On 16 September 2009 some 25 Greenpeace activists from Canada, the USA and France shut down Shell’s 125,000 barrel per day Albion oil mining project an hour north of Fort McMurray in the Athabasca tar sands. While Green¬peace displayed a banner accusing Shell of climate crimes the petroleum transnational claimed that it was in the forefront of environmental stewardship and energy efficiency. For support Shell cited a 2007 study by Alberta’s Pembina Institute. The deep background to this confrontation at the world’s largest industrial project is richly excavated in Cy Gonick’s collection, Energy Security and Climate Change: A Canadian Primer. Not only are NAFTA-dictated oil and gas exports depleting Canadians’ scarce reserves, but the tar sands also account for half of the country’s Kyoto emissions gap and make serious emissions cuts impossible. The tar sands negatively impact water, forests, wildlife, the ways of life of indigenous peoples, and the viability of small farmers. And through pipelines, natural gas extraction, refining, combustion emissions, and land-fill, the tar sands affect everyone else.
Petr Cizek’s chapter exposes the co-optation of NGOs such as the Pembina Institute that are addicted to corporate money. Pembina’s economist Anielski falsely represented Canada’s boreal forests as significant carbon sinks whereas in fact they were net carbon emitters, “largely due to increases in forest fires and pest outbreaks, all related to global warming” Cizek suggests that Anielski’s “deceptive conclusion that the boreal forest is now absorbing carbon and not actually producing it” fits nicely with his claim that the carbon absorbed each year was worth $1.85 billion, “which could presumably be used to ‘offset’ carbon emissions from the tar sands.” Cizek adds that the Pembina Institute “just happens to make money selling “carbon offsets.” An employee of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, an environmental NGO, reported that the Canadian Boreal Initiative (funded by the 24.95 Suncor-Sunoco Pew Charitable Trusts’ series of shell operations including Ducks Unlimited in Nashville and its Winnipeg branch-plant) is “reviewing and vetting their draft press releases.”
A pattern of corporate co-optation helps to explaining why most ecology organizations are more conservative than are Canadian citizens. While Canada’s energy workers’ union supports “public interest ownership,” a Leger poll in 2005 showed “that 51 percent of Canadians with an opinion supported nationalizing the oil corporations, including 60 percent of the young” (Laxer). Gonick’s contributors explain this massive NGO-citizen divide as arising from the capture of the Alberta and federal governments by largely U.S. corporate power. As Warnock points out, Canadian energy policy “is the result of the overall political commitment of Canada to the support of the Anglo-American political alliance to dominate the world.”
The “Canadian primer” succeeds brilliantly in presenting historical and factual narratives of two ramifying realities of our time: climate chaos and the transition from carbon (oil, gas, coal) to solar energies. The authors challenge the obscenity of mainstream “help the polluters profit” discourse. Their 18 chapters are short, provocative, and ideal as tools in popular and student education. The primer addresses the reality of climate change and peak oil, the imminence of drowned cities, climate refugees, starvation, more intense resource wars, and the trickery of green capitalists and their funded NGOs such as the Natural Resource Defense Council and Ducks Unlimited. Beyond these crucial themes the reader is given a list of 12 time-buying steps to combat climate change and an endorsation of eco-socialism.
This article appeared in the November/December 2009 issue of Canadian Dimension (End Times in Copenhagen).