Al Gore declares there is no such thing as ethical oil

Former vice president Al Gore recently spoke before a Toronto audience where he railed against, among other things, the Keystone pipeline.

Disappointed that lawmakers in the United States haven’t been doing more to stop projects that would bring oil to America, Gore reflected that the lack of gumption to stop the pipeline was most likely because people were failing to take the issue personally. He said that when people view these issues as a matter of personal values, they are more likely to take action:

“When these kind of issues settle into a choice between right and wrong, then the moral clarity that eventually develops makes it possible to move quickly.”

I absolutely agree.

We are surrounded by technology that oil has made possible, and sometimes it can be easy to forget exactly how valuable those things are to us. I’m taking a moment today to reflect on some of those values.

Oil makes fuel which has allowed us to make trips that would never have been possible just one hundred years ago. Kerosene-based rocket fuel put men on the moon and satellites into space that allow us to find our location anywhere on Earth, listen to music or watch television, track storms and communicate worldwide.

The gasoline which powers our automobiles makes journeying to stay in touch with family easy. In the mid-1800s my great-great-grandfather moved away from the family farm in Wisconsin to make his own way in the neighboring state of Minnesota. He never saw his brothers and sisters again, and his children never met their grandparents. There was never any bad blood between them; it was simply that the distance between the two farms was too great to make visiting possible. He packed up, made the journey and never looked back. There were just 400 miles between the two farms.

Oil-based technologies now make that journey easy — simply jump into your car and go. Mechanized combines and diesel tractors unburden a farmer from a great deal of physical labor and make a weekend trip possible — even in the dead of a Minnesota winter.

Oil makes jet fuel. Living in California, I am able to see my family in Minnesota by simply boarding a commercial airplane. These vehicles can weigh over 800,000 pounds and sail through the sky, making a journey that would have taken my great-great-grandfather well over a hundred days had he chosen to travel the Oregon Trail out to California. A direct flight makes the trip in about five hours.

 But a single barrel of oil makes more than just fuels–about 16% of each barrel goes toward making products such as: sunglasses, telephones, asphalt, dishwashers, microwaves, surf boards, refrigerators, umbrellas, roofing, shampoo, nylon rope, clothes, insect repellent, skis, footballs, water pipes, yarn, hair dye, movie film, soft contact lenses, artificial limbs, motorcycle helmets, syringes, CDs and DVDs, aspirin, deodorant, shoes, stuffed animals, pacifiers, extension cords and shower curtains.

The list goes on for pages. But even on this short list above, how many things are there that have made your life better, easier, safer, longer and happier?

Keep these precious things in mind the next time Al Gore or anyone else tells you that you should choose to give up these “unethical” values and force everybody else in the country to do the same.

Standing in front of this group in Canada, Gore’s message was clear. He rejected the idea that there was any circumstance, any use, any origin of oil that makes it justified, redeemable or proper to use.

“There’s no such thing as ethical oil,” he said. “There’s only dirty oil and dirtier oil.” This remark apparently triggered a round of audience applause.

Without any viable alternatives to oil, it is unclear how strangling the pipeline at the border will be a cause for celebration. Consider the view of morality implied in Gore’s outlook. On his view, human innovation, human health, human happiness and human flourishing—all these are dispensable, and should be sacrificed. In my view, moral clarity implies just the opposite and a well-due round of applause for oil.