Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

"Don't react as protesters want" -- corporate spin on recent actions against tar sands

This unsigned editorial is not in the slightest endorsed by this website, but reproduced for your information.


Don't react as protesters want
Edmonton Journal
October 7, 2009

How should industry, government and ordinary Albertans deal with Greenpeace protesters trying to put a spotlight on an industry they view as an environmental crime?

Demand their arrest?Ignore them? Maybe even learn from them?

In the heat of the moment, even Albertans who privately harbour doubts about our freewheeling "open-for-business" energy policy likely lean to solutions involving gavels, locks and cells. But as the discomfort fades of having an ill-informed, hypocritical international spotlight on us, more canny calculations recommend themselves. We focus on what the protesters really want--And then we realize that calling them "terrorists!" and treating them like an existential threat may simply play into their hands.

For some of us, maybe, the development and reclamation of the bitumen mines north of Fort McMurray are subjects that need to be reconsidered in vigorous policy debate. In such a discourse, information is exchanged, facts are uncovered and examined, ideas are tested against each other. But that's not what Greenpeace is about; on the contrary, their sallies are the equivalent of negative advertising in a political campaign--except, of course, airtime and newspaper ink are acquired for free through the staging of a stunt rather than writing a cheque to advertising departments.

They aim to reach people who know little or nothing about the industry, and to change how they feel about it without confusing them with too many facts. The constant effort to rebrand the raw material as the dirty-sounding "tarsands" speaks volumes, as does the impression the protesters labour to leave behind that removing oilsands from the global energy mix will have no impact on how ordinary people live in a world climbing a steep growth curve for energy demand.

Since the goal is a free public-relations campaign, surely the best response is not to talk about counterterrorism measures--as Solicitor-General Fred Lindsay ludicrously did this week--but rather to respond in the low-key, adult way Shell and Suncor did in recent Fort McMurray incidents by refusing to put new fuel on the news fire with aggressive responses and legal charges.

Should industry and the province draw the line at actions that might endanger the lives of protesters, employees or the surrounding population? Absolutely. Should industry insist on avoiding more than the occasional brief interruption of production? Of course. But the fact is, your average green protester does not want lives on his hands, much less lose his own. (Which is one of the reasons why they are here Alberta, and not disrupting a coal plant in China.)And the fact is, "tourist" protesters (as Ed Stelmach calls them) are unlikely to hang around Fort McMurray and Fort Saskatchewan for the long term,

Heaven knows there are enough other environmental causes around the world--some of which could do with more attention, such as overfishing and desertification. And if they don't get the protesters' blood moving, the beaches back home in Brazil and Australia are better places to discuss climate change and energy footprints in winter than an unfriendly bar in an northern Alberta hotel.

Let's return to the possibility Albertans might have something to learn from the protesters, a notion that may have stuck in several craws.

This was not meant to suggest we have much to learn about the world's insatiable demand for energy, or about our right to exploit, as responsibly as possible, any resource the market puts profitable value on.

But the Greenpeace incident is a very useful reminder that spin and public relations are vitally important things, and that neither Alberta nor the energy industry has done a good enough job of delivering a compelling, fairer impression. Indeed, it may very easily be argued that their button-down, reactive approach has been key in making the oilsands fertile Greenpeace territory.

Further, the protesters remind us that what foreigners think matters --however foolish or naive it may be for their future energy security.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal


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