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Sunday, October 04, 2009

alberta and greenpeace: tourists at home and abroad.

Agree or disagree with their intentions and methods, it is hard to not be fascinated with the recent Greenpeace actions across Alberta at oilsands extraction sites near Fort McMurray and a Shell smokestack near Fort Saskatchewan. These live-streamed-to-the-world actions are part of a new reality as our province becomes more internationally known for our energy resources and the results of the extraction practices that we allow the oil companies to use.

The stunted political discourse in Alberta may continue to focus on the folly of a $2 billion carbon capture scheme, but Albertans should know that much of the international discourse around energy and the environment is centered around the decisions that will be made at the Copenhagen Conference in December 2009.

The reaction to the Greenpeace actions from our politicians was as provincialist as I expected. Premier Ed Stelmach, perhaps still perturbed over Greenpeace dropping in at a PC Party fundraiser, was reportedly fuming when he declared that the government would not "put up with this kind of behaviour again." Rather than taking the high-ground in this debate, Stelmach was then quoted saying something that I found to be quite debasing:

"Most of these protesters are from outside the country of Canada. They are really tourists telling us how we should develop our resources."
The Alberta government has spent hundreds of millions of taxpayers dollars being tourists. In an attempt to attract international attention and investment the Alberta government operates trade offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Munich, London, Mexico City, and Washington DC. The Alberta government spends hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to send Cabinet Ministers and MLAs to international conferences around the world as representatives of our natural resources. This year, the Alberta government spent $25 million on an advertising campaign in an attempt to re-brand the oilsands after the unfortunate Anatidae family incident.

I do not oppose the Alberta government representing our province overseas, I encourage it. But I expect that as our Cabinet Ministers and MLAs wine and dine at expensive international cocktail parties, that they appreciate of subtle shades of responses that the international attention they desire will draw. Just as the Alberta government sends its tourists around the world, our elected officials would be fools to not expect international organizations like Greenpeace to spend resources being tourists in our backyard.


Anonymous said...

I think Greenpeace made a great statement in Fort Mac. I work in the energy industry and I feel the oilsands are a disgrace. We also have seven out of the ten highest polluting power plants in the country. Our province is becoming an environmental nightmare while the greed of our government and big oil and energy comanies fail to provide any kind of action.
We have no environmental leadership in our province while Big Ed holds power like a fish out of water, flip flopping around, with no direction.

Anonymous said...

You need to update the poster, Dave.

Missing [the point]: Ed Stelmach

Anonymous said...

Stelmach wants trespassers to be punished to the full extent of the law. Well, then I guess the government should punish the oil companies, as they are trespassing on Native land in the north.

Anonymous said...

Stelmach is right. Greenpeace is little more than a bunch of spoiled rich kids rebelling against their parents.

Dave, your comparison between government travel and the illegal (and childish) activities of Greenpeace is more than a bit of a stretch.

Nadene C. said...

Great post, Dave. Stelmach gave up his chance to take the highroad in favor of a cheap sound bite. I miss the days of Honest Eddie.

Anonymous said...

Dave, in my opinion these clowns can protest all they want, but once you start breaking the law, it must end. I think they would behave if they knew that the Alberta Prisons do no serve tasty "granola" snacks on the daily jailhouse menu.


Anonymous said...

Criminals belong in jail. Greenpeace is so adicted to attention that they have no intentions other than getting arrested. I say give them what they want, throw them in jail for a long time.

Andrew McIntyre said...

Funny, here's the news release they just sent out:

I wonder how many of those Greenpeace protestors are from England and France?

Davisville Village Toronto said...

Interesting point of view. However, I too think that comparing the government spendings on representation with Greenpeace moves is just over the top.


Anonymous said...

England and France? My my. These rural home boys have some expensive tastes.

daveberta said...

Thanks for all the comments. This is a really interesting discussion.

The main point of this post was to point out that when (once again) given the opportunity to take the high-road and elevate the level of debate around an issue in this province (in this case, the oilsands, the economy, the environment, the international pressure on Alberta to clean up our act), Premier Ed Stelmach instead decided to dismiss the Greenpeace activists as 'others' from 'elsewhere.'

The Greenpeace activists did not harm any individuals or property, they have been charged with mischief and trespassing and our legal system will deal with them (and by taking these actions, they were very much prepared and expected to be arrested).

Feel free to disagree with Greenpeace's tactics and motivations, but they were peaceful, and purely designed to bring international attention to Alberta's oilsands by slowing down operations for a short period of time. They cleverly took advantage of the apparently lackluster security that the oilsands companies in Wood Buffalo employ to protect Albertans valuable natural resources. This is something that needs to be addressed - why was it so easy for the activists to get into to the oilsands site?

In its continued drive for international recognition, the Alberta government should recognize that it cannot practice selective isolation if it wants to play with the big kids. Going international comes with baggage, and agree or disagree with Greenpeace, they are part of that baggage and they are persistent.

Brent M. said...

I disagree Dave, as your definition of "peacefully" is inadequate and inaccurate. How can a protest be peaceful when it is in violation of the law? Police are called "peace officers" for a don't need them when there is peace. "Cleverly taking advantage of the lackluster security" is another way of saying that they willfully placed the lives of hundreds of employees at risk by being in a place they shouldn't have been. Fine, I'll drive Calgary Zoo's tiger up to the tar sands to manage security.

I'm not condoning the AB gov'ts environmental record by any means. Greenpeace's efforts though undermine legitimate efforts to make changes by marginalizing the environmental movement into a law-breaking group of extremists. No wonder there's no real pressure on the AB gov't to change if Greenpeace is in charge of public relations.

daveberta said...

Brent M: Thanks for the comment. As I wrote in my comment, my point was that Greenpeace didn't enter the site with intentions to harm any individuals or destroy any property.

"Cleverly taking advantage of the lackluster security" is saying that they cleverly took advantage of lackluster security. As angry as some people may get with Greenpeace, they aren't the kind of tourists that Ed Stelmach should really be worried about visiting the oilsands.

Alan Bell, the man who designed security protocols for Ontario's nuclear reactors, was quoted in the Edmonton Journal this weekend: "The oilsands are Canada's economic engine. You can't have a $9-an-hour security guard protecting this kind of asset."

Anonymous said...

I'm starting to think you and Hudema deserve each other. As for your 'peaceful comment' there are larger components that you're ignoring.

Do you have enough of a brain to consider that whilst the RC's were retrieving Spiderman and friends, there could have been a house burning down, an armed robbery, a terrible highway crash? Would they have been available for those REAL emergencies?

Note: The protestors were using abseiling gear dervied primarily from petroleum products. If they had used gear derived from hemp, that might have been original. Their movement is too much like a fundamentalist church. They decry everything around them using the very things they decry.

Darren said...

It does seem somewhat hypocritical for these people to get on airplanes - burning hydrocarbons and produing GHGs - get in vehicles - burning hydrocarbons and producing GHGs - and drive to a facility to protest it because it produces hydrocarbons and GHGs.

daveberta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

When my 2 year old daughter acts out to get attention she goes into a time out and then I explain to her how she needs to use other methods to more positively get her message across.

I would happilly offer my services of lecturing pouty children to Greenpeace, they might learn something about growing up...

just offering.

Sean K.

daveberta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
daveberta said...

These actions gave Premier Stelmach an opportunity to act like a world class leader by taking the high road by raising the level of debate about the oilsands in Alberta. Instead of vowing to punish Greenpeace activists and then dismissing their concerns, Premier Stelmach had a chance to elevate the larger debate around the way we are allowing oil companies to extract our resources. He chose to take the road of the easy soundbite instead.

(Also, I'm not defending Greenpeace, I was just pointing out the fact that they didn't walk in strapped with C4 and armed with assault rifles.)

Nadene C. said...

Greenpeace were trespassers and Albertans have it pretty good compared to some trespassers in other parts of the world.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the real world, Alberta.

Al from Vegreville said...

Poor old Eddie never had been one for raising the level of debate. Its easier to find votes in the trough.

Jeff J. said...

So Dave, if I wanted to raise the level of this debate with you, I should show up at your house and disrupt your daily routine, and chain myself to your computer so you can't use it. And when you ask to talk to me about it, I refuse. But only after I make the news will we have our debate.


daveberta said...

Jeff J: Was Greenpeace's goal to raise the level of debate or get newspaper headlines? I think we both believe it is the latter.

Anonymous said...

Stelmach may have given Greenpeace protesters grounds for defence: lawyers

Monday, 05 October 2009

EDMONTON - Some lawyers say Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach may have ensured the release of the Greenpeace protesters he has said he'd like to see treated more harshly.

Stelmach has said those who have blocked activities at oilsands facilities are being coddled and he's suggested he will work with legal officials to find ways to stop them.

Tom Engel of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association and law professor Sanjiv Anand say those comments have given the activists a legal defence when they appear in court Nov. 4 on mischief charges.

Both agree the remarks leave the impression of political interference in the courts, which could lead to charges being dismissed.

On Saturday, Greenpeace activists blocked construction at Shell's upgrader near Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., their third such protest in as many weeks.

Brent M. said...

Dave...apologies for the ensuing rant.
What would differentiate the Greenpeace protesters from an act of terrorism, if we use the argument that the tar-sands are a critical component of Canada's economic security. They disrupted our economic sovereignty, in the same way an idiot might yell "bomb" on an airplane without actually having one. It's still a crime, and just as disruptive as if they had've had assault rifles and C4. It surprises me that there hasn't been any mention of this being a violation of domestic terror laws.

The premier can't enter into discussions, because to do so would encourage other groups to engage in the exact same behaviors with the expectation that the premier would hear and/or act on their message. It would only cause an escalation in illegal activities against companies in the tar sands. It's ironic that through the efforts of Greenpeace big-oil should be giving "victims statements".

Anonymous said...

To your point about "international attention," Dave. Greenpeace wants us to think the world is calling us climate criminals. Political leaders know better. If you bump into the Brazilian Greenpeacer arrested Sunday, bring this up: "Brazil's carbon emissions from fossil fuel use have risen 49% over 13 years" (Google that phrase, you'll find it, Aug. 28, 2009. And, Brazil's agricultural emissions are ten times Alberta's oil sands emissions, 383 Mt to 33 Mt. If you meet the Australian Greenpeacer here to lecture us, ask about this: "Australia's per capita greenhouse gas emissions are the highest of any OECD country and among the highest in the world. Only five countries rank higher in per capita emissions: Bahrain, Bolivia, Brunei, Kuwait and Qatar." By the way, guess which nation is supplying the feedstock for China's widely reported one new coal generating plant a week? Yup, yours, "mate."
And for the French Greenpeace envoy, after congratulating him on his nation's international leadership on cutting fossil fuel use, ask him or her if they suggest the world follow France's lead: 90% of France's electricity comes from nuclear power. I don't think that points to a lot of Greenpeace influence in Paris, but I could be wrong, eh? And, although it's devilish hard to find, France's cement industry emissions alone have gotta be roughly equal to the oil sands emissions: Cement production and coal are 40% of France's fossil fuel emissions, and there's only three coal plants in the entire country, and no mines anymore.
Think about that - cement, a product every nation in the world makes or can make and nobody would import unless it was cheaper than they can make it. So, let's see, French cement or 2% of the world's oil supply, where would you campaign to cut 30-40 Mt of GHG?
These are facts world leaders know. When they discuss global issues, they look for global solutions, not stupid, pointless and even counter-productive acts like "stop the tarsands."
Bottom line, Greenpeace is as solution-oriented in every other nation as it is in Canada, and there isn't a political leader anywhere who doesn't know it.

Justin said...

If you read this post and start getting all bogged down in the legality or morality of Greenpeace's actions, you're missing the point.

The people who plan and execute actions like this don't care if it's legal (they know it isn't) and they don't care if you think it's ethical (they think it is).

What they do care about is drawing international attention to a situation that they believe to be wrong, in advance of important international climate talks. And it worked.

The Premier can choose to focus on whether/how the protesters should be punished, or he can rise to the challenge of articulating why his vision for oilsands development is the right one for Alberta, Canada and the world. If Alberta is to advocate for a "development first" position, Stelmach would do well to use this opportunity to explain why that's the best among the available options.

Turning this into an argument about the presence of "other" in Alberta is not a good long-term strategy for oilsands development proponents.

Anonymous said...

Stelmach can't "rise to the challenge of articulating... his vision" because the moronic media, pandering to the lowest common denominator of their audience, can't or won't deliver a complex message. And it is complex, doesn't fit on a banner, too bad for us. Media want conflict and clips. Stelmach said exactly what every world leader would say if they, like him, could afford to disregard the votes of people who let Greenpeace do their thinking for them.
And, if you really, really, really think oil sands GHGs are a world issue, go check the nation-by-nation reports (they're short, and in plain language, even a reporter could understand them) at
That's where you'll learn right quick what the GHG problem in each nation is.
The "noise" Greenpeace is bringing to this issue is probably the single greatest threat to meaningful action at Copenhagen. What a freaking disaster if the world - or even just Canada - decides all they have to do about climate change in this treaty is "stop the tarsands."
I almost wish Greenpeace could get their way, not only would the immediate economic devastation in Canada and the US drive them forever into hiding, but the people of the future would look back at the effect of Greenpeace's success, and see an increase in GHGs as the world scrambles to replace oil sands with whatever they can get from Nigeria or Venezeula.
Alas, Greenpeace fools only people too lazy (or ill-equipped, for whatever reason)for critical thinking.

Anonymous said...

Alright, I've got a statement for Greenpeace. On Sunday I parked the econo-box and charged the battery on the honking big three-quarter-ton 1986 GMC pick up with the V8 engine and four barrel, poorly tuned carb, the work truck with 289,765 kms on it (and worn piston rings to show it) which I use about twice a year for yard waste, moving friends and renos.
I'm driving that big-ass polluting puppy everywhere I go for a month. If Greenpeace does it again, I'll go two months.
Yes, it's stupid and pointless. And that's my statement to Greenpeace: Stupid and pointless, just like you.

Hanz said...

Dave, do you actually think international missions are about cocktail parties?

About as lame as Stelmach's quotes are Greenpeace's about their motives. It looks like at their training camps they are not only working on ropes courses, but on memorizing talking points that actually have no substance but are just repeating slogans until people believe them. They are saying nothing and it's just as bad as politicians speak, but no one has called them out on it.