Alberta can’t ignore pollution

There were protests against Canada in Copenhagen, the Greenpeace assault on Parliament Hill, the killing of an environmental protester over a Canadian-operated mine in Mexico, and the release of a report claiming tarsands mining is akin to having a major oil spill every year. That’s just this week.

There were protests against Canada in Copenhagen, the Greenpeace assault on Parliament Hill, the killing of an environmental protester over a Canadian-operated mine in Mexico, and the release of a report claiming tarsands mining is akin to having a major oil spill every year. That’s just this week.

With all of that, and with our foremost energy buyer on the record as having reservations about our “dirty oil,” it’s an assault on our self-image as Canadians.

Didn’t we used to be about wide open spaces, fresh air and abundant clean water? Isn’t Canada’s “brand” supposed to be green? What happened to make Canada the bad guy on pollution, habitat loss, desecration of water resources and global warming?

What happened is that Canada as a nation — and Alberta in particular — is late answering the wakeup call.

We were warned that development in Alberta’s north is happening too fast, but we kept our foot to the floor.

There weren’t enough welders and construction workers in the whole country to build all the new phases of oilsands extraction and processing units, but we chose to set our economy on fire rather than slow the pace — as if the oil in the tarsands would disappear if we didn’t take it all out today.

And the scientists, writers and analysts who warned the costs weren’t being fully presented were ignored.

One of the latest books on the subject is Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (And Doesn’t Seem to Care) by Canadian journalist William Marsden. Well-received (by the people who read it), even recommended by reviewers as a high school textbook. And completely ignored in Alberta.

Today, at the summit on climate change in Copenhagen, Canada’s leadership isn’t worried about pollution, habitat loss or global warming. They’re worried the energy industry in Alberta isn’t going to get a fair shake.

Even the upstart Wildrose Alliance is saying Canada shouldn’t sign any agreements that would tie us to real efforts at reducing pollution, if it means taking our foot off the gas in Alberta’s north country.

The alarms are ringing but Alberta has the snooze button taped down.

The result is the damage to the planet — and the damage to our reputation internationally.

The bogeyman dragged out for us is that if the world insisted on better environmental controls, and if Canada acceded to the world’s demands, that the oilsands industry would just disappear — which is simply not true.

Suppose all development was stopped and all production ceased. In very short order, huge international pressure would build to resume development. When oil passes $100 a barrel again — as it surely will some day — the pressure to access the second-largest oil reserve in the world would be unstoppable.

Even the staunchest activists realize these reserves must eventually be brought to market. How else could they get jet fuel to fly to international summits on climate change?

The question, to Alberta’s and Canada’s leaders, is about how much damage to our environment and our international reputation can we handle in our hell-bent rush to develop it all overnight?

Right now, Alberta’s leadership is complaining about hearing bells all the time but not realizing the bells are actually a warning.

Dispute the science all you want, but you don’t mine an area the size of Florida without paying a bill. You don’t put a toxic lake three times the size of Sylvan Lake behind a berm made of sand and clay and on the very banks of a river, and expect there will never be a disaster.

You don’t send the equivalent of a major oil spill into the air as particulates every year for years on end and not expect things downwind to start dying off.

And you don’t close your eyes to it all, and not feel guilty for your share of it, when the world finds out.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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