Environment

Alberta at the Crossroads

Dirty oil, the Global Green New Deal, and money

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Alberta's energy sector has been described as the engine of Canada. Oil accounts for 74 per cent of Alberta's exports and continues to be exported at record levels to the U.S. and internationally. This continues despite actions taken by a recent dirty oil campaign that urges a boycott of the product. The most recent strategy of the dirty oil campaign urges Hillary Clinton to refuse permits for a new pipeline between Alberta and the U.S. On Aug. 20, that permit was issued.

Albertans are, understandably, confused – about the future, the legitimacy of this campaign, whether the Alberta government is doing enough to further sustainable development, and if all of this is just job-creation for public relations strategists.

Backers of the dirty oil campaign cite environmental damage as the main reason to switch to renewable energy sources. They claim that oil sands development is a major contributor to greenhouse gases, water pollution, and energy waste. Furthermore, it leads to the destruction of boreal forests and harms human health. Campaigners believe that suitable options exist in bio-fuels and maximizing regional self-sufficiency in environmentally-friendly energy production.

These arguments were persuasive enough to convince a gathering of U.S. mayors in June 2008 to target Canada's oil sands in a resolution calling for a boycott of dirty oil products for municipality vehicles, and national guidelines to track the life-cycle impact of different types of fossil fuels.

Mike Hudema of Greenpeace, one of the organizing partners of the dirty oil campaign, explains that there is no suitable way to make the oil sands sustainable in terms of environment, human rights, treaty rights and other First Nations perspectives. "Most of the push is to move to a green economy, to propose a new direction for Alberta that will lead to job creation in renewable energy conservation, sustainable agriculture and transportation," said Hudema in a phone interview.

Critics of the dirty oil campaign say that new technology is cleaning up oil sands development. The U.S. municipalities’ boycott is symbolic, but not enforceable or practical. The U.S. will surely continue to ship oil from overseas, requiring plenty of energy to transport it. Not to mention the costs associated with providing security for those sources of oil, like Iraq.

Meanwhile, the non-renewable energy sector claims it is developing research towards cleaner extraction and more efficient water use, and that there has been a marked reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the last decade. Premier Stelmach has threatened to find other markets if the U.S. does not stop the boycott talk, and the Alberta government is rebranding dirty oil in a green package as part of its own $25 million public relations campaign.

On their website, Alberta Environment claims that, "Addressing the protection of the environment during development of [the oil sands] is a priority for the Alberta government. Stringent legislation and on-the-ground measures are already in place to protect the air, land and water during oil sands development."

They have also maintained a community-based monitoring program that includes representatives from Mikisew Cree First Nations, Metis Industry Consultation Association, Fort McMurray First Nations, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations, Athabasca Tribal Council, Chipewyan Prairie First Nations, Fort Chipewyan Metis, Fort McKay First Nations, government and industry. The website states that, "These members provide direction on what input is collected for studies and how data is interpreted.”

Dirty oil campaigners want a full dead stop to the tar sands. Alberta's economic establishment wants full steam ahead, but Albertans don't seem to be accepting an either/or scenario. The public wants a balance between the economic security of non-renewable resource development and environmental health.

Trey Capnerhurst is impressed with the aggressive and action-oriented nature of the dirty oil campaign. She has been the Green Party Candidate in Edmonton East, is a business owner and self-publisher of the Greater Edmonton Green Pages and numerous web groups. She trained as a Petroleum Engineer, but, unable to reconcile the high cost to human life and the environment, left just before her education was finished. 

"It is hard to condense a complicated ecological message into a sound byte for the public, and that has been the problem with campaigns in the past. I think it is a great attempt to get people talking about positive solutions and rally around specific issues," said Capnerhurst in a phone interview. 

So where will the next economic boom emerge to deal with the challenges of the 21st Century? Experts are pointing in the direction of the Global Green New Deal. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) presents the strategy as an historic opportunity for environmentally focused investment to stimulate economic prosperity and job generation. 


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