Activists stop climate crime in the tar sands

Feature story - 19 September, 2009
What is soon to be bigger than England and account for more greenhouse gas emissions than the Czech Republic? The tar sands of northern Alberta, Canada - the largest energy project and the largest industrial project on the face of the planet.

This is what unrestrained fossil fuel development and unchecked emissions looks like.

Early in the morning of September 15th 25 Greenpeace activists enteredthe Albian tar sands operation and proceeded to blockade themselves inthe cabs of two dumptrucks and one crane. They remained on the site for30 hours, successfully shutting down the entire operation and sending astrong message: the tar sands are a climate crime and they must be stopped.

The tar sands - sometimes referred to as oil sands - are one of thedirtiest sources of oil on the planet, and extracting thisunconventional oil resource has created a truly hellish landscape. Vastareas of wilderness are chewed up andreplaced by toxic lakes, open pit mines, refineries, andpipe lines.

Extracting tar sands deposits is hugely energy intensive and produces emissions to the tune of 100 million tonnes of carbon per day. Worse, most deposits are located underneath boreal forestwhich must be completely destroyed to extract the tar sands whichfurther accelerates climate change. TheCanadian boreal forest is a huge carbon storehouse, and emissionsresulting from this deforestation have yet to be included in theofficial emissions. Not that the atmosphere cares about the officialnumbers. It is clear that tar sands development ispushing us towards catastrophic, runaway climate change.

Climate leaders don't buy tar sands

"It is clear that world leaders still need to get the message. We will continue to expose the horror of the tar sands until they face the urgent facts and wean themselves off the brutal addiction to fossil fuels which threatens us all with catastrophic climate change," Mike Hudema, Climate Campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, commented from the action.

"From the mining site, Greenpeace will continue to bear witness to the total devastation that is the tar sands. The message going into critical UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December is that climate leaders don't buy tar sands."


The blockade coincided with the release of climate demands from the world's largest global investors - who issued a joint statement calling for 'strong action this year from international policy makers in the fight against global warming.' Signed by 181 investors in total - this is the largest statement of its kind in history and shows that the future lies in a green, sustainable energy industry - not in the tar sands. It also makes clear the expectations investors have for world leaders this year. It was issued 80 days before the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen - which is the best chance the world has to agree to serious emissions cuts and strong climate policy that will avoid runaway climate change.

Greenpeace's recently released 'Green Jobs' report shows that this green energy future is not only possible, but it is beneficial to jobs in the energy sector. It is the first ever jobs analysis of a clean energy scenario made on a global scale and is part of Greenpeace's Energy [R]evolution scenario. Working for the Climate makes it clear that the shift to a renewable-energy based global system would be our best bet for environmental, energy and job security. By 2030 the report projects we could have 8 million renewable and efficiency power sector workers, while in contrast, if we continue with business as usual the energy sector would lose jobs - 500,000 of them by 2030. The choice is clear.

A poster child for climate destruction 

Images of the tar sands bring home exactly how devastating and destructive this energy project is for the environment. The toxic lakes created by water discharged from the extraction process are so vast they can be seen from space, and so toxic that cannons have to be regularly let off to scare away wildlife. This does not stop 11 million litres of leakage to occur per day. Even worse than what has already been done is the pace at which tar sands development is expected to grow. 

'Dirty Oil: How the Tar Sands Are Fueling Global Climate Change' is the latest Greenpeace report on the tar sands, authored by Andrew Nikiforuk, a business and environmental reporter and the author of Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent. The projections made are frightening.

"Tar sands emissions are bigger than Estonia and Lithuania right now andin 2020 will be larger than countries like Belgium, Austria, Irelandand Denmark," explains Nikiforuk. These are daunting figures which make it all the more pressing that our world leaders take responsibility and act on climate change. They could learn a thing or two from the 25 activists that successfully shut down the Albian mine operations. One of the activists had this to say afterwards: "We look atour logo 'Stop the tar sands' which seemed so extreme a week ago - andnow it seems possible."

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