After two weeks of sustained protesting at the US White House against the Keystone XL pipeline, with 1,252 people arrested, civil disobedience has now spread to Canada, home of the tar sands. Yesterday, around 500 people protested in Ottawa against Canada’s controversial tar sands; 117 were arrested as they purposefully crossed a barrier separating them from the House of Commons in an act of civil disobedience.
One of those arrested, Maude Barlow, chairperson of the environmental NGO Council of Canadians, told the Inter Press Service that “If a government refuses to represent the people, then there is little choice but civil disobedience.”
Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver responded to protestors by saying they were ‘extremists’ and out to ‘kill Canadian jobs’.
The tar sands, dubbed by the industry as ‘oilsands’, is vociferously supported by Canada’s conservative government under Stephen Harper, who has been pushing the US to accept the Keystone XL Pipeline. The pipeline would bring tar sands oil through six US States to refineries in Texas, crossing one of the US’s most important freshwater sources, the Ogallala Aquifer.
Last month US activists staged a two week-long protest at the White House against the Keystone XL Pipeline and are planning another action in early November.
The tar sands has become a target for activists because it has a significantly higher carbon output than normal sources of oil. The Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) estimated the greenhouse gas emissions of the tar sands was 5-15 percent higher than conventional sources, while the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that emissions were 20 percent higher.
Renowned climatologist, James Hansen, raised awareness of the issue when he wrote that if the tar sands are exploited along with coal reserves “it is essentially game over” for the climate.
But Oliver says critics are making the tar sands out to be worse than they are. According to Oliver, the industry accounts for 0.1 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, adding “you wouldn’t know that listening to some of the rhetoric, but those are the facts.”
Still, Oliver neglected to mention that the tar sands are expected to scuttle the country’s pledge to cut emissions. According to an analysis by the Canada’s environmental agency, rising tar sand carbon emissions are set to offset any progress made on decreasing Canadian greenhouse gas emissions in other sectors, causing Canada to fall far short of its pledge by 17 percent by 2020 (with 2005 emissions as a base), an emissions target already seen as mild at best by environmentalists.
Extracting oil is not just carbon-intensive but water-intensive as well: the oil—which exists in the form of bitumen and is mixed with clay, water, and sand—must be extracted from the ground with hot water and upgraded by using a high energy process. To make a single barrel of oil requires two tons of tar sands and three barrels of water. The tar sands have been blamed for despoiling fresh water sources, cutting vast tracts of boreal forest, poisoning wildlife, and spreading cancer in indigenous communities.
“The tar sands represent a path of broken treaties, eroded human rights, catastrophic climate change, poisoned air and water and the complete stripping of Canada’s morality in the international community,” Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network said in a press release. First Nation communities have been fighting the industrial juggernaut for years.
In many ways the tar sands has become a focal point for climate activists in North America after years of frustration with governments they view as doing next-to-nothing to mitigate climate change. In response, the tar sands industry has rolled out a massive PR blitz in the US. Supporters of the pipeline in the US argue it will provide jobs and make the US less reliant on the Middle East for oil.
The civil disobedience in Ottawa occurred without drama by all accounts. A step stool was placed before the barrier and protestors were even said to be joking with cops as they were arrested. One protestor in a wheelchair was lifted over the barricade by others. Those arrested were charged around $65 and banned from the House of Commons for a year.
(09/06/2011) Two weeks of climate disobedience at the White House ended over the weekend with 1,252 people arrested in total. Activists were protesting the controversial Keystone XL pipeline in an effort to pressure US President Barack Obama to turn down the project. If built the pipeline would bring oil from Alberta’s tar sands through six US states down to Texas refineries. While protestors fear pollution from potential spills, especially in the Ogallala Aquifer which supplies water to millions, the major fight behind the pipeline is climate change: Canada’s tar sands emit significantly more carbon than conventional sources of oil.
(09/25/2011) On six continents, in over 75 percent of the world’s countries, people came out en masse yesterday to attend over 2,000 events to demonstrate the power of renewable energy to combat global climate change. As apart of the ‘Moving Planet’ campaign organized by 350.org, activists created a giant human-windmill in Paris, gave out bike lessons in Buenos Aires, practiced evacuation measure in the Pacific island of Tuvalu imperiled by rising sea levels, and marched in Cape Town for a strong agreement at the next UN climate meeting hosted in Durban, South Africa.
(08/22/2011) In the first two days of a planned two week sit-in at the White House in Washington DC, over 100 activists against the Keystone XL pipeline have been arrested, reports Reuters. If approved by the Obama Administration, the 1,700 mile pipeline would bring around 700,000 barrels of oil daily from Canada’s notorious tar sands to oil refineries in Texas.