Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 1, 2007
Earth's resources are for whole human race
The social teaching of the Catholic Church does not provide a plan for increasing petroleum royalty rates for Alberta. Nor should it be so specific.
What the Church's social teaching does do is emphasize that the goods of the earth belong to all of its inhabitants. We are called to be stewards of the earth, but also to share in its bounty. In perhaps his greatest encyclical, Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II declared, "God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone" (n. 31).
Clearly, the Church is relevant to the recent report on petroleum royalty rates presented to the Alberta government. The first words of the report are: "Albertans do not receive their fair share from energy development." The report's authors go on to justify this statement by stating, "Royalty rates in Alberta have not kept pace with changes in the resource base, world energy market and conditions in other energy-rich jurisdictions."
These are ethical statements from which the authors go on to draw a whole series of recommendations for a major revamping of the royalty structure.
Given the composition of the panel - experts who were believed to be favourable towards the oil industry - the wide grassroots input from which they developed their conclusions and the current distortion in Alberta's social and economic structure due to the rapid development of the oilsands, a government decision to implement the report's recommendations would be most reasonable.
Some in the oil industry have spoken strongly against the report, saying its implementation would slow the rate of oilsands development. Such a slowdown would in itself be a good thing for two reasons. It would, first, reduce the pressures on housing, labour and the environment in Alberta.
It would, secondly, imply an understanding that petroleum resources should not be developed as rapidly as we can get them out of the ground. Experts say that, even with the development of alternative energy sources, petroleum will remain a major source of energy for the rest of this century. There is no panic to develop it. Alberta should see itself as an energy-producing province rather than an oil producer, and move to develop alternative, renewable forms of energy. Alberta should strive to lead the world in energy development that is clean and green.
Also worthy of note is the royalty report's finding that $8.6 billion in royalties owed to the government of Alberta were never collected. This is a degree of magnitude far greater than the federal sponsorship scandal in which the government handed out $100 million of advertising contracts for which little or no work was done. This finding cannot be passed over in silence.
Pope John Paul's declaration noted above contains a further challenge not noted in the royalty report. The earth, the pope said, was given to the whole human race, not just to Albertans. There is no reason to believe that God gave the resources only to the people of a certain political and geographical area living at the time the resources are exploited. Albertans who live in current times are not the only ones who should receive the financial benefits of those resources.
It is morally incumbent on the Alberta government to dedicate a large portion of the resource revenue not only to future generations of Albertans, but also to development aid to those in other parts of the world who suffer from extreme poverty.
Such a move might well draw political controversy but, if implemented with a generous heart, it would spiritually enrich Albertans. It would help us to become a people who do not think only of our own wants and desires, but also of the much greater needs of billions of our brothers and sisters.
- Glen Argan
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