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Being Green Got More Complex

June 03, 2019

Being Green just became more complex. 

Two leaders of Canada’s Green Parties, Elizabeth May of the federal Greens and Alex Tyrrell of the Quebec Greens, agree to phase out oil, but they disagree regarding the ongoing use of oil during the proposed phase out period. 

At the risk of simplification, the issue seems to boil down to the following.

May proposes that Canada ban imports and rely solely on Canadian crude until weaning itself off oil.

Tyrrell opposes this move and holds that Canada rely on “conventional oil” until weaning itself off oil.

There are two aspects to the complexity of this disagreement.  

The first is a factual complexity: getting a handle on all the facts of the situation.  That is, understanding all the relevant details regarding oil extraction, transport, refining and so on, in order to say whether “Canadian crude only” or “conventional oil” is the better choice for Canada during the weaning off period.

The second is a moral complexity.  That is, there is a real moral dilemma here. 

Moral dilemmas are different from, and more difficult than, hard choices.  

You walk down the street and a bag of money falls out of a truck parked in front of a bank.  The truck drives away.  What to do?

That is a hard choice.  One may want to keep the money but one knows that the right thing to do is to return the money to the bank.  It is not hard to know what to do, but it might be hard to muster up the will power to do the right thing. 

Try this now: you have two terminally sick children and sufficient medicine for one.  (No splitting or sharing.)  This is not simply a hard choice. Psychologically speaking, yes, it would be terribly difficult to make such a decision. 

But it is also a moral dilemma, a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” type of issue.  No matter what you decide, there is no “perfect solution”.  That doesn’t mean that one just flips a coin. 

It means that a lot of hard thinking, reasoning and arguing will be part of the decision making here.

It means that reasonable, well-intentioned people will disagree. 

It means that it will not be at all easy to know exactly what to do, let alone do it.

It means that one is stuck doing something immoral no matter what.

Whatever one decides in the “Canadian crude only” or “conventional oil”, it is going to be problematic in this way.  Reasonable, well-intentioned and well-informed people will disagree.

There is no perfect solution here. Environmental moral dilemmas are going to arise more and more as we dig ever deeper into an issue like global warming and take action.

We simply have no choice but to face environmental moral dilemmas.  These kinds of problems have just started and we may as well get used to it.


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