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A Turning Point in the tar sands

Liz Barratt-Brown

Posted February 19, 2009

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The tar sands issue will never be the same after the President's visit to Canada this week. It has been catapulted to the top tier issues between the U.S. and Canada. Now the spotlight will be on what can be done to  clean up the massive environmental problems in the tar sands and whether they fit a "21st century" energy solution, as called for by President Obama. And that spotlight will not let up. This next month's National Geographic has a lengthy and graphic story on the destruction there.

While the President did not directly take on the tar sands (he was a polite guest), he talked about the development and use of clean energy as one of the most pressing challenges of our time. He went on to say that how we use and produce energy is "fundamental to our economic recovery but also to our security and our planet, and we know we can't afford to tackle these problems in isolation."   He repeatedly stressed that global warming is the lens through which we must now look at energy issues. 

In one fell swoop, the President obliterated the main argument that the Harper and Stelmach governments have put forward in support of expanding strip mining and drilling for tar sands oil.  It was a policy of "oil-sands-at-any-cost-for-energy security purposes".  They are going to have to do better now that the fate of the planet is now entwined. Energy security must morph to climate security.  And as wealthy countries, we must lead on tackling global warming.

But the President also had wise words about how finding energy solutions for the 21st Century might enrich us.  He talked about how addressing the climate change issue might help us make our economies more energy efficient, saving consumers and businesses money.  And he talked about how he hoped that out of the collaboration with Canada we would emerge firmly committed to addressing an issue that ultimately "the Prime Minister's children and my children are going to have to live with for many years."

There will be a lot of back and forth in the next few days about what this new energy dialogue will mean and clarifications around whether the Harper Government's climate policy is the same as the one proposed by President Obama (it is not) and whether carbon capture and storage is a solution in the tar sands (it is not), but at the end of the day the key point is this - our leaders can no longer hide behind the coattails of the oil companies operating in the tar sands and call this a rational energy or climate or planetary policy.

Native Americans from north of the tar sands to refineries dotted across the West and Midwest and all along the proposed pipelines spoke out against the tar sands damage to their sacred lands, tar sands festivals were held and Greenpeace banners hung, and thousands of letters were sent by scientists, athletes, writers, artists, mayors, members of environmental get the picture. The message was "Tar sands no, green jobs and a green economy yes".

As if to drive the point home, today it was announced that Alberta - once rolling in oil money - is now in a deficit.  And guess what? The oil companies are still making money.  As the President said, there are no "silver bullets" in solving our energy problems but one thing is clear, we can do better and thanks to the leadership of our new President and the people of Canada and the United States, I am sure we will.

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Norm HoffmannFeb 22 2009 05:19 PM

As a Canadian I can tell you that the majority of us are ashamed of and outraged by our national government's response to climate change. It is abundantly clear from the record that deep down Prime Minister Harper is a climate change denier. He and his delegates have done little but stall at home and obstruct abroad. Even now, anything he does to address climate change is in response to irresistible political pressure, not conviction. Canada has become the world's climate change mediocrity. I implore you to keep up the pressure in any way you can. The tar sands have to be shut down.

Norm Hoffmann
Vancouver, Canada

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