Many thanks for fossil fuels

I would like to take this opportunity to urge each and every one of us to look past the “bountiful harvest” for just a moment.

“A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed . . . to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.” — Proclamation from the Canadian Parliament on January 31, 1957

I would like to take this opportunity to urge each and every one of us to look past the “bountiful harvest” for just a moment.

Turkey dinners and pumpkin pies and the presence of loving friends and relatives are great, but we really should widen our perspective a bit.

We really need to give thanks for the incredible gift (or accident of nature) which has enabled humanity to exploit the various fossil fuels which lie under our feet.

We can’t begin to imagine what life was like 160 years ago, before we started sucking oil out of the ground. We can read history books, but we can’t really recreate the year to year drudgery that the average person had to endure. Even most people in today’s Third World have access to fossil fuel- based fertilizers and diesel-powered irrigation and harvesting tools that would have been unthinkable when Fort Normandeau was just a glint in some fur trader’s eye.

So imagine, if you will, what it might be like without this incredible bounty. I already do it quite a bit, actually. When I’m travelling down 32nd Street with the aid of an internal combustion engine, I often ponder the historical accident that allowed me to be born at such a time in history.

I’m also astounded at the fact that a tiny cupful of precious liquid is able to propel a 1,000-kg vehicle for five km.

We simply don’t have any other energy source that is as dense and as easy to refine and transport as petroleum.

If that same cup was full of lithium ion batteries, it would only be able to propel the car 50 metres.

A barrel of oil has six billion joules of energy in it. That’s equivalent to 25,000 hours of human labour. Crunch a few numbers and pretend that you’re lord/lady of the manor.

That barrel of oil will then work out to having a staff of 12 full time servants working for an entire year. Multiply that by the 20 barrels of oil that each Canadian uses every year, and you’ll see that each of us has an awful lot of help maintaining the lifestyle that we’ve become used to.

Well, that’s a lot to be thankful for, but I would be remiss if I didn’t note that few silver linings come without clouds.

Not only is that oil getting harder and harder to find; it is also getting much, much harder to coax out of the ground.

And the resulting CO2 is slowly altering the planet for the worse (notwithstanding the annoying blather from a tiny minority of scientific illiterates).

And in those oil rich countries where democracy is only a word in dictionary, the oil industry is actually killing people.

It was not without reason that Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo, one of the founders of OPEC, called it the “devil’s excrement”. So, let’s enjoy our pumpkin pie.

But let us also take a few moments to ponder how we got here. And then let us take a few more moments to ponder exactly where we’re going.

Evan Bedford is a local environmentalist. Direct comments, questions and suggestions to

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