Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It Is What It Is

Don Martin column today which describes the National Geographic story as the "baby seal moment" for the oil sands. There's no doubt that the story undercuts the public relations campaign of the Stelmach government. Martin is correct that this high profile attention will harm the tar sands "reputation", but apart from some vivid language, the piece is hardly unfair.

There is nothing presented by National Geographic that is factually untrue, and they do a good job highlighting the issues beyond a simple discussion on global warming. A propaganda piece is an attempt to "slant" the narrative- but really does anyone dispute how disgusting the tailing ponds are, their threat to waterways, the health risks, the damage to the ecosystem, the energy intensive methods needed, the social problems that accompany rapid expansion? In terms of historic oil production, the methods used, the quality of, really do represent "scraping bottom", so the description isn't in error or outlandish.

People can try to put lipstick on a pig all they want, but the tar sands are what they are, the National Geographic piece simply tells a story. Apologists would argue it's a sensational story, but nobody needs to photoshop the sludge, the moonscape speaks for itself and the health of the ecosystem isn't based on fiction. It's important to consider consequence, rather than a simple economic argument. If that constitutes a "baby seal moment", it should surprise no one, because it's part of a real reality that is conveniently ignored by proponents.


Jerry Prager said...

The National Geographic article also points to the failure of Canadian corporate and public media to do their jobs.

Karen said...

A poll conducted by the Pembina Institute in 2007 found that 71 percent of Albertans favored an idea their government has always rejected out of hand: a moratorium on new oil sands projects until environmental concerns can be resolved. "It's my belief that when government attempts to manipulate the free market, bad things happen," Premier Stelmach told a gathering of oil industry executives that year. "The free-market system will solve this."

Talk about a man out of step with the times.

That poll is interesting. I had no idea that Albertans felt that way.

Steve V said...

It always amazes me how people put their faith in the "free market", this belief you don't need regulation or oversee, amoral corporations will just do the right thing. Besides, this global crisis shows the free market is basically a dead concept.

Anonymous said...

We Canadians are so used to bragging that our country is one of the best in the world - well, the world will look at these pictures and read this article and ask what kind of country/government/people would allow this to happen? This environmental destruction in the name of the almighty dollar is a reflection of us, Canada, and we should be ashamed! I am.

Cliff said...

"That poll is interesting. I had no idea that Albertans felt that way."

Very much so. we have to live with the devestation remember. Keep in mind, in the last provincial elction barely 40% of eligible Alberta voters actually voted and the PCs got barely half of those vote. So we have a government with a huge majority that barely 20% of Albertans actually voted for.

Since everybody knows how gerrymandered Alberta is with a manufactured rural dominence that adds up to a rural vote being worth more than any 5 urban votes quite a few people feel like voting has been carefully engineered to be a pointless act.

But there's a strong and growing consensus both urban and rural that Alberta is headed the wrong direction and is out of step with economic and environmental realities. We could finally be heading for another one of Alberta's seismic shifts where the governing party gets wiped out overnight. Then we'll probably have another 40 year dynasty to complain about...

Anonymous said...

correct me if I am wrong. are the oil sands a natural part of the geography of Alberta?

Steve V said...


Why don't you read the link, and you might get your answer.

Sean S. said...

In some places the oil sands are exposed at the surface naturally. However, the majority are buried beneath a layer of overburden that increases in depth as you track east across the Saskatchewan border (yes, Sask as oil sands too, just not developed - Yet).

JimmE said...

When I lived in Alberta there was a commercial by an oil company showing the nice job they do fixing the open pit once they've removed the Tar Sand. Funny they never showed the tailings ponds.

Dame said...

Going with the tar sands as it is today is suicide for many Albertans and outside of Alberta also.. the ultimate recklessness of this Government.. period
One big reason to take them down.

Steve V said...

There's an interesting tension between the idea that the oil sands bring power on world stage, contrasted with the prospect of an international environmental eyesore which lessens our moral stature.

JimmE said...

... one thought on the Lipstick on a Pig comment.

Why in the province that gets more hours of sunshine than any other do these geniuses not use solar heaters for part of their needs? Using natural gas is akin to burning D Cells in a fire to get light!

These boneheads could green-wash the whole Tar Sands by going deep into solar heating.

But hey, same folks who cut industry contributions to the Heritage Trust Fund, Sent everybody a cheque cause the had some extra $, have bitumen up grade plants on hold, & elected Doris Day finance minister!

Steve V said...

I've always wondered why more of the oil revenue wasn't diverted to renewable development. 75% of electricity comes from coal in Alberta, so a massive effort to move over to renewables would be a real public relations coup. You could then make the argument that you're a world leader on the consumption side, which somewhat blunts what is required on the tar sands side.

Anonymous said...

I want to see a REAL response on this issue from Ignatieff.

Liberal Rob Silver had an EXCELLENT take not to long ago about how Ignatieff was on the wrong side of this issue.

All we've seen so far is "the dumbest thing you can do is run against Alberta or the oil sands" and vague references to "we need to clean them up" but at the same time saying they are our "greatest resource" and give us incredible leverage over the Americans and so on.

But it's certainly not at all too late for Ignatieff to get it right.

This should serve as a reality check: Stelmach and Harper ARE WRONG, it's time for REAL CHANGES not fancy words.

It seems Ignatieff is afraid of pissing off Albertans, but the poll quoted by knb shows that they want dramatic changes just as Ontarians do.

Not to mention that with oil this low the oil sands aren't even profirtable to mine whatsoever.

So anyone who sees the oil sands as the golden egg of the Canadian economy that we can't dare disrupt just has to "think again" (as Ignatieff has been known to say).

The Mound of Sound said...

Our Associate Prime Minister (the one in the White House) is expected to implement a hard cap regime on carbon emissions that'll give Stelmach fits. It'll be worth the price of admission to watch Harper follow suit.

Anon 3:31 and the Alberta Liberal leader are right - Iggy's on the wrong side on this one even if he's paid lip service to environmental problems of the Tar Sands.

Steve V said...

Surprising take from Alberta's environment minister, saying the piece was fair. Apparently, the government has been aware of this article coming out for quite some time, so I assume this is just a way to make it appear less damaging than it actually is.

I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop with Iggy. Clearly, this is a first salvo, to allay any sense that the Liberals are anti-Alberta. Let's see what our environmental policy is first, before we say anything conclusive. A bit of pandering is the precursor...

Anonymous said...

OMG! This article is just jaw dropping. Ignatieff is cearly listnening to the wrong people here. I'm sorry I have to say this but he sounds EXACTLY like Stephen Harper and Ed Stelmach on this issue, in fact he sounds WORSE. Like seriously this is for what, one more seat max in Alberta? Ignatieff can't possibly believe what he is saying here can he?

Steve I think even you would agree that Ignatieff is sounding further right wing and off mark than Jim Prentice and Harper are here on this issue. I do'nt think an embrace of "intensity targets" are far away...

Michael Ignatieff defends oil sands

OTTAWA – Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff is positioning himself as a staunch defender of the Alberta oil sands.

He's brushing aside a 20-page spread in National Geographic magazine that outlines environmental concerns around the northern Alberta industry.

The Liberal leader says he doesn't take lessons from foreign publications.
(Edit: WTF!!!)

He says the oil sands need to be made more sustainable, but he's proud of the industry and called it a world leader.

That's a switch from previous Liberal policy that suggested Canada should stop subsidizing the oil sands and focus on alternative sources of fuel.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice is ignoring a suggestion that the magazine article is a major public relations challenge for Canada.

He says what's important is that Canada and the United States are working together to shrink the carbon footprint of their coal and oil industries.

Anonymous said...

It would seem the story that the link was attached to has been updated. Here is a google cached link of what was posted earlier in case you were wondering where I quoted the article above from.

Steve V said...

Already have it :) Geez.