The sudden reappearance of a blatant “hot” large-scale war of conquest in Europe has shocked a Western world grown complacent about the prospect of such things. What Vladimir Putin has once again unleashed on Ukraine and the world is an abomination, and we must all hope for a quick cessation of violence and return to greater sanity in world events.
But while human suffering in Ukraine requires our full attention, we must also focus on what can be done to mitigate the rippling harms Putin has unleashed upon the world and how we might reduce the prospects for future wars with similar scale, scope and reach. And that means, however clinical, distracting or arcane as it may seem in the middle of war, we must talk about Canadian energy policy, particularly as it pertains to oil and natural gas, the two fuels that arguably have the greatest potential to influence global politics at the level that can shift the balance of decision-making about things as momentous wars with global reach.
For Canada there’s really only one question that has any bearing on the sort of geopolitics we’re seeing in Europe today. And the war in Ukraine, as the saying goes, has sharply called the question: Does Canada want to play a role in global oil and gas markets that could reduce the ability of tyrannical regimes to use international oil and gas flows as weapons, or is it willing to opt out of that geopolitical equation, and sit on its massive energy reserves due to fears of climate change?
In recent decades, Canadian policy has been heavily slanted toward the latter. Environmental activists and compliant governments have successfully stifled the growth of production capacity and transport capacity of Canadian oil and gas for several decades. Canada’s most recent policy commitments to attaining “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (and precursor policies aimed at strangling oil and gas production and transport) largely preclude the prospect of letting Canada play a significant role in global oil and gas energy market dynamics.
Those decisions are not carved in stone, however, and Canadian policymakers can and should reconsider them in the light of the war in Ukraine. Canada could, by increasing its production and export of natural gas, make it harder for one regional producer to weaponize its oil and gas resources to the detriment of its neighbours, friendly or hostile. That would mean reducing regulatory barriers to the development of natural gas in Canada via hydraulic fracturing and creation of pipelines and other transport capacity to move Canadian gas and oil to a world Canada could help stabilize.
We do not have to go into great details about this, as everyone knows what needs to be done—Canada needs much more east-west transport infrastructure to move oil and gas to ports on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and more government policies at provincial and federal levels to allow the technologies needed to produce oil and gas at the relevant scale.
For his part, the Prime Minister Trudeau could renunciate his goals to phase-out fossil fuel use in Canada (and in the world). And reorient how Canada can manage the risks of climate change at home and abroad through building Canadian resilience to climate variability and helping other countries do so by sharing our many long-proven technologies that can help manage the empirically predictable risks of climate change: hotter and colder temperatures, greater and lesser drought, more severe and less severe storms and weather changes, rising sea levels and stronger infrastructure. After all, Canada knows better than most about building infrastructure over a vast range of climatic conditions. To be clear—this is not about “abandoning” the fight against climate change. It is, however, about sharply changing the focus of that fight; a change that many argue is long overdue for reasons going beyond geopolitics.
Canada can’t do much to directly impact events in Ukraine as they unfold, but it can send a signal to the world that it intends to weaken the future weaponization potential of oil and gas by stepping up and increasing world supply and sourcing ability from a stable democratic country that will not use those resources against others for purposes of international aggression and conquest. The prime minister could make that statement in very few words—lay the bloody pipes, and open the bloody taps.