By Barry K. McKay,
Alberta Oil Sands Keep on Killing So We Can Afford to Keep on Filling
If you live in North America and use gasoline, oil or natural gas — or even if you don’t (and that would be exceptional) — you are indirectly complicit in the deaths of a great many innocent animals, including some who have a horribly tortured death. We are all guilty, if not equally, or directly.
But many of us are pushing back, and for that we — those of us who are citizens of the country first and most directly responsible — are vilified by the people most responsible. And those people form the government of Canada.
The Harper government has called Canadians, environmentalists and First Nations “adversaries” and “radicals” for challenging the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal (Read about it here). The proposed pipeline is an alternative to the Keystone XL, which would carry oil from the same, ecologically damaging source, south to the United States. Either way, Canada will find a market.
We all have a huge dependency on fossil, carbon-based fuels. Canada’s economy is hugely dependent on raw resources, and all Canadians thereby benefit. I get that. But surely we have a legitimate reason for examining the environmental and other ramifications of the tar sands (or “oil sands,” as the government has rebranded them.)
Concerns about the oil sands include the destruction of hundreds of birds of dozens of species who have landed in contaminated settling ponds, loss of fish as measured in deformities and die-offs, serious public health concerns, and the destruction of boreal forest covering a region about the size of the state of Florida (See: http://cahr.uvic.ca/nearbc/documents/2009/Alberta-Tar-Sands-Industry-Pollute.pdf )
The way oil is extracted comes at a huge cost in energy, the production of which contributes to global climate change, and uses mass amounts of fresh water.
The Harper government not only seems indifferent to the concern, it has muzzled scientists who provide the facts that cause concern and just recently announced it will stop funding the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory, a major High Arctic research station that produces valuable data to help scientists understand climate change. (Read more here). Renowned climatologist Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria said, “It’s quite clear we have a government that says they believe this is an issue but really don’t care about it.”
And then there are the bears and wolves, innocent victims of a government unprecedented in Canadian history for its hostility toward environmentalists and anyone else not in lockstep agreement with its policy (and furthermore, it is currently implicated in a squalid election scandal).
The boreal forests that are the home of the woodland caribou are being destroyed. The caribou are in decline. They require large stretches of continuous forest to survive. Well, we know that the destruction is too important to supporting our lifestyle dependence on cheap gas (Americans pay a lot less than Canadians, who pay a lot less than Europeans at the gas pump) and environmentally damaging sources of energy, so what to do?
Kill wolves. Some wolves kill some caribou, so they are being shot and poisoned in the region. They are not responsible for the decline in caribou ... but that’s hardly the point. Killing them simply represents “doing something” when the something that would be effective is too unthinkable to happen.
Now it emerges that last year Albertan wildlife officials shot 145 black bears habituated to dumps serving oil sand development facilities, with 68 of these animals shot at the dumps themselves. This is about twice the number of “nuisance bears” shot the previous year. Was anyone charged with improper storage of food or other bear attractants? Don’t be silly.
The ghastly deaths so many of these innocent animals suffer, the needless waste of life, is part of the legacy of our insatiable demand for energy. I understand. But at the very least let us not demonize those who are at least questioning, fighting back, looking for alternatives. Compassion is not a marketable entity, and so in the hearts and minds of Canadian leaders, it is, I fear, quite lacking.