Canada: please stop focusing on public relations and deal with the tar sands

Canadian Environment Minister Prentice visiting Washington, D.C. for meetings on energy and climate this week, makes me wonder again why Canada is putting so much effort and money into public relations around tar sands oil instead of addressing the very real environmental problems. Whether or not tar sands are formally on the agenda, it is relentlessly raised by Canadian government officials in the press as the fuel source of choice for the United States. 

Feeling defensive in the fact of a rising chorus of public concerns in the U.S. and Canada and by exposés such as the March National Geographic photo spread of beautiful Boreal forest versus tar sands trip mining pits, Canada is trying to paint the tar sands oil as being so necessary that it shouldn't matter if its environmental problems are not yet solved.  

Released just prior to President Obama's trip to Ottawa, Alberta's new tar sands plan is part of its 25 million dollar public relations campaign comes just as the province is announcing a deficit for the first time in many years. It is striking that Alberta is reaffirming a major investment in making the tar sands seem environmentally responsible rather than in really cleaning them up and dealing with the many concerns raised by the public about the pace of tar sands development.

And Minister Prentice's trip to Washington, D.C. this week did not bring us a different message. Canada claims that tar sands expansion is possible with a system to capture and store the carbon emissions - but does not explain how it will handle the expense, timing and technological difficulties of putting such a system in place. Canada claims that its plan to fight global warming is the same as the United States - but does not explain how to reconcile the Canadian system of allowing global warming pollution to increase as tar sands industry expands with the U.S. proposal for an absolute cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada has the opportunity now to move away from its rhetoric and take a hard look at what it can do in terms of actions to strengthen its economy around renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy conservation. Canada can also take a hard look at what some of its provinces are doing such as Ontario with its newly introduced Green Energy Act. And Canada can join the United States in making a commitment to put in place an absolute cap on global warming pollution emissions in the very near future.