Little black lies – The facts and politics of the tar sands


Over the last year pundits and advocates on both sides of the controversy have made claims and counter claims about the ongoing damage to the Alberta ecology and the greenhouse gas contribution resulting from the ever accelerating mining of the tar sands.   A recently published short book by Jeff Gailus provides a comprehensive review of the facts and politics surrounding this arguably very dirty source of oil.  Gailus takes the reader through all of the high profile publications and editorials relevant to the tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline.   He details the factual errors and hyperbole emanating from proponents and opponents.  To be sure, the corporations and governments responsible for creating this ecological disaster have committed the most egregious distortions of the science.  However, the environmental camp is guilty of it own hyperbole in an effort to affectively engage the public.  Not surprisingly, industry and government have loudly cried fowl at the marketing tactics employed by environmental advocates, while giving themselves a pass on their numerous misrepresentations of the facts.  The Alberta government website on the tar sands is a study in propaganda at its best. Gailus does an excellent job of taking the reader through each of the point-counterpoint arguments about the tar sands.  I recommend this book as the definitive source for accurate  information on this unfolding ecological disaster.

The bottom line is that no matter how you parse the data or spin the story, the tar sands are indeed a very dirty source of oil, exceeded only by liquified coal in terms of total well-to-wheel carbon emissions.  As the third largest known reserve of crude oil (following Saudi Arabia and Venezuela), there is no credible argument that burning this source of energy will not be a major contributor the greenhouse gas burden of the atmosphere.  While it may be true that burning the accessible portion of the tar sands will add only a small increment to the temperature of the planet, it is disingenuous to argue that a source of emissions this large should get a pass.  It represents a significant chunk of present day emissions, and if plans for development proceed, the share of emissions attributable to the tar sands will substantially grow.  The profits to be made by the oil companies and the Canadian government are immense.  Thus, the forces behind this insanity are formidable and it remains to be seen if even the amazing coalition represented by #ForwardOnClimate will be able to slow this juggernaut.  I, for one, see no real evidence that Obama truly understands why the tar sands are such a big deal.

Simply put, climate change is the biggest thing in the history of the human species. Period.  All through history, honorable men and women have put their lives and livelihood on the line for critically important issues, but there has never been an issue of this magnitude.  Stopping the insanity of wrecking a livable planet is worthy of every effort that we can give it.  We must be able to look in the mirror and say “we did all we could.”  At Unity College, we know that there can be an alternative future, and we are working every day to build it.  I am honored to be part of this, and I am immensely proud of our students, faculty, and staff who are dedicated to a vision of a sustainable civilization.

As I write this, it is 11 pm in Washington, D.C.  Tomorrow, on the 17th of February 2013, Unity College will join tens of thousands on the Mall to make climate change history.