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  • Writer's pictureThe Low Down

Slippery logic of an oil man

The Editor,

What did I gather from a close review of CBC’s Matt Galloway talking with Alex Pourbaix, CEO of Cenovus Energy, about carbon capture technology and his company’s efforts to get to net zero (“The Current,” March 6 edition)? I heard some clever and insidious psychological-marketing from an oil industry CEO.

Pourbaix used anecdotal reasoning throughout the interview, countering scientific facts with his personal opinions. His non-scientific approach argued for long-term investment and development of carbon-capture technologies, which he claims, “are perfected and ready to roll out right away.” Then he promises that they should do the trick in 30 years, so tax-payers should subsidize these ventures and other speculative technologies (such as “air-capture”).

All of this, despite serious scientific doubts of the effectiveness of carbon capture.

To deal with Bill McKibben’s evidence-based campaign to stop the expansion of oil development (while investing in the development of alternatives and reducing consumption), Pourbaix begins his rhetorical process of labelling McKibben as “negative”. By association, people (and scientists) who question big-oil will be painted with this brush; it seems that asking questions or stating facts will now make you “negative”. This is a subtle sophistry Pourbaix injects into this serious discussion.

The [CBC] discussion [on March 6] focused on emissions from production and ignored emissions from consumption, such as transportation exhausts. How is “air capture” going to work on those? Pourbaix inferred, rather than stated explicitly, that our current modes of consumption of fossil fuels were essential to the life of people and the economy. That argument was supported by citing “apple pie” examples; for example we absolutely need certain oil byproducts to run a hospital and make vital medications, but the discussion did not investigate the many wasteful or non-essential uses of byproducts that pollute our air, water, land and climate system. The discussion did not challenge the rosy benefits of oil by citing proven alternatives and arguing for the investment needed right now to roll these out at scale.

This airtime allowed Pourbaix to hijack peoples’ fears — fear of the loss of cheap and handy oil rather than to spread the scientifically agreed-upon facts of our global climate catastrophe and the will/actions needed to save our planet. “Oil good. Science bad,” Orwell might have said.

Pourbaix was asked why we should trust big-oil’s story?

We know for decades that the industry has been hiding its own reports showing the catastrophic effects of fossil fuel emissions; lying to us just as the tobacco companies did for decades.

Should tax-payers believe big-oil’s claims about what is good for us and the climate?

Beware the slippery logic of an oil PR man.

Rob Snikkar

Masham, QC


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