Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Dennis Prager Interviews Ezra Levant

Ezra Levant was interviewed Monday morning in the second hour of Dennis Prager’s daily talk show, on the subject of Ezra’s new book, Ethical Oil: The Case For Canada’s Oil Sands.

I didn’t see much mention of their 30-minute talk elsewhere online, including any mention of it at Ezra own site, so I thought I would offer a brief recap, “for the record”.

Ezra’s responds to Dennis’ gracious introduction by reminding the American audience of the tremendous First Amendment rights that they may be taking for granted, citing how his own recent 900-day prosecution for publishing the mohammed cartoons in his magazine would not have been the same problem had it happened in the US.

Dennis' first question addresses how much oil is assumed to be available in Alberta’s oil sands reserves. The answer: 175 billion barrels, second only to Saudi Arabia. Ezra points out that Canada is the only liberal democracy to be found in the listed ten nations possessing the largest oil reserves (defining Iraq as only a “wobbly democracy"). He explains how the technical means to extract the oil from the sand and clay that it’s mixed with are being perfected every day, allowing Canada to keep increasing the amount of oil it can provide to the US. While Nancy Pelosi and Greenpeace have criticized Alberta's “dirty” resource, Ezra points out that when various other liberal criteria, such as environmentalism, fair wages and treatment of workers, are factored into the equation, Canada’s liberal values far surpass those of the other OPEC nations that we could be getting our oil from.

Dennis cuts to the quick: what is stopping America from buying even more oil, all its oil, from Canada? Ezra raises the issues of aesthetics, and how “ugly” the process can appear. However, those who criticize the Canadian source have less to say about Iranian or Saudi refining, because they can’t visit these locations and report on them as readily as they can access the comparable sites in Canada.

Dennis is a bit incredulous that mere aesthetics are the main roadblock to purchasing more oil from Canada. Ezra clarifies that Nancy Pelosi has primarily been critical of the “large carbon footprint” associated with the oil sands oil. He concedes her point that to produce one barrel of oil this way takes more energy than a barrel of light oil from the Saudis, due to the different refining needs of each source. But the comparison does not hold up when stacked up against heavy oil from Venezuela or even California, where Canada has the smaller carbon footprint.

Returning to the issue of ethics, Ezra makes a specific comparison with the Sudan, where the UN estimates about 300,000 people have been killed. The grim statistics are tabulated: how much blood (an eyeball’s worth) are to be associated with a barrel of Sudanese oil, and whether it might be better to have more carbon dioxide, but no blood, by using Canadian oil. Ezra was particularly eloquent and effective here, especially when pointing out that the mayor of the oil sands town of Fort MacMurray is a woman, and how unlikely such a situation would be in oil producing nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Ezra brings the segment to a close with a remark on how America, such a strong advocate of consumer rights, offers labels denoting countries of origins for so many goods, yet not for gas. Raising the question, what would people choose to buy if the country of origin for oil was revealed at the gas pump?

Back from the commercial break, Dennis takes a call from an angry listener in Texas. The caller states that he’s from Alberta, has seen the oil sands in Fort MacMurray “hundreds of times”. He tries to shame Ezra by asking how much water is used in the process. By his tone the caller expected to deal a severe wound to Ezra's case with this thrust. Ezra calmly parries the blow by conceding the recipe of three barrels of water that used to be required to produce one barrel of oil, then explains how technological advances see us using 38% less energy today in this process than had been the case 20 years ago. Statistics about the wasteful amount of water tolerated to secure a single cup of coffee or a pair of jeans put the oil sands equation into context, and for good measure we’re invited to wonder whether Iran or Saudi Arabia might be as worried about such environmental concerns as we would be in Canada.

The caller testily proposes that Alberta doesn’t care about the environment either; Ezra reminds him that he is from Alberta and cares about the environment, which prompts the caller to bark that he was from there as well. Having lost his cool, the caller then trips on his next point: Ralph Klein doesn’t care about the environment. Ezra gently suggests that since Klein hasn’t been Premier of Alberta for a few years now [since 2006], that perhaps the caller’s information may be a little out of date.

The third and final segment starts off with Dennis asking Ezra why the United States isn’t developing more of its own domestic oil sources, why is it depending so heavily on Canada’s oil? Ezra suggests that part of the answer could be the consumer doesn’t really have a way to know where the gas they currently buy is coming from. He cites the recent case of CITGO, and how when word got out about its connection with Venezuela, many people chose to drive to another dealer for their gas.

Dennis reframes his question more clearly: does the oil sands deposit not extend into the states neighboring Alberta? Not to the same degree, it seems, but in order to reach what deposits there are to be found in states like Idaho and Montana, the ecological downsides to any source of energy, and the particular ones associated with oil sands oil refining, have to be weighed against the notions of security of supply, as well as whether it’s worth financing our enemies.

Back again to the issue of environmentalism, Ezra asks, rhetorically, whether anyone believes that Nigeria’s oil refining could be more environmentally safer than what would be undertaken domestically in the US. Americans, like Canadians, care much more about the environment than the dictatorships do.

Ezra points out anecdotally to Dennis how the US now spends approximately $50 billion so that the US Navy can keep the Persian Gulf sea lanes open. This results in a $54 a barrel “subsidy” for oil exported from the Saudis, Kuwait and the UAE. “A military tax”, Dennis calls it. The stark comparison is made to the much lower costs associated with procuring oil from Canada, via pipeline.

Dennis concludes the conversation with a mention of Ezra’s previous book, Shakedown. Dennis asks Ezra to provide the “Cliff Notes” version of the story behind it for his listeners. Sadly Ezra's had a lot of practice, I'm sure, recounting the 900-day Human Rights farce of an investigation, and the “counterfeit human right”, the right not to be offended, that was at the heart of the “hate speech” complaint filed against him. He again brings up the point that Americans should not be complacent about their freedom of speech, and not to think that his trial would remain an impossibility in the US. Dennis agrees heartily, referencing the recent Yale University-published book on the mohammed Danish cartoon controversy, where the publisher self-censored themselves, cutting the cartoons from their own book, despite the wishes of author that they be included (naturally enough, since that's what the book was about in the first place!).

All in all a strong appearance by Ezra. I must say that I was a little disappointed with Dennis in this interview; he did a tremendous job summarizing Ezra's case at the start of each segment, for the sake of listeners tuning in late, but a couple of jokes after the first commercial break were extended way too long for my taste. This tragically ate up precious time at the expense of Ezra's advocacy on behalf of this critically important consumer protection movement.