An iconic environmental issue of the 20th century for Canada was baby seals. Environmental activists gained international attention and created international revulsion about the clubbing of big-eyed seal pups. That effort continues, but another issue is now creeping into the international consciousness that could darken Canada's reputation even more than seal slaughter. That of course is the Alberta tar sands.
It's a dirty business. Producing a tar sands barrel of oil results in at least three times more greenhouse gases than producing a conventional barrel. Production requires huge volumes of water and results in veritable lakes of contaminated fluids. It also devours large quantities of natural gas, the cleanest hydrocarbon fuel -- some wit once likened it to transmuting gold into lead.
The international opposition to tar sands development is growing. Alberta deputy premier Ron Stevens, on a five-day mission to Washington to peddle the oil sands brand, is being met by protesters and a full-page ad in the congressional newspaper claiming oil sands production is a major contributor to global warming.
With $100-billion of projects in the pipeline so to speak, the Alberta government is desperate to convince Americans, the people who buy the stuff, that the province is committed to "environmentally sustainable development of the oil sands." It plans to spend 25 million taxpayer dollars on the effort. Even that may not be enough to give this dirty business a clean face.
From killing baby seals in the East to producing the world's dirtiest oil in the West, it seems that environmentally we are not winning hearts and minds.