviour even though these various interests of Big Oil and geo-politics, ostensibly working on oil-consumer's behalf, benefit considerably from that arrangement.

    If we look at the Nigerian experience, for instance, we would see that the very same players, Shell and Total, operate both there and in Alberta with as little possible regard to social, environmental, and economic concerns as they can get away with. In Nigeria, they can, of course, get away with much more. However, their involvement in Nigeria doesn't stop there: with Big Oil acting as innocent bystanders while endlessly corrupted politicians benefit from crushing opposition to equitable distribution of wealth or fair economic rent for resources. Far from innocence, their enormous profits come through complicity in the time-honoured traditions employed by gunboat diplomacy, spy agency jackals, the IMF's "golden straightjackets", and economic hitmen, among the other subversive forces set loose on the unfortunate inhabitants of resource states.

    While the actions of these same national security and Big Oil players are less bloody in our country, they should be recognized as no less subversive. Forty years of one-party rule, record oil industry profits, and record low royalty rates thanks to a political class that is inextricably in bed with industry and foreign interests is clear enough evidence of that, for those who care to consider it.

    Ezra's considerable disingenuity, then, arises from staking claim to higher ethical grounds that are wholly owned by the very same instigators or caretakers (depending on your point of view) of the unethical regions which he decries. The ethical label can only be affixed to Tarsands when we intentionally exclude the names of the players and wipe clean history's inconvenient slate, as Ezra is wont to do.

    The second flaw with Mr. Levant's arguments is simple: we will continue to get oil from all manner of places until we either transition to a civilization and society that needs less of it, or until we run out. No matter what adjective we ascribe to Canada's dirty oil, it won't affect the supply from those other countries suffering ethical defects of their own. All it will do is provide cover for rapacious developers in Canada's North while we are made to feel slightly better about the wholesale destruction of our own portion of the planet and its people.

    That, and perhaps help Ezra Levant sell some of his considerable inventory of silliness and bitter retorts.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Isn't it nice to have real people commenting with real identities and not anonymous cowards

  5. This has the potential to be a lively event, if I'm in Edmonton I'll attend.

  6. "That being while we in Alberta may be dirty oil providers from the oil sands, compared to the alternative suppliers we are, on the whole, a much better ethical option for American fossil fuel needs."


    Oil is traded on the open market as a commodity. You can't choose your supply. You can't buy Canadian oil or American oil. At best, the ethicality is only based on our ability to dilute or saturate that market at a given moment -- which our oil companies wouldn't do significantly enough to make a difference, as it would drive the price down.

    And I too haven't read his book yet, but if Mr. Levant's premise is that Alberta oil is more ethical because it only negatively affects the health of Ft. Chip residents, as opposed to tens of thousands in the middle east, that's a rather macabre argument.

    Additionally, my advice for Mr. Das is to request a debate format that prevents interruptions.

  7. Tavis Ford... exceptional comments. Right on the money. Thanks for articulating them.


Anonymous comments are discouraged. If you have something to say, the rest of us have tl know who you are