The oilsands or Alberta’s environment (pick one)

Rethink Alberta. What does it mean to live in this province? In Calgary, the home of corporate cowboys and towering oil companies taking over the downtown core, oil takes precedence. Here, we are fortunate enough to have an abundance of liquid gold supporting our growing population and infrastructure demands. Yet this growth comes at a cost, one the recent Rethink Alberta campaign sponsored by Corporate Ethics International is quick to point out.

The Rethink Alberta ad features blunt and unapologetic stills and video of tailing ponds, oil-covered ducks and smoke stacks spewing ever-popular green house gasses. They call attention to high cancer rates in nearby First Nations communities and state the “tarsands leak nearly 3 million gallons of poison” into the water system everyday. Despite the group acknowledging and correcting some initial factual inaccuracies, those who have watched the ad are still significantly less likely to visit Alberta as a tourist, according to a recent Angus Reid poll. Rethink Alberta may be aiming to affect change in Alberta’s oilsands, but will ultimately mainly hurt the tourism industry.

This indirect stab at Alberta’s wallet has been mildly successful however. Premier Ed Stelmach has dedicated $268,000 for an ad campaign to paint the province in a better light. Stelmach has also spent billions of dollars on unproven carbon capture research and other efforts to keep the oilsands popular while keeping royalty payments low. Alberta’s government has thus clearly implied that its financial standing (specifically revenue from the oilsands) is more important than future environmental well-being.

Alberta has little reason to be concerned with driving away investors. People will not give up current lifestyles to curb oil consumption and green technology is still playing catch up. After the major British Petroleum disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore drilling is even more unpopular than the Athabasca oilsands. We are the lesser of two evils. Many groups, from politicians to Green Peace, are actively trying to stop the construction of a Keystone pipeline that would carry oilsand bitumen to southern refineries, but given the alternatives it seems the project will be approved. The oilsands will continue to grow and therefore continue to draw in revenue for the province. The province should increase royalty payments, decrease the growth rate of open pit mines and dedicate any new revenue to researching and developing sustainable forms of energy. It is important to remain a leader in the energy industry if Alberta hopes to keep its current financial status, but that doesn’t mean we can only focus on the tarsands.

This is where groups like Rethink Alberta become the most important. Oil companies will only do as much to reduce emissions or reclaim land as is legislated by the government. The government, historically, has been less than stringent. Environmental groups, by sharing these videos and publishing harsh critiques on Alberta’s environmental policy, or lack thereof, do have the ability to drive the government to action.

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