"Re-Branding" the Alberta Tar Sands

It’s always nice to get feedback on your work. That’s why we were heartened to see a comment from the Alberta Government on our post yesterday about the appointment of a tar sands executive as a “clean energy” envoy to the US:

David Sands of the Government of Alberta, here.

Mr. Anderson you certainly bring a lot of energy to your writing. While we can’t agree with most of your assertions, we certainly applaud you and desmogblog for promoting the discussion.

If any of your readers want a quick (12 mins, I think) look at what we are doing to address environmental impacts of oil sands development, we’ve got a new video. Real people, real pictures, no script. (“Conversation”) up at this site: http://oilsands.alberta.ca/

Thanks David. I did take the time to view the video yet failed to come away with any new information or insights that undermined my strongly held belief that the tar sands are an ecological nightmare, or that the Alberta government is doing much more than trying to massage their public image.

In fact, it is odd that the Alberta taxpayer is funding a team of on-line writers to troll the blogosphere for potentially damaging posts, at the same time as the government of Premier Stelmach just slashed $12 million from provincial environment programs.

These sophisticated PR efforts instead seem part the much-maligned $25 million “rebranding” campaign bankrolled by the Alberta taxpayer. Mr. Sands himself is on record as saying a “fair amount” of this money is being spent in Washington because “the oilsands are a large part of Alberta’s story.”

No doubt. Stelmach himself called their expensive Washington lobbying effort a “full court press”. Clearly he is worried that cap and trade legislation moving through the US Congress will hammer the tar sands by dragging Canadian climate policy (or lack thereof) into the 21st century.

Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice fessed up as much in an interview today in the Globe and Mail:

There are clearly measures [being planned in the United States] that would have trade-related consequences for Canada if we don’t have equivalent environmental legislation in place.”

According to the Globe:

Mr. Prentice acknowledged that Canada would have to adopt regulations and enforcement standards “comparable” to whatever the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress eventually pass.”

It is humiliating that Canada, which used to be a world leader on matters of principle, will finally have to develop a coherent climate policy only because the US is forcing us to under threat of trade sanctions.

Mind you Premier Stelmach has his own humiliation to deal with. After years of demanding that the rest of the country get off their backs during the recently crashed oil boom, Alberta must now plead for $700 million in transfer payments from the Canadian taxpayer.

The bottom line is that “rebranding” can be a painful process. The Alberta government might have less headaches if they focused on substance rather than spin, and diverisfying their economy rather than waiting for the next oil boom.


The Alberta government might have less headaches if they focused on substance rather than spin, and diverisfying their economy rather than waiting for the next oil boom.

They seem to think their job is not to govern, but to pretend to govern. Hey, it worked for Klein; and his followers appear to have no better ideas.

Honestly, I know people here in Alberta who have a knee-jerk hatred of environmentalists which keeps them from honestly facing environmental reality.

Mitchell, Alberta never demanded the ROC “get off Alberta’s backs”. As a province, it has always been most generous with welcoming people coming here for work and providing many billions in transfer payments.

Alberta will diversify when the people who claim to be against oil actually begin practising what they preach. Beyond that, get used the tarsands.

Lived in Alberta all my life, which started while Manning was premier. 

Incidently, I’m pretty sure the Manning government was trying to diversify, as has every Alberta government since, with limited success.

An Albertan would not write: “As a province, it has always been most generous with welcoming people coming here for work…” without choking on the hypocrisy.  Did you forget “eastern creeps and bums”?  Do you know who made that comment?

And your comment “Alberta never demanded the ROC “get off Alberta’s backs”.  This is false many times over.

Oh don’t be sulking VJ. A number of creeps and bums did meander into Alberta in the early ‘80’s. Alberta has been slagged by other provinces for decades; I’m sure eastern Canadians can take one mildly rude comment in return.

In addition to welcoming large number of Canadians from other provinces, we also, without complaint, pay the largest per capita transfer payments in the country. Alberta is a great province, I’m surprised you haven’t discovered that yet.

“without complaint”??! Liar.

“one mildly rude comment”??  Liar; and you didn’t mention  the name of the abusive drunkard who said that while he was a mayor before becoming a premier.

Alberta was a much better place when we had good leaders like Lougheed who governed well instead of the likes of Klein and Stelmach who govern very badly and waste taxpayers’ money on liars who pretend they are not incompetent, arrogant, greedy sellouts.

You know VJ, you might get along better with people (and they with you), if you didn’t label everyone a liar who has had a different experience then you. Just a thought.

Ha. I’m more representative of what an Albertan is then you are. Ornery?  Pessimistic?  Paranoid? You must be one of Dr. Swann’s Liberal supporters.

We have to keep in mind that in a video, you only see the tiny part that they want you to see. The stakes are very high for the oil industry and it is unlikely it shows the whole picture. Were there dead ducks on it?

That being said, there is an alternative to cap-and-trade, one that may offer Alberta better options. The approach is outlined at A Structural Strategy for Global Warming: A Cap-and-Trade Alternative.  There is a lot of new information on the site since March.

It could be used with or without caps and would be more market integrated. 

There is no doubt it is an environmental disaster but there is no shutting down the tar sands either. If the US were to quit accepting tar sand oil, other customers will be found. Economics trump environment in this world. I view tarsands the same way I view nickel mines. Toxic wastelands are accepted by the majority because they come with “good jobs” and “good jobs” seem to trump everything in the end.

It’s true that jobs trump environmrnt. Ask the people of Easter Island. The evaded question, Rick, is because we have been wrong to date must we be wrong for ever just to be consistent?

While it is possible to trash the environment and rely upon the resilience of natural ecosystems to cope with repeated assaults, this is a flawed approach and ultimately  doomed to eventual failure. Eventually, the ecosystem damage becomes so severe that collapse becomes invitable and when it eventually comes, the collapse often occurs rapidly with little warning. But by then it’s often too late.

Just remember the Grand Banks Cod fishery. The scientists warned that the fishery was being over-fished, was unsustainable and that quotas needed to be cut. The fishermen wanted to continue fishing and argued that reduced quotas would destroy their industry. Scientists soon realised that the fishery was in terminal decline. The government ignored the science, increased the quotas and the fishery collapsed. Apparently, the industry were removing over 60% of the adult population for several years running.

The Grand Banks Cod fishery is finished - possibly for ever.

Only nature knows when or if the fishery will recover.

The questions are [bearing in mind what we know now]:

  • Should the now former cod fishermen have listened to the scientists?
  • Should the government have listened to the scientists?
  • Would the government and fishermen do things differently?
  • Are there lessons to be learned?
  • Might this lesson influence our behaviour regarding climate change?
  • Imperfect science is no reason for complacency.



So the equation is:

Jobs that trash the environment =  unsustainable Jobs = Jobs that cannot last

Jobs that are long-term sustainable = Jobs for ever.


No environment = No jobs

All jobs will have to be sustainable, or declared illegal.

Sorry Mitchell, my “team” missed your post in response to my comment. I just saw it today. (By the way, there is an ‘I’ in team, in this case. Other blog writers don’t share the blogosphere scanning fun.)

I didn’t expect that all your concerns over the impacts of oil sands development would be allayed by a brief visit to our website (http://oilsands.alberta.ca/) to see a video. I hope you can return to find answers to some of your continuing questions. And, if you aren’t terribly offended, if I continue to comment on desmogblog where some of your readers may find additional information useful.

And please do visit our blog (http://alberta.ca/blog/home.cfm) from time to time, I am contemplating a discussion of the infamous oil sands vs. tar sands brouhaha.

- David Sands, Government of Alberta