Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Anti-Tar Sands Boot Camp

Oilsands growth energizes activists
Environmentalists turn up pressure on 'unsustainable' development with training camp in non-violent protest tactics
Hanneke Brooymans, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Monday, June 04, 2007

EDMONTON - A group of frustrated environmentalists has gathered at a camp on the outskirts of Edmonton to learn eco-activist tactics for use against booming oilsands development.

The five-day clinic is scheduled to begin today at a secluded acreage southwest of the city, where 50 to 75 young people are preparing to mobilize against the oilsands by learning non-violent, direct-action tactics from internationally renowned environmentalists.

"I think the reason why we're training people in those types of tactics is we've tried to work through the regulatory process," said Mike Hudema, a former Albertan who now directs the Freedom from Oil program for a California group called Global Exchange.

"We've seen the majority of Albertans come out to the oilsands consultation process speaking against it. But the (Alberta Energy and Utilities Board) has a history of just rubber-stamping every single project that comes before it.

"We're now having to resort to more aggressive tactics to try and get this project stopped, because the traditional means society is supposed to have to have input into this conversation and to actually slow the project are obviously not being listened to."

Hudema said the majority of the young activists are from Alberta, but there are some from other parts of Canada, including the Northwest Territories.

They'll learn about grassroots organizing, working with community groups, and basic facts on global warming, as well as direct action such as scaling tall structures to hang banners, he said.

Hudema has a long history of activism. He once occupied former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan's office in protest of Canada's anti-terrorism legislation. He was also part of the Edible Ballot Society, whose members faced charges for eating their federal election ballots.

Two other trainers for the camp include Mike Roselle, a founder of the radical group Earth First!, known for climbing into trees and staying aloft to protect them from loggers.

Another trainer, J.R. Roof, used to be the director of the Greenpeace division that sailed around the world challenging whaling ships.

The focus of the Edmonton camp is on the oilsands because it's one of the most environmentally destructive projects in the world, said Hudema.

From a global-warming perspective, it will be the single largest reason why Canada can't meet its Kyoto commitment, he said. The industry also uses huge amounts of water and will chop down a vast expanse of the boreal forest to lay the groundwork for more oilsands development, he added.

"The biggest fact is that most of this is going to the U.S. And so it's destroying one-fifth of Alberta all to feed the U.S. oil addiction."

In the months following the training, Hudema predicts, more young people will become active and start asserting their vision for Alberta and what they want done for their future.

The activist camp is part of a larger trend of environmental focus on the oilsands.

The Sierra Legal Defence Fund said last November it will set up an office in Alberta this year in response to rapid oilsands and coalbed methane development. Greenpeace is also hiring a person to work exclusively on oilsands issues. And now World Wildlife Fund Canada is in the process of setting up an office in Edmonton to deal with both the Mackenzie River basin and oilsands issues.

The program director in the fledgling office is Rob Powell, a PhD-level ecologist who has lived in Alberta for 17 years.

For 15 of those years, he worked for the Natural Resources Conservation Board as director of science and technology and as an acting board member who participated in decision-making panels.

In December, he joined WWF Canada. "I just decided I really wanted to work directly in conservation."

Powell also worked with the AEUB through a shared services relationship with Natural Resources Conservation Board.

"I have attended some of those hearings, and like a lot of people have been disturbed by the fact that everything seems to be approved," he said.

"I'm not surprised that the tarsands have become a focus, because they are probably a good example, unfortunately at this point, of unsustainable development," he said.

Powell said his office, which will eventually be staffed with two others, will first concentrate on oilsands water issues, specifically how much water can safely be taken from the Athabasca River before it hurts the fish and human populations that rely on the river.

The World Wildlife Fund's approach to the oilsands problem will be to bring technical expertise to the table and try to work with people to find solutions to problems.

"So you're not going to see us leaping from towers and pulling stunts as some of the other groups might do, or orchestrating placard protests."


© The Edmonton Journal 2007

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