Canada, Alberta in tar-sands denial

It is rare that the whole world is wrong and you are right

January 5, 2012

By Todd Paglia
and Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

VANCOUVER, BC, Jan. 5, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Though the oil industry and its backers in the Canadian government are still deep in the ‘denial’ and ‘anger’ stages, they can’t help but begin to realize that the tar sands are fast becoming a stigmatized and socially unacceptable source of energy.

Recently, Chiquita, one of the world’s largest producers and distributors of bananas (the most frequently purchased grocery item in the U.S.), joined 14 other major U.S. companies to address and, in several instances, publicly promise to eliminate tar sands fuel from their transportation fleets.

There are growing public concerns

Chiquita’s action is just the latest in a series of hits for the tar sands industry, which began with U.S. President Barack Obama’s delay of the Keystone XL pipeline and extended to the delay of a decision around Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline – all because of growing public concerns.

Rather than throw a temper tantrum and call for boycotts, or make specious ‘ethical oil’ arguments, it’s time for Canada’s leaders to acknowledge that the tar sands are facing a growing global and corporate backlash of their own making.

People will point fingers at the usual suspects (e.g., ‘foreign environmentalists’), but the truth is the tar sands stigmatize themselves. Whether it’s the downstream pollution and higher than normal cancer rates in nearby First Nations communities, or the higher than normal greenhouse gas emissions associated with tar sands extraction and processing – including air pollution in U.S. refinery ‘fenceline’ communities – the stuff is out of step with the global need to address deforestation, toxic pollution, and climate change.

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At a time when the International Energy Association says we have five years to avoid locking ourselves into catastrophic climate change, how can the Canadian government ethically justify tar sands expansion? How can the Canadian government continue to approve projects when health monitoring is inadequate and First Nations and refinery communities continue to suffer? How can anyone expect communities in British Columbia to embrace tar sands pipelines and tankers, when Michigan hasn’t even figured out how to clean-up Enbridge’s tar sands crude oil spill in the Kalamazoo river from the summer of 2010?

Stopping tar sands expansion, cleaning-up what already exists, and making sure that future emissions meet science-based greenhouse gas reduction targets should be bottom-line requirements for tar sands. Oil industry greenwash attempts do the tar sands no favours. Markets will get smaller, community opposition to pipelines and refineries will intensify, and the industry will find itself painted into a smaller and smaller corner.

To those who doubt this forecast, just look around you. Whether it’s Europe’s pending fuel quality directive, or China and India’s recent admonishment of Canada for its regressive climate stance at Durban and subsequent pull out from the Kyoto Protocol, the world is increasingly concerned about climate change.

The tar sands are putting Canada on the wrong side of the issue and turning the country from a leader to a laggard on clean energy. But it’s not just about climate change.

ForestEthics has identified approximately 50 refineries in the U.S. that process tar sands, and the adverse impact of these refineries on local communities is a big part of the equation for U.S. companies. They don’t want to be associated with intense pollution and health effects resulting from tar sands refining that unfairly affects the poor and minority communities surrounding the refineries.

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These communities bear all the risk, while reaping none of the benefits. Whether or not the tar sands inflict their full potential damage on Alberta’s land and people, on fence-line refinery communities in the U.S., and on the world’s climate, depends on how quickly the world turns its back on them.

Alberta and Canada allied with big oil

Chiquita Bananas, is doing just that. And Canada can expect more news like this in the year ahead. Years of denial by Alberta and Canada, followed by greenwash, which has then given way to anger, have unsurprisingly yielded zero environmental progress in the tar sands.

The Canadian and Albertan governments, somewhere along the way, made a dramatic shift in allegiance away from their own people and toward big oil companies. It’s time for them to take stock of what Canadian citizens, First Nations, their neighbour to the south, and the community of nations are urging them to do about the tar sands.

Rarely is it the case that the whole world is wrong and you are right. Come on Canada – you were a much better neighbour as a leader, not as a laggard.

Todd Paglia is Executive Director of ForestEthics and Susan Casey-Lefkowitz is International Program Director with National Resources Defense Council.

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