Eyes of the world are watching Alberta
The day Hollywood heavyweight James Cameron came to Alberta for his oilsands tour, members of the European Parliament also had Alberta's resource on their agenda.
MPs in Brussels were debating a motion to classify the oilsands as a high-emissions fuel in the EU's fuel quality directive that promotes use of greener energy.
Ten days earlier, a new photo exhibit, called Tarnished Earth, opened on the banks of the Thames in London, showing the massive open-pit mines, tailings ponds and effect on native lands.
This new anti-oilsands campaign is sponsored by The Cooperative, a U.K. group of businesses, including banks, pharmacies and grocery stories, that is committed to European goals of reducing carbon emissions, spokesman Colin Baines said.
They want to halt expansion of the oilsands and move into renewable energy as part of the solution to avoid runaway climate change, Baines said from Manchester.
"To expand the oilsands is basically going the wrong way," he said.
Asked if the campaign to paint the oilsands as "dirty oil" is as big as the anti-seal hunt campaign of a few years ago, Baines said: "I'd suggest it's already bigger. More people here have switched onto climate change; it's the biggest ethical issue of our time."
While its hard to assess the impact of environmentalists on the public, there's no doubt the global spotlight is increasingly on the oilsands. The "dirty oil" campaign that once followed Premier Ed Stelmach to Washington has moved onto Europe, where climate-change policies are more aggressive.
The Stelmach cabinet hit the road early this fall. Two cabinet ministers and gaggle of MLAs travelled to Europe, Alaska, and the Southern United States to reinforce the government's message that the oilsands are being developed responsibly.
Cameron's visit added to the pressure. Greg Stringham of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said oil companies realize they have to do things better, but disagree with environmentalists about how quickly measure needs to be taken.
Joseph Doucette, a University of Alberta business professor, said international groups are putting wind in the sails of local environmental advocates.
Environmentalists have been successful in running an emotional campaign, he said.
Industry and government have responded "with facts" -- describing they are doing in to mitigate environmental footprint -- "to a discussion taking lace in an emotional arena."
The best way to respond is for industry and government to show "concrete results" of better environmental performance, he said.
The European Union is committed to reducing by six per cent greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector by 2020, Baines said. So it seriously looking for low-carbon options, including electric cars, explained Baines. Britain also banned new coal-fired electricity plants, he noted.
The oilsands came under scrutiny last year, but the Canadian government successfully lobbied the EU parliament to remove any mention of the oilsands in its fuel quality directive. Some fuels could be subject to trade barriers as the EU tries to lower its greenhouse gas emissions.
Last week, Green MPs in Europe tried to put the oilsands back in the legislation, but had only partial success. The Parliament agreed by 2011 to assign an "emissions value" to fuels from the oilsands.
In one sense, the EU resolution has little impact. No bitumen-based product is shipped to Europe. All Alberta exports go to the U.S.
But the EU is influential in setting a standard for the world, Baines said.
The global effort to lower greenhouses gases will increasingly affect Alberta, said Edmonton entrepreneur and academic Peter Silverstone.
"It won't go away," said Silverstone, who has written a book, World's Greenest Oil, on how to turn the oilsands green.
While Alberta is the only province to charge a carbon levy, stronger measures are needed, Silverstone said.
He proposes the government adjust royalty rates to give major breaks to companies that make major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and charge higher royalties for those who don't.
"With an economic incentive, market forces will drive emissions down," he said.
Carbon capture and storage is only part of the answer, he said. Other technology is needed, Silverstone said.
"I'm truly worried as an Albertan. The more research I did, the more worried I became."
Even climate skeptics who dispute the science of human-caused climate change must by now see the risk of ignoring the problem, he said.