For the past few days, environmentalists have gathered outside the White House to protest the Keystone XL, a project that would extend the current transportation pipeline for Canadian oil into the U.S. The daily protests have been star-studded events, drawing celebrities from Daryl Hannah to global-warming peddler James Hansen. But today the event was crashed by some unexpected (and probably unwelcome) “supporters.”
The burka-clad women holding pro-OPEC signs are part of a satirical counter-protest staged by EthicalOil.org, a Canadian group that supports the Keystone XL pipeline. The organization argues for Canadian oil sands production from a human-rights perspective, pointing out that buying oil from OPEC countries props up oppressive, autocratic regimes.
“The world is going to be using oil for the next few decades at least. So the choice that people, businesses and governments have to make is where do we get that oil from?” EthicalOil.org’s founder Alykhan Velshi told me when I caught up with him after the protest. “And it’s my view and the view of EthicalOil.org that we should be getting that oil from ethical countries like Canada, it’s oil sands and other liberal democracies, as opposed to conflict oil countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela that oppress their people and don’t respect basic human rights.”
It’s a compelling argument, one that was initially made by conservative Canadian commentator Ezra Levant in his book “Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s Oil Sands.” Developing alternative energy sources is a worthy endeavor, but we’re not near the point where we can give up oil without serious economic repercussions. So until we can rely on alternative energy sources, Velshi says the ethical option is to get as much oil as possible from democratic countries.
“Oil is a commodity like coffee is a commodity,” he told me. “So you can make it ethically or you can make it unethically. And I see ethical oil from Canada as being like the fair trade choice for oil.”
Velshi describes EthicalOil.org as a “Green Peace for the other side, without the law-breaking,” and the group doesn’t deal in the typical arguments you’d expect from advocates of the oil industry. Instead, Velshi uses terms like “conflict oil” (which comes from oppressive regimes) and “ethical oil alternatives” (which isn’t an energy alternative at all, just a round-about way of describing oil from places like Canada).
Maybe the archetypal “progressive” language is the reason why the group enrages its critics so much. One environmental activist shoved a camera in Velshi’s face at the protest, insisting to know who was funding the group (“Is it AIPAC?” the activist demanded, incongruously). Velshi doesn’t specify outright, but told me that EthicalOil.org won’t accept money from foreign corporations and governments.
That aside, critics of the pipeline might find it hard to ignore EthicalOil’s arguments. There are plenty of reasons to support the Keystone XL – the massive number of jobs it would create is one of them. But there’s no denying we’re still going to have to rely on oil from somewhere for the foreseeable future. And in the end, the less oil money that goes to support autocratic regimes, the better.