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Dirty diplomacy

Canadian Environmental Minister Jim Prentice was met by a group of protesting polar bears when he arrived at the White House to meet with Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson and Energy Secretary Steven Chu in March. The protest followed a mounting chorus of concern about Canada’s tar sands – a particularly dirty form of petroleum deposit from which heavy oil is extracted – from First Nations, environmental groups and scientists.

‘The Canadian Government’s singular focus on handling the tar sands with kid gloves has become a lightning rod for environmental activism on both sides of the border,’ explained Merran Smith, Director of Climate with ForestEthics. ‘Canadians need to start asking themselves how much political capital and how much of our national agenda we are willing to sacrifice in Washington, defending the world’s dirtiest oil.’

‘There will be no shelter for politicians selling dirty oil in Washington,’ revealed Brant Olson of the Rainforest Action Network. ‘There comes a point when an issue is so polarizing that it begins to undermine a nation’s other diplomatic efforts in the capital, and for Canada, that issue is fast becoming the tar sands.’

Activism against the tar sands hit a critical mass following President Obama’s trip to Canada earlier in the month, combined with coverage by the National Geographic and a full-page USA Today advertisement condemning the tar sands, commissioned by environmental group ForestEthics and the Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Fort Chipewyan First Nations.

The Obama Administration is currently investing six times more per person in clean energy than the Canadian Government.

New Internationalist issue 423 magazine cover This article is from the June 2009 issue of New Internationalist.
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