The Future Will Be Dominated By … Canada?

By Daniel Volkosh

Much of American political and economic conversation is dominated by China.  It seems all but inevitable that China will overtake the United States economically in the not-too-distant future.  Yet this epoch in world politics may include another nation:  Canada.  Canada’s future role should not be underestimated, and the United States would be wise not to neglect the relationship.

Some have speculated that Canada could be the world’s richest country by the end of the century because of its wealth of natural resources and (relatively) environmentally-friendly national legislation.  Notably, Canada also has a large percentage of the world’s fresh water, forests, and oil.  According to a recent article in The Economist:

“Water is not evenly distributed—just nine countries account for 60% of all available fresh supplies—and among them only Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Congo, Indonesia and Russia have an abundance. America is relatively well off, but China and India, with over a third of the world’s population between them, have less than 10% of its water.”

Aside from possessing a large water supply, Canada is also the world’s third-most-forested country.  After the rainforests, the second-largest forest area in the world is located in Russia, Scandinavia, Finland, Canada, and a small part of the United States.

And then there is oil.  Canada’s tar sands in the province of Alberta contain the world’s second-largest trove of oil.  The tar sands are worth $15.7 trillion at today’s price.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that by 2035, global demand for oil may reach 110 million barrels per day (about 20% more than in 2009).  “Canada is already America’s biggest supplier of oil and petroleum, and as the sands are exploited further its market share should only rise. By 2030, according to IHS CERA . . . the tar sands should supply more than one-third of America’s imported oil.”

Furthermore, the Canadian style of governance allows for the federal and provincial governments to implement environmental legislation faster than in the United States.  For example, it took the U.S. nearly a decade to enact amendments to The Clean Air Act in the 1980’s.  Though Canadian environmental legislation is not as binding as it is in the United States, the speed of Canada’s enactment is enviable.

Admittedly, as with all natural resource allocations, there are and will be consequences.  Carbon dioxide is a real problem for the process in which tar sands must go through.   Canada also pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol under Prime Minister Harper.  But however negative these factors may be, the age-old notion of money equating power is sure to ring true for Canada as the earth’s natural resources become more and more constrained.

Canada and the United States continue to enjoy a unique and prosperous relationship in today’s global political dynamic.  But as we continue to focus on new markets in Asia, we should not forget our friendly neighbor to the north who is about to be extraordinarily rich.

Daniel Volkosh is pursuing his J.D. at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.  “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” – Voltaire

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