Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 1, 2008
Don't sweep our ashes under the rug
When one drops cigar ashes on the floor and sweeps them under the carpet, it is considered poor behaviour. Someone, after all, will have to come along and clean up the mess.
But when oil companies pump greenhouse gases out of the tarsands at mind-boggling rates, the Alberta government fools itself into thinking the $2 billion it has set aside to "sequester" those gases is an action that approaches environmental heroism. Sooner or later, someone - likely our children and grandchildren - will have to deal with those gases that have been swept under the rug as well as all the other negative environmental consequences that result from tarsands development.
"We believe you can develop the resource while protecting the environment," Tom Olsen, Premier Stelmach's press secretary, recently said of the tarsands.
Well, maybe. But there is precious little evidence of that actually being the case.
Carbon sequestration, in particular, is a desperate grab for public support for rampant tarsands development.
At this point, there is no basis to say carbon sequestration will have any detectable effect on the amount of greenhouse gases being dumped into the atmosphere.
But there is legitimate concern that sequestration will create its own ecological nightmare - carbon leaking into the aquifer and further damage from building even more pipelines across the tortured earth.
If the Alberta government were truly concerned about climate change, one would think it would promote renewable energy development such as from wind, solar and hydrogen sources. For decades, the government has steadfastly refused to follow this path.
One would think that Stelmach and company would seek a moratorium on new tarsands projects so that a plan could be developed to manage the social and environmental effects of new development.
One would think that they would step up to the plate to fund Edmonton's proposed $100-million, 10-year plan for a major increase in bicycle paths. One would think that they would strive mightily to develop alternatives to the internal combustion engine, not only so that the environment will be protected, but also so that Alberta has an economic future after the tarsands.
One would think that if carbon sequestration had been studied and found to be both safe and effective, the government would require tarsands companies to foot the bill for cleaning up the mess they are creating.
That it has done none of the above should lead one to the conclusion that its sequestration plans have less to do with preventing environmental damage than with another form of damage control - that to the province's international image.
The Alberta government will do anything to continue the current frenetic path of development. It is less concerned with environmental responsibility than are the corporations themselves. Its only real policy is to develop it all now before something better replaces the oil economy.
One consequence of that policy is to rashly grasp at possible "solutions" to environmental problems to avoid negative publicity that might hamper Alberta's oil exports. Another is to avoid any policies that might encourage people to lead simpler lifestyles.
Oddly, it is Pope Benedict, a true conservative in contrast to Alberta's phony conservatives, who is calling us to a sustainable society. It is not the Church's role to propose technical solutions to complex problems. But it has always been the Church's role to lead by example and to point out where society is on the wrong track.
What the politicians really need is not phony policies like carbon sequestration. What they do need is a change of heart to put the needs of future generations ahead of the desires of the powerful people today.
- Glen Argan
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