Column: Useful idiots? May and Blanchet may be handy tools, but they then forfeit any claim to the environmentalist designation
You know, this self-isolation thing isn’t all bad. How many of you can handle boring dinner parties or the like? For those of us that would rather spend an evening unclogging toilets, we devise coping mechanisms. I cowardly avoid them. Larry David, famously prickly star of Curb Your Enthusiasm/Seinfeld fame, simply stands up as soon as he’s finished eating, and leaves. A friend of mine has a different tactic. He accepts the invitations, joins the conversations, and as soon as his interest flags/annoyance builds he starts throwing out grenades. “That’s a stupid idea.” “Who in their right mind would think that.” “How can you like a politician that’s so clearly a moron.” Etc. Almost invariably, the target takes the bait, and a minor skirmish ensues, replete with white-knuckle utensil-handling, tossed napkins and red faces. Mission accomplished; boring no more. The agitator thereafter sits back, savours the wine, and tends to the fire as needed. There is a tiny but cosmic injustice in how all that unfolds, because it spirals out. Those that get upset at the party go home in a bad state, wasting a few good hours fuming at how anyone could be so obtuse and/or rude and/or dead wrong. The planet therefore has to deal with yet one more unit of swirling, angry, negative energy that will manifest itself in random ways, like honking in traffic, barking at loved ones, and whatever other regrettable offences/outbursts we commit only while in that state. The sad part about this is that it’s largely artificial; there wasn’t anything real about it in the first place. My friend’s antics don’t necessarily reflect his underlying beliefs (which are clearly not for the faint of heart); he simply had another mission in mind, to alleviate his boredom, and collateral damage be damned. And this brings us, finally, to the antics of Elizabeth May and Y-F Blanchet. Last week, they held some sort of weird news conference or something, each taking the podium to declare that “oil is dead” and that it is “never coming back.” It is coming back, and will come back like a freight train, because the world has no alternative and won’t for decades. But May knows that, and Blanchet knows that. So what are they up to? Those two fringe players are, in one form or another, simply using my anti-social friend’s tactics on a national scale. Calgary MP Greg McLean posted some useful insight about the May/Blanchet agenda: “Is there a bigger game at play? We (including me) are all responding to two irrelevant politicians — not Government, and not Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. But Blanchet, in particular, does keep the Liberal Government ship afloat. These two bombasts get to create noise on the ridiculous end of the scale; we respond with common sense; and our PMJT finds the ground in the middle for Canadians — which is still a lot off the mark of common sense.” There’s a name for all this, the concept of the “useful idiot”. Wikipedia traces the lineage of the phrase back to the spread of communist ideology; Vladimir Lenin viewed western communist sympathizers as such because to him they were contemptible tools for dispensing communist propaganda in the west, and, after they’d been used for such purpose, were no longer useful. In the Urban Dictionary, the term refers to “brainwashed American Marxists who blindly support any ideology that gets themselves out of real work and causes others to pay their way.” Now we’re getting somewhere. We should start thinking less about the gobbledygook coming out of the mouths of May and Blanchet, and thinking more about why it’s coming out. If MP McLean’s speculation is correct, and it seems very plausible, then May/Blanchet are just let out of their cages for shock value, and their gracelessly sterile musings form an anchor in the minds of Canadians. If they are viewed as serious politicians/statespersons, then these “views” form one end of the spectrum, and the PM then seeks to find a “middle ground”. But the wacko M/B talk sets the new bar far the other side of crazy, so that middle ground is only somewhat crazy (hello, Catherine McKenna). (Speaking of Ms. Mckenna, she sort of confirmed this theory in her impromptu speech of a year ago, videoed in a bar explaining “if you actually say it louder, we’ve learned in the House of Commons, if you repeat it, if you say it louder, if that is your talking point, people will totally believe it.”) We can see how this strategy is executed in the social media sewer. On Twitter, for example, perfectly respectable people are sometimes so outraged that they feel the need to comment on May’s ramblings, and they therefore show up in my feed. I try not to look at these mini-jousting matches for the same reason I don’t look in dumpsters, but when feeling particularly miserable or like life isn’t worth living I’ll read through one of her tweets/threads to see what grows as a result of her pungent fertilizer. Astonishingly and consistently, when May tweets something outrageous about the hydrocarbon industry, the comments section is almost purely vitriolic disgust for what she’s saying, with almost no comments supporting her. That always seemed remarkable to me. Her followers are the most social-media-savvy in the world; why does she constantly pour out this material which seems to speak not to her echo chamber, but to the echo chamber of those who despise her? Maybe it all makes sense. May has a strategy here. It is to go to the dinner party and call everyone stupid, then put her feet up. Her followers are most likely in on the game, because almost none of them show up to defend her in these volcanic outbursts of criticism she constantly causes. They know better. They know the game. They know where the real battle is being fought – it’s not a battle of public opinion on her personal Twitter feed, it’s an overall media awareness campaign to establish outlandish and brainless policy ideas as “reasonable”. The fact that she gets help with this strategy from the likes of Blanchet is not surprising either; neither of them are electable beyond their own riding, and they know it, so they play their hand as best they can – as useful idiots that help destroy and debase the level of public discourse by purposely infuriating the “other side”. On the topic of sides, let’s make one point perfectly clear: Canada’s hydrocarbon sector needs to immediately cease in referring to this crowd as “environmentalists” or “the environmental movement”. They love that. They use the environment as a political Trojan horse, and we in effect call them the good guys. Can’t we see how easy their job is when we waste a single second attacking “environmentalists” because they’ve defined themselves as such? A true environmentalist seeks to reduce, reuse, recycle; to limit their footprint. They plant trees and gardens and help clean up garbage and fight for cleaner air and less pollution and more preservation of natural habitat. They don’t hold new conferences to declare imbecilic and inflammatory falsehoods like “oil is dead” when it is obvious to all that it is not. Anyone that knowingly politicizes environmental improvement is complicit in reducing the chance of success. If you truly want the general population to do something, where everyone’s help is needed, do you get everyone on side, or do you purposely engineer the discussion so that a third (at least) of the population will fight you in every way they can? No one that I know of in the industry has anything against a true environmentalist. We need to stop playing their game. Almost every geologist I’ve ever met is a more ardent environmentalist – that is, one who is aware of and cares about the quality of the natural environment – than those two will ever be. Their strategy is, in effect, to make a town green by burning down the local car dealership. Hell of a way to run a railroad. We need to stop taking the bait; they’re being provocative on purpose for a few reasons: either to enrage the petroleum sector and get it to react in ways it will regret, or, more likely, because they’re being used as useful idiots in a broader campaign. Or both. Such is the world we live in. We don’t have to love it, but we have to understand it. Watching politics is like eating back-of-the-fridge fuzzy tuna casserole. Far better to spend your time with “The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity” at Amazon.ca, Indigo.ca, or Amazon.com. Read more insightful analysis from Terry Etam here, or email Terry here.