Canada

Fri, 2013-04-05 09:33Jeff Gailus
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Greenwashing the Tar Sands, Part 2: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Last week, I wrote a short history of the greenwashing campaign being waged by tar sands promoters, including (and especially) the Canadian and Alberta governments. It’s clear that as the battle over the future of tar sands development has intensified, so has the greenwashing necessary to promote it in the age of climate change and increasing environmental literacy. The more people know about the dangerous costs and risks associated with tar sands development, the more time, effort and money its promoters must invest in the alchemy of disingenuous propaganda.

The frustrating part for Canadians concerned with this egregious abuse and misuse of language is that there doesn’t appear to be any recourse. Tar sands supporters seem to disseminate their little black lies with impunity, and there is no way, in a democracy where free speech is sacrosanct, to stop the flood of tar sands bullshit sullying the airwaves.

Tue, 2013-03-19 10:23Jeff Gailus
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A Short History of Greenwashing the Tar Sands, Part 1

This is Part One of a three-part series on the political greenwashing of the tar sands in Canada.

When I hatched the idea to write a book about the use of spin and propaganda in the battle over the tar sands, a close friend of mine suggested I avoid the term “tar sands.” His logic was simple: using this term, which has become a pejorative, would turn some people off, people who might benefit, he said, from reading my book.

His recommendation was meant to be helpful, but it speaks to the power of manipulating language to make people believe something appears to be something that it is not. “Greenwashing” refers to the strategy of intentionally exaggerating a product’s environmental credentials in order to sell it, and nowhere has greenwashing been more generously used than in the promotion of the tar sands and the new and bigger pipelines that proponents hope will carry it around the world.

Greenwashing is fairly recent phenomenon—it was only added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1999—but it has become commonplace as public concern has grown over the spate of environmental problems we now face, and as consumers demand “greener” products as a means of solving them. The most recent analysis by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing found that although the number of green products is growing, the marketing of more than 95 per cent of them still commits one the seven sins of greenwashing.

Mon, 2013-03-18 10:08Jeff Gailus
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Parsing Redford’s Little Black Lies, Part 3

This is the third post in a three-part series. For Part 1 of Parsing Redford's Little Black Lies, click here. For Part 2, How Redford Can Walk the Walk, click here.

ON March 1, the U.S. State Department released its draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would increase the flow of Alberta’s tar sands oil to the U.S. by an estimated 510,000 barrels per day. It’s a big deal, both for those who support additional tar sands development and for those who want to limit the pace and scale of the world’s most controversial energy development.

For the latter, the draft SEIS was a disappointment. Like the original Environmental Impact Statement, the SEIS does not adequately account for the pipeline’s impact on water and climate. In particular, the SEIS ignored evidence that Keystone XL would contribute significantly to the escalation of the already rapid expansion of the tar sands, one of the world’s dirtiest forms of energy, and the resulting increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Not surprisingly, this suited Alberta Premier Alison Redford just fine. Redford had just returned from a “mission” to Washington, D.C., where she played fast and loose with the facts as she tried to convince American politicians that Keystone was an integral part of what she likes to call responsible energy development. For her, the draft SEIS was the long-overdue next step in the approval process, and she used the opportunity to exaggerate and mischaracterize Alberta’s environmental record.

Tue, 2013-03-12 08:00Jeff Gailus
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How Redford Can Walk the Walk, Part 2

This is the second post in a three-part series. For Part 1, Parsing Redford's Little Black Lies, click here.

As Alberta Premier Alison Redford tries her best to hoodwink American politicians into believing Alberta is leading the way on climate change, it’s worth considering where the problems lie and how they might be addressed. The solutions, of course, have nothing to do with more and better public relations, just a commitment to environmental stewardship that Alberta has yet to embrace.

As I wrote in the first part of this column, Redford’s claims about “responsible oil sands development” in her recent USA Today column are patently false. This is because Alberta has failed to implement its own climate change strategy, allowing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the province to grow significantly over the last 20 years despite a commitment to steep reductions.

There are three reasons for this failure. The first is the rampant expansion of Alberta’s tar sands development, which is the fastest growing source of GHG emissions in Canada. GHG emissions from the tar sands more than doubled over the last 20 years, and planned growth under current provincial and federal policies indicates they will double yet again between 2009 and 2020, from 45 megatonnes in 2009 to 92 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2020. Environment Canada knows full well that tar sands production, which is expected to double between 2008 and 2015, “will put a strong upward pressure on emissions.”

Tue, 2013-03-05 12:23Jeff Gailus
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Parsing Redford’s Little Black Lies, Part 1

This is the first post in a three-part series. For Part 2, How Redford Can Walk the Walk, click here.

Within weeks of becoming Alberta’s first female premier in October 2011, Alison Redford realized that the tired old propaganda about jobs and Canada’s reputation as a safe and friendly supplier of oil weren’t helping in the battle over the future of tar sands oil in America.

We heard very quickly that they don’t want to hear anymore the security argument or the jobs argument. We get that,” Redford told the Globe and Mail. “Really, this is about environmental stewardship and sustainable development of the oil sands. We were quite happy to talk about that, [but] that was a shift in the kinds of conversations that Alberta was having.”

What Redford doesn’t seem to have understood is that it’s not about talking the talk, it’s about walking the walk. In a recent column in America’s biggest newspaper, USA Today, Redford tried to convince Americans that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is part of Alberta’s “responsible oil sands development.”

Sat, 2013-02-16 10:00Ben Jervey
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Oil Aboard! Tar Sands Industry Eyes Nexen Rail Alternative to Stalled Pipelines

Facing enormous opposition to the proposed Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines, Canada’s tar sands industry is taking to the tracks to get its sticky bitumen to China. Canadian and Chinese oil companies have explored the “pipeline by rail” option for years now, but over the past month, the prospect of tar sands trains has taken a few big steps closer toward reality.

For over a year, Calgary-based Nexen, Inc. has been developing plans to load tar sands crude onto trains for transport to the West Coast, where it would be loaded onto barges and shipped to China. Late last month, the Canadian government approved the sale of Nexen to a nationalized Chinese oil company, and earlier this week, the U.S. government, which has some say because of Nexen’s major operations in the Gulf of Mexico, gave its stamp of approval.  According to Nexen, the company now has “all the requisite approvals” and the deal “is expected to close the week of February 25, 2013.” (So much for Canadian tar sands benefiting Canadians first and foremost.)

Rail is considered more and more appealing to industry insiders as numerous plans to ship tar sands crude by pipeline have grown increasingly controversial and have been stalled by climate and private property activists from British Columbia to New England to Nebraska. (See: the Keystone XL, the Northern Gateway, and Trailbreaker/Enbridge Line 9.)

In fact, the industry is growing desperate to find ways to export the heavy Canadian crude, as export pipeline capacity is currently maxed out, causing a glut in supply in Alberta, which is driving down prices and causing, according to the Globe and Mail, “billions in forfeited revenues.”

Thu, 2013-02-07 06:00Jeff Gailus
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When War is Peace and Dirty, Clean

Every communications expert knows that truth is rarely self-evident. Indeed, no matter how hare-brained or incredulous an idea is, if it serves the interests of a particular group of people who want it to be true, they’ll ignore any and all evidence to make it so.

Paul Krugman, an influential economist and columnist for the New York Times, recently wrote about this problematic phenomenon in the American military, where it is known as “incestuous amplification.” “Highly dubious ideas become certainties,” he wrote, “when a closed group of people repeat the the same things to each other – and when accepting the group’s preconceptions itself becomes a necessary ticket to being in the in-group.”

He refers, as an example, to the early days of what he calls the Iraq debacle, “where perfectly obvious propositions – the case for invading is very weak, the occupation may well be a nightmare – weren’t so much rejected as ruled out of discussion altogether; if you even considered those possibilities, you weren’t a serious person, no matter what your credentials.”

If this sounds eerily familiar, you might be thinking of the protracted campaign by Big Oil and the Alberta and Canadian governments to brand tar sands oil as a “clean, responsible and sustainable” source of energy. Earlier this week, I visited the Alberta government’s oil sands website to read about “Alberta’s clean energy story,” where we learn that Albertans “are doing our part to move the world towards a clean energy future.”

Fri, 2013-01-11 09:46Jeff Gailus
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The Biggest Little Black Lie of 2012

In a culture awash in bullshit, it’s no easy task to identify the Little Black Lie of the Year. It’s like choosing the most beautiful butterfly or the most violent criminal. There are just so many to choose from, and who’s to say?

Still, it behooves us to try, so I solicited input from people who pay attention to such things. There were numerous contenders. In a deceit of geologic magnitude, Enbridge erased 1,000 square kilometres of islands from the Douglas Channel to make the tanker route out of Kitimat Harbour look much safer than it really is.

Then there’s the patently misleading claim by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, almost a year to the day after Canada’s outspokenly belligerent Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver said “we are supportive of the [Northern] Gateway [pipeline] project,” that “the government doesn’t choose particular projects.”

South of the border, the ever-dubious Fox News reported that the Keystone XL pipeline would create “a million new high-paying jobs,” when the reality is no more like 4,600 temporary constructions jobs and just 50 permanent jobs.

There were dozens of others; the competition was stiff. But the New Year brought the release of a new scientific study that sets one Little Black Lie above – or below, depending on your perspective – them all.

For years, the Alberta government and the oil industry have maintained that tar sands mines and bitumen upgraders were not polluting the land and water in northern Alberta, that development was being conducted in a “clean, responsible and sustainable” manner. Despite research published by David Schindler and his colleagues in 2009 and 2010 that found elevated levels of a variety of toxic chemicals in the snowpack and waterways around the mines, and despite numerous studies that found the monitoring program in the tar sands region to be egregiously flawed, the Alberta government’s messaging remained the same: any and all pollution found in the area was from “natural” sources. 

Today, and every day in 2012, the government’s “oil sands” website reads: “Monitoring stations downstream of mine sites show industrial contribution cannot be detected against historically consistent readings of naturally occurring compounds in the Athabasca River.”

But now the cat’s out of the bag, and this Little Black Lie has been exposed once and for all.

Thu, 2012-12-06 12:53Jim Hoggan
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The Web We Weave When We Practice to Deceive

Peter Kent, Environment Minister

We are not muzzling scientists.” - Peter Kent, Canada’s Environment Minister.

I shook my head reading Margaret Munro’s Weekend Vancouver Sun article on freedom of information documents that caught Canada’s Minister of the Environment lying about muzzling scientists.

Kent has repeatedly denied that the government is muzzling scientists. But according to the documents, Kent’s office clearly muzzled Environment Canada researcher David Tarasick, preventing him from speaking to a number of media outlets about an unprecedented hole that appeared in the ozone layer above the Arctic in 2011.

According to Munro, “the documents also say Kent’s office and the Privy Council Office, which reports to the prime minister, decide when and if Environment Canada scientists are allowed to brief the media about anything from wildlife to water quality.”

Why would the Minister of the Environment block public discussion of scientific work that may be important for the health and safety of Canadians and their environment?

Sat, 2012-11-24 13:28Ashley Arden
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Wolf Kill Contest Prompts BC Gaming Investigation after Flurry of Complaints from Conservation Groups & Concerned Citizens

Wolves in Snow (c) McAllister / Pacific Wild

The BC Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch opened an investigation on Wednesday into a controversial wolf-kill contest in the Peace River region of northern British Columbia in response to a flurry of complaints lodged by conservation groups and concerned citizens.

Wolves in Snow (c) McAllister / Pacific Wild

Contests in BC are required to obtain a license when they have the three elements that constitute gaming: entry fees, chance, and prizes. Contests that are primarily skill-based are exempt from provincial gaming regulations.

Hunters pay a $50 entry fee to participate in the contest, with a chance to enter up to three wolves before March 31. Prizes for hunters who bag the biggest wolves include cash awards of $250 to $1,000 as well as rifles and taxidermy services. The hunter who kills the smallest wolf wins a $150 booby prize.

The wolf photo used to promote the contest obtained by the Vancouver Sun.

  

 

 

Photo used to promote the wolf-kill contest obtained by the Vancouver Sun.

The annual contest is co-sponsored by the Peace River Rod and Gun Club and Fort St. John realtor Rich Petersen, formerly on the Board of the BC Wildlife Federation. “It’s not a contest to exterminate wolves, not an organized thing where we go out and shoot every wolf in the country,” Petersen argued in an interview with the Vancouver Sun. “If you are driving down the road and see one and you happen to shoot it and you’re in this contest, you have a chance to win something.”

The Vancouver Sun reported yesterday that the BC Gaming closed its investigation in less than a day, deciding not to intervene in the contest because “in this instance, the … branch has determined that since the entrants must present a wolf to be eligible to win a prize, the event is skill-based and does not require a license.”

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