New development of Alberta and Saskatchewan's tar sands should be halted and existing projects gradually scaled back because of the negative impact the extraction of petroleum products is having on the environment, said a group of environmental activists who met in Windsor Saturday.
Participants in a symposium held at the University of Windsor were told that Canada's tar sands generate three to five times more greenhouse gas pollution than the production of conventional oil, while overall tar sands operations also have environmental and social costs which have yet to be fully measured.
"Most people are familiar with the tar sands developments but are less familiar with their impact on the environment and this symposium is designed to raise awareness so that people can understand the environmental implications of those developments," said Sushank Saha, a member of the Environmental Coalition at the university.
"Developments in Alberta are not separate from the rest of the country.
"They are all intimately connected and we already know that Windsor's pollution levels are high so we should be paying attention to the impact those developments are having on our own region."
Sponsored by the Polaris Institute, the Sierra Youth Coalition, Toxic Free Canada Ontario and the CAW Windsor regional environmental council, the forum included a workshop on tar sands developments and a panel discussion.
"We're hoping the tour will create an understanding of the impacts the tar sands developments are having on Ontario and that it's a national issue we all need to address," said Elly Adeland, water and energy campaigner for the Polaris Institute.
But striking a balance between economic realities and environmental concerns is a difficult task, admitted Saha.
"It's a thorny issue at the moment because the developments do create employment but the question we need to ask is whether or not it's long-term sustainable employment," said Saha. "We need to create opportunities for workers in tar sands developments to transition into jobs in renewable energy projects.
"Renewable energy is the wave of the future and we need to do whatever we can to move away from petroleum dependence," said Saha.
Greg Boyle, national director of the Sierra Youth Coalition, said the workshops created an opportunity for students "to discuss what we've learned and what the next steps should be.
"We're calling for more consultation with Aboriginal groups and any others directly affected by tar sands developments and that there be no new development until all the groups and their concerns are satisfied," said Boyle.
Among those are water depletion, land degradation, aboriginal injustices, social damages, energy insecurity and global warming.
The three-city tour also visited Sarnia and Detroit.