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Vancouver Sun

Agitators in the Oilsands Debates are Working for Oil Companies

I've been visiting Canada all my life, but I'm a little worried about my upcoming trip.

In late March I'm supposed to come to Vancouver to give a couple of talks. Youth Action Canada invited me to come, to speak to college students from across the country; I'm also planning to do a benefit for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. But now I read that Joe Oliver, the country's natural resources minister, is condemning "environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block" the Northern Gateway pipeline from the oilsands of Alberta to the Pacific.

I think he's talking about people like me. I've spent much of the last year helping rally opposition to the Key-stone XL pipeline from the oilsands to the Gulf of Mexico. I was arrested outside the White House in August, and emceed the demonstration that brought thousands of people to circle the White House in November. When I come to British Columbia, I'll urge everyone I meet to oppose the Gate-way project. In fact, Youth Action is paying me to come. And the money will end up at, the international climate change campaign, helping fight projects like Gateway around the world.

Since a majority of Canadians, according to the polls, also oppose the pipeline, I'll be in good company. But Oliver, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the organizers of the Ethical Oil campaign don't want any out-side voices. As the latter explained on its website, "It's our pipeline. Our country. Our jobs. And our decision."

Fair enough. But you know some-thing? The atmosphere belongs to all of us. There's not some wall at the 49th parallel that separates Canada's air from everyone else's. Since the oilsands is the second biggest source of carbon on the planet, that makes their development everyone's business. As NASA's James Hansen, the planet's premier climatologist, put it recently, if you heavily develop the oil-sands, it's "essentially game over for the climate."

It's much easier for Ottawa to pre-tend that anyone who raises doubts about the oilsands are "radicals" who hate Canada, much easier to demonize the scientists and citizens who ask uncomfortable questions.

You can judge for yourself, but I don't think I'm a radical. I'm a Methodist Sunday School teacher who happened to write the first book for a general audience on climate change.

To me, radicals work for oil companies, because they're willing to alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere; those of us who want to keep the planet a little like the one we were born on seem more like conservatives.

I know I don't hate Canada. I spent five years living in Toronto as a young boy, while my father worked for Business Week magazine. I remember with great fondness Mrs. Reesor, Miss Beer, Miss Conway and Miss Wright, who taught my first four grades. I remember rooting for Davey Keon, the Toronto Maple Leafs centre, and I remember waiting with great impatience each summer for the CNE to open.

In later years I've travelled the country stem to stern, written about fishermen struggling in Newfoundland, hiked the mountains above Jasper, skied the trails of the Gatineau.

The Canada I remember was open to the world: It welcomed the rest of the planet to Expo 67, it hosted the Olympics, it helped crack the Great Wall of China.

I don't know how that changed, but my guess is that the wealth of the oil-sands had something to do with it. Canada's government doesn't want to hear from the rest of the world because paying attention to their legitimate fears might cost it some money.

To judge from Oliver's nasty little letter, those vast pits of bitumen across Alberta aren't just dirtying the sky, they're starting to do some dam-age to the country's soul.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of His most recent book is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

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