I don’t do bumper stickers. If a slogan is short enough to fit onto three-by-twelve-inch space, it’s probably too simple to be true.
But I have to respectfully disagree with portions of a recent column by my colleague, Keith Halliday, which were critical of Yukoners with “Frack Free Yukon” bumper stickers on their vehicles.
The line of argument contained in the first half of that column was that those who drive, fly, and heat their homes yet have vehicles that bear that bumper sticker we’ve all become accustomed to on their vehicles are “busted” because it is demonstrably true that there is fracked fuel in the territory’s supply.
This strikes me as a bit of a straw man. Most of those who opted to put the sticker on their vehicle didn’t do so because they don’t want fracked fuel imported to the Yukon (although they might be opposed to that too). They put the sticker on their vehicle because they don’t want to see the process used here in the territory.
Some may still see hypocrisy. After all, if you oppose fracking but still burn fracked fuel in your car aren’t you picking fruit from the poisoned tree?
In a sense that may be true, but living a fully consistent life is difficult. This ideal imposes such an impossibly high standard of personal behaviour and it attempts an end-run around the anti-fracking argument — an argument that, agree or disagree, ought to be made.
The reasons why people don’t want fracking in the Yukon vary, but those who oppose it can be roughly divided into two broad categories.
Those in the first category oppose fracking specifically. They see it as a particularly dirty method of fossil fuel extraction as compared to other sources. Those in this category have concerns about the damage fracking causes to the water supply, surface area, wildlife, etc. They may also worry about fugitive emissions of methane which make fracking a greater contributor to climate change on a well-to-consumption basis than other methods of extracting fossil fuels.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not fully clear where the science is in terms of how the damage caused by fracking in comparison to other extraction methods. But settling the scientific debate isn’t essential here. The fact that it might actually come as a surprise to anyone that there are fracked fuels in their gas tank highlights the unfairness of the argument to begin with.
The reality is that if you use fuel you can’t avoid fracked fuel. Fossil fuels are a fungible commodity. They, by definition, can come from various sources and are completely interchangeable.
And for the moment, there is no “frack free” labelling system at gas stations like we see with organic produce or cruelty free makeup which might allow people to opt out of a product to which they conscientiously object. There is simply no way of knowing whether a particular fill up came from fracked sources or not, and therefore it is practically impossible to live life in western Canada these days without using fracked fuels.
The second category of people who bear the “Frack Free Yukon” stickers are those who oppose new fossil fuel development generally and see fracking as just one front in a larger struggle. For those in this category, whether or not fracked fuels are any worse than those extracted through conventional methods is of secondary concern. The point is that we need to quit investing in the extraction of carbon dioxide emitting fossil fuels and hasten the process of transitioning to renewables.
Observing that such people also use fossil fuels has become a very boring line of argument in this debate. We have developed an unfortunate tendency to demand complete moral purity of anyone who is any way concerned about climate change. Opponents of fossil fuel development are routinely told that they ought to go live in a cave somewhere and survive off berries and gopher meat if they want to have anything to say about the issue.
I think this argument fundamentally misunderstands (or misrepresents) what climate change activists are asking of society.
Few, if any, people expect a complete and immediate end to fossil fuel consumption and production. Climate change activists don’t expect that of others and they don’t impose that unrealistic standard on themselves. They acknowledge that living life in 2016 without a carbon footprint is essentially impossible. Our current infrastructure and production systems simply don’t allow for it.
The point they are trying to make is that we need to accelerate the transition and focus on climate change as a serious issue. Time is of the essence.
Regardless of the reason someone chooses to put a “Frack Free Yukon” sticker on their car, it’s unreasonable to shout down their opinion because they fail to meet some arbritary and impossible monastic lifestyle.
Yes, debates over fracking and fossil fuel use are about economic and environmental issues. But they’re also philosophical. They are about what ought to be, not just what is.
Kyle Carruthers is a born-and-raised Yukoner who lives and practises law in Whitehorse.