Pages tagged "alberta"


Environmental Injustice in Alberta

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In late June, a team of RAN staff travelled to Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada to participate in the Tar Sands Healing Walk, which is organized and hosted by members of the local First Nations Communities. Walking amidst the tar sands destruction was a humbling and powerful experience.

This blog post is one of a series, sharing our impressions and reflections.

Todd's previous post was "Industry's Dreams, Indigenous Nightmares: A Visit to the Alberta Tar Sands"

We left the tar sands boomtown of Fort McMurray via Highway 63, a notoriously dangerous road we were warned was trafficked by huge trucks hauling mining machinery and by oil workers cutting loose on their time off. Fortunately, we traveled the short distance to the Tar Sands Healing Walk camp without incident. We joined the healing walk encampment, a collection of tents and teepees along the beautiful Gregoire Lake, and were hosted by Keepers of the Athabasca, a network of Indigenous First Nations groups.

The natural beauty of Alberta is striking, and deceptive. At first glance, the land looks unspoiled, with thick stands of white-barked birch, a big sky, and the placid waters of Gregoire Lake. Tragically, the idyllic façade belies profound contamination: the air, waters, animals, and people of Alberta are poisoned. This reality was quickly hammered home in the Tars Sands Healing Walk camp. Drinking water for the gathering of several hundred had been pumped from a residence at nearby Fort Chipewyan, and the water reeked of methane gas. Apparently, some of the well-intentioned visitors in attendance helpfully pointed this out to the community hosts, prompting a sobering announcement from the stage: "People are complaining about the water smelling of methane. This is what people drink here. There is no other water." Later the same day, Annette Campre from Fort McKay First Nation told the crowd that she has been using bottled water to bathe her children for years. The Athabasca River flows north through the tar sands mines, carrying contaminants away from major population centers and toward Fort Chipewyan, a community of Chipewyan, Cree, and Metis First Nations people. One suspects that the intense water contamination visited on Fort Chipewyan would not be permitted if the river of pollutants flowed south from the tar sands into the Canadian cities of Edmonton and Calgary.

The consequences of tar sands mining contaminants are disproportionately borne by First Nations communities, like Fort Chipewyan, a tiny town with a hugely anomalous incidence of rare and aggressive cancers, like bile-duct cancer. At the Tar Sands Healing Walk encampment, we heard from Dr. John O’Connor, the fly-in doctor for Fort Chipewyan and early whistleblower on the abnormally high incidence of cancers in the region. Dr. O’Connor recounted efforts by industry and government to discredit his first-hand observances, which have been borne out in a recent study that found that 21.3% of surveyed First Nations persons displayed evidence of cancer. The study also reported "that cancer occurrence is significantly and positively associated with participant employment in the Oil Sands as well as the consumption of traditional foods and locally caught fish."

The cancer epidemic faced by First Nations communities in the Alberta Tar Sands region are appalling, but the damage inflicted by tar sands mining on Canada's original people goes deeper. The same recent study documented "elevated levels of the environmental contaminants arsenic, cadmium, mercury and selenium, as well as PAHs (some carcinogenic) in the foods traditionally harvested by the First Nations in the region." Translation: the game that Indigenous people rely on in Alberta is ridden with toxins. For First Nations people, this has much deeper implications than the simple right to uncontaminated food stocks. As I learned at the Tar Sands Healing Walk, many of the important ceremonial and spiritual practices of Alberta's First Nations rely on traditional relationships with game, including hunting and the consumption of this meat. Tar sands developments threaten local species like the caribou with extinction, and are poisoning fish and game stocks. For First Nations communities, the contamination and degradation of the land is an existential threat; if First Nations people are unable to pass on traditional knowledge and practice, their culture and spiritual practice is destroyed. As we learned at the Tars Sands Healing Walk, the continued development of the Albertan tar sands is a perpetuation of cultural genocide by settler culture.

So what is to be done about this? Tune in next week for a final post—“Resistance: what do we do about the tar sands?”

Image: Chipewyan drummers lead the Tar Sands Healing walk. The Chipewyan culture is directly threatened by tar sands mining.


Industry’s Dreams, Indigenous Nightmares: A Visit to the Alberta Tar Sands

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In late June, a team of RAN staff travelled to Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada to participate in the Tar Sands Healing Walk, which is organized and hosted by members of the local First Nations Communities. Walking amidst the tar sands destruction was a humbling and powerful experience.

This blog post is one of a series, sharing our impressions and reflections.

Our journey in Alberta began in Fort McMurray, a boomtown where the international oil industry has set up a base of operations from which to conduct tar sands extraction. The scale of the industry anchored in Fort McMurray is difficult to overstate: the town sits on one of the world’s largest oil deposits, the Athabasca tar sands. The extraction of Alberta’s tar sands constitutes the world’s biggest industrial project, and massive mining operations directly abut Fort McMurray. 

We landed at the brand new Fort McMurray international airport, where workers were putting the finishing touches on the terminal’s décor, as if the place had been quickly constructed in anticipation of our arrival. Immediately, signs of the tar sands-driven boom were apparent; gift shops featured oil sands tee shirts and advertisements announced new direct international flights to Las Vegas, enabling well-paid oil workers to quickly spend their paychecks on gambling and entertainment.

industry_mags_600x416.jpgMore than 80% of Canada’s tar sand workers are male, and Fort McMurray was full of bulky guys. On the plane, I overheard a pair of oil workers talking about how they had gained over 100 pounds while living in company-provided housing at a tar sands refinery, a by-product of boredom and sedentary machine-operation. As if to justify the weight gain, the workers then turned their conversation to the “couple of houses” each had bought with their tar sands earnings. 

Many of Fort McMurray’s workers seemed focused on buying real estate with oil profits; the town was awash in oil industry publications that combined breathless accounts of lucrative tar sands expansion, advertisements for mining companies, and tips on homeownership and real estate. According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, capital investments in the Canadian tar sands have jumped more than 400% since 2006, stretching the municipality’s resources and skyrocketing population and property values in Fort McMurray. Expansion, growth, money, and oil are the watchwords of the day.

Ft._Mac_600x660.jpgOn the edge of town we visited the Oil Sands Discovery Centre, a shrine to the technological process of extracting and refining the tar sands. Sponsored by the Albertan government with heavy support from industry, the Discovery Centre was most remarkable for what it was not included in its displays. As in Fort McMurray and the tar sands industry more broadly, the Oil Sands Discovery Centre lacked any acknowledgement of the climate impacts stemming from the tar sands. It was as if the oil industry town existed in an alternative reality where climate change did not exist and endless expansion of tar sands mining was completely unopposed by the global community.  This was a step beyond climate denialism; it was an outright refusal to even recognize that the concept of climate change exists.

Irony_At_the_Oil_Sands_Discovery_Centre_400x600.JPGIn place of the gaping hole where climate concerns should have been, the Oil Sand Discovery Centre touted Fort McMurray’s incredibly ironic ban on single-use plastic bags, and offered an appeasing video insinuating that oil industry reclamation efforts are akin to the millennia of sacred land stewardship practiced by Indigenous First Nations groups. While we immediately smelled a rat in the oil industries claims of reclamation, it wasn’t until we joined the Athabasca Chipeywan and Mikisew Cree First Nations that the abject hideousness of industry claims came into focus.

When we left the world of Fort McMurray’s oil settlers and joined First Nation host communities at the Tars Sands Healing walk, what we heard and saw laid bare the poisonous horror that lurks beneath the sheen of Alberta’s lucrative tar sands boom and industry’s expansionist dreams.

Part Two, "Indigenous Nightmares", will be posted next week. 

 

Photos: 

1. Visitors at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Fort McMurray.

2. Oil industry magazines predict growth for Fort McMurray and tar sands mining.

3. Fort McMurray is dwarfed by nearby tar sands mines.

4. An ironic sign at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre.

 


The Tar Sands Healing Walk: A Photo-Diary

Last week, a team of RAN staff travelled to Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada to participate in the Tar Sands Healing Walk, which is organized and hosted by members of the local First Nations Communities. 

Walking amidst the Tar Sands destruction was a humbling and powerful experience. We are putting together a series of blogs to share our impressions and reflections. This, our first one, is a photo-diary of the walk.

1. Grand Chief Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Derek Nepinak, Chief Allan Adam and Grand Chief Philip Stewart addressed the walkers at the beginning of our day. Each spoke about the importance of protecting land for future generations and the impacts that Tar Sands mining is having on First Nations Communities in Canada.

2. Aboriginal elders led procession under a banner reading “Stop the Destruction Start the Healing”. Along the way we stopped to pray for the land’s healing with offerings of tobacco, water and song.

3. We walked for more than nine miles around Syncrude’s excavation site, refinery and tailings ponds.

 

4. Many of the vehicles that passed our walk were transporting ‘potable water’. The local groundwater has been polluted by the Tar Sands mining operations.

 

5. This ‘Tailings Pond’ contains waste water from the Tar Sands extraction process. The neon work-suited scarecrows have been placed to deter birds from landing on the pond. 1600 ducks died after landing on a Syncrude tailings pond in 2008.

 

6. We were accompanied on the walk by two First Nations drum groups.

7. The air was thick and heavy with fumes from Syncrude’s refinery.

8. We passed a ‘work camp’ where Syncrude workers live, in the shadow of the refinery.

9. The RAN team, next to Syncrude’s refinery.

10. We passed several areas labeled as ‘reclamation’ sites. These bore no resemblance to the healthy Boreal forest ecosystem that existed before the mine was developed.

Stay tuned for future blog posts sharing our impressions and reflections. 


Canada Approves Northern Gateway Pipeline, Opponents Vow Fierce Resistance

"We will defend our territories whatever the costs may be."

— Alliance of 31 First Nations

This week, despite broad public opposition, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper approved Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. The Northern Gateway pipeline, seen as a backup option to the Keystone XL pipeline that is currently mired down in a political quagmire in the U.S., would ship 500,000 barrels of bitumen a day through British Columbia to the Pacific coast.

The approval sparked loud protest from First Nations groups and environmentalists. Opposition to Enbridge has already been heightened in British Columbia and with the Harper government’s announcement, opponents took to the streets of Vancouver and promised fierce resistance to the pipeline.

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First Nations groups in Canada, which have long fought the pipeline, vowed to defend their land and their sovereignty with no surrender. In an unprecedented show of unity, 31 First Nations and tribal councils have signed a letter announcing their intention to "vigorously pursue all lawful means to stop the Enbridge project."

Furthermore the Uni’stot’en Clan has maintained a blockade encampment in the path of Enbridge and other proposed pipelines on their territory in British Columbia since 2009. Upon the Northern Gateway announcement they stated they “are prepared to continue to defend their territories against the incursion of government and industry.”

The environmental left has also vowed to fight back against Northern Gateway.  Direct actions, protests and legal battles are being planned to stop the pipeline.

Immediately after the announcement,  environmentalists launched sit-ins in Member of Parliament offices in opposition to the decision. Four were arrested at the office of James Moore, Conservative MP and Minister of Industry.

One of the four was Jackie DeRoo, MBA, a mother and retired businesswoman: “I'd never even been to a protest until Northern Gateway came along and I began to learn about climate change,” she said. “If ordinary citizens like me are willing to get arrested to stop this project, Harper can expect blockades that will make Clayoquot look like a picnic.

At the same time as the Northern Gateway pipeline and Keystone XL campaigns,  Enbridge have lobbied for a system of pipelines to send hundreds of thousands of barrels of tar sands south to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Enbridge has multiple pipelines proposed in the United States.

The oil giants are not backing off on draining the Alberta tar sands of every last drop of oil. Nor should the opposition back off in the slightest.

Photo: Direct action at Minister of Industry James Moore's office


From the Local To the Global: Why We Must Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline

Tar Sands extraction in Alberta“Now that we have seen what the Tar Sands in Alberta looks like, this is not about the pipeline going through our farm. This is about Alberta, about the world. ” This week tens of thousands of people have arrived in Washington D.C. to defend the climate and demonstrate their opposition to the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline in what has become the largest rally on climate change in U.S. history. What’s the issue? The pipeline is a 1700-mile, $7-billion project that would bring 700,000 barrels of carbon-heavy tar sands oil every day from the Athabasca Tar Sands in Canada to the Gulf Coast for global export. Far from bringing America energy security, as its proponents claim, the KXL pipeline undermines action on climate change and keeps America hooked on dirty oil. Why protest now? In 2012 extreme weather pushed climate change back onto the U.S. political agenda. In his inauguration speech, President Obama promised to “respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations”. He repeated this sentiment again last week in the State of the Union address. It’s good to hear strong language on climate from the President, but it’s strong action that will make a differecet for our children and future generations. And the KXL pipeline is the first test for Obama’s new climate strategy. Cherri FoyntlinThe pipeline is not only a climate issue. Its proposed route slices right through Middle America, from the Canadian border down to the Texas coast. This raises many concerns about pipeline safety and land-use. Among the crowds in DC are contingents from the states that are most directly impacted, including land-owners who are opposed to the pipeline coming through their properties. I asked several of these folks why they had traveled all the way to D.C. to speak out. Each had their own powerful answer, and all made the clear connection between the issues in their own backyards and the urgency of stopping the pipeline for all of our futures. “I’m here today because my family farm lies on the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline. It was homesteaded in 1864, we have huge pride in that farm. But now that we have seen what the Tar Sands in Alberta looks like, this is not about the pipeline going through our farm. This is about Alberta, about the world. I have kids and if I don’t stand up for this, their lives will be hugely affected. That’s why I’m doing everything I can, rattling every chain.” - Jenni Harrington, Nebraska Nebraska Pipeline protestor“Tar Sands mining is the most ecologically destructive project on this continent. Stopping KXL is a necessary condition, not only for life in my region, but for life on this planet itself.” - Grace Cagle, Texas “I’m here to support communities who will be impacted by this toxic pipeline and to challenge the President to take definitive action in protection of our future.” - Cherri Foyntlin, Louisiana Not everyone could make it to a climate protest today, but we can all speak out on this critical issue. Please stand with these brave communities and take action by adding your voice to the masses who are urging President Obama to reject the Keystone pipeline.

Climate Action Fund: Get Action, Not Offsets

[caption id="attachment_12187" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Little Village Environmental Justice Organization rally to shut down dirty coal power plants in South Chicago"]Community rally to shut down dirty coal power plants[/caption] Research shows that carbon offsets aren't working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stall global warming. That's why RAN has founded the Climate Action Fund. In theory, a carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon or greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for or to offset an emission made elsewhere. Rather than reduce its own pollution, for example, a business would pay someone somewhere else in the world to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and then take credit for their contribution. Sounds good, but does it really work? A recent report estimates that of the $700 million dollars that are invested in carbon offsets around the world, offset buyers
are often buying vague promises instead of the reductions in greenhouse gases they expect. They are buying into projects that are never completed, or paying for ones that would have been done anyhow, the investigation found. Their purchases are feeding middlemen and promoters seeking profits from green schemes that range from selling protection for existing trees to the promise of planting new ones that never thrive. In some cases, the offsets have consequences that their purchasers never foresaw, such as erecting windmills that force poor people off their farms. Carbon offsets are the environmental equivalent of financial derivatives: complex, unregulated, unchecked and – in many cases – not worth their price.
Stanford University researchers found that up to 2/3 of offsets in international markets are not delivering any additional reduction in emissions compared to business as usual, which means that buyers are getting ripped off and the offsets are doing nothing to slow climate change. The attempt to "buy" our way out of climate change has left us with a corrupt system with little accountability where very little is done to reduce emissions. At RAN, we began the Climate Action Fund (CAF) to take a fundamentally different approach. Starting with our own organization, we calculate the annual carbon emissions associated with our operations, including travel. We then apply an internal price — effectively a tax — on that carbon. These modest revenues are then invested directly in frontline community groups that are organizing against the extraction and combustion of dirty fossil fuels in the first place. The Climate Action Fund is also open to individuals and businesses that want to participate in CAF-supported efforts to tackle the root causes of climate change. The CAF contributes 100 percent of donations directly to community organizations that are fighting to protect land and people, as well as to keep millions of tons of CO2 in the ground. Rainforest Action Network is inspired by the work these frontline community groups are doing and honored to be able to support and promote their amazing work. We hope to be able to get more and more progressive organizations and companies involved with the CAF and learn how to green their business, reduce their carbon footprint and make direct contributions to groups on the frontlines of the battle to end our addiction to dirty fossil fuels and reduce dangerous carbon emissions contributing to climate change. Get started with Climate Action Fund!

Palm Oil Controversy Threatens General Mills Golden Reputation

“Few things are more important than a company’s reputation with stakeholders.  It represents the sum of all that we do – and reflects the value and trust that consumers, customers, employees, investors and communities place in our company, our brands and our people. We constantly strive to remain worthy of that trust…” says CEO Ken Powell. You're right about that, Mr. Powell - your company's reputation is everything, and it's massively at risk. Unfortunately for General Mills, over three hundred concerned cereal eaters across the U.S. and Canada took to the streets last week for a National Palm Oil Week of Action and distributed 20,000 spoof Cheerios postcards. Concerned citizens are raising awareness about General Mills’ role in rainforest destruction from California to Minnesota to Alberta, Canada: General Mills is definitely on the spot. In the world of Corporate Social Responsibility, the past two weeks have been an exciting time for companies like General Mills, receiving awards such as ‘Top Corporate Citizen,’ ranking 47th in the world’s  50 ‘Most Admired Companies’ and 29th on the ‘Diversity List.’ These awards recognize the company’s strong global reputation – at least according to Fortune Magazine and global business leaders. But what this small group of decision makers doesn't know is that millions of Indigenous peoples, endangered species and forests are at risk from palm oil expansion in Indonesia - thanks to General Mills. General Mills, a company recognized for its CSR record, refuses to have a conversation with RAN about their palm oil commitments because of our "antics."  It makes us wonder if General Mills is really committed to “sustainability.” "General Mills strives to be one of the most socially responsible consumer food companies in the world, and we're proud to be named one of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens for 2010," said Ken Powell, chairman and CEO of General Mills. "Each step we take across our businesses, big or small, advances our mission of Nourishing Lives." Which lives, exactly, is he nourishing? The lives of the children in the U.S. eating rainforest destruction-tainted Cheerios? Or the lives of the millions of forest-dependent people forced off their land to make way for monoculture palm oil plantations that release vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and destroy the precious habitat of endangered species, like orangutans and Sumatran tigers? Will General Mills continue claiming that they support responsible palm oil while purchasing it from one of the worst palm oil supplier in the world – Cargill? RAN won’t quit campaigning until General Mills starts truly honoring their commitment to “Corporate Social Responsibility” by sourcing only environmentally and socially responsible palm oil. Until then, these awards mean nothing. Over six hundred people and counting have already signed up for another national week of action for the first week of April! We will be passing out thousands of spoof Lucky Charms postcards as one of the many General Mills brands that contain palm oil ingredients. Due to our combined efforts, more than 45 American companies have committed to using only environmentally and socially responsible palm oil.  Guess who's not quite ready to make that same commitment? General Mills. Turns out Lucky Charms aren't so lucky for the local people, culture and biodiversity of Indonesia's lush tropical islands. When General Mills steps up and cancels their contract with Cargill, their performance will merit an award they are actually deserving of. Until then, anyone who uses the word 'responsible' in the same sentence as General Mills is misguided and misinformed.

Indigenous And Hundreds More Challenge RBC On Tar Sands

Today more than 170 people rallied outside of the Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC’s) Annual General Shareholder meeting (AGM) in Toronto after a series of creative non-violent actions all morning. Inside, First Nations Chiefs and community representatives from four different Nations demanded RBC phase out of its Tar Sands financing and to recognize the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent for Indigenous communities. Afterward, Indigenous leaders lead the crowd in a march to rally outside both RBC Headquarters buildings. Other cities across Canada supported the First Nations voices inside the AGM as well with solidarity actions from (click on a city for pictures) London, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Victoria and more. Check out photos from those and our events in Toronto. And see some preliminary media coverage from the Wall Street Journal and Yahoo. See beautiful photos from Allan Lissner here. Since 2007 RBC has backed more than $16.7 billion (USD) in loans to companies operating in the tar sands—more than any other bank. Called, ‘the most destructive project on Earth,’ Alberta’s tar sands projects will eventually transform a Boreal forest the size of England into an industrial sacrifice zone complete with lakes full of toxic waste and man-made volcanoes spewing out clouds of global warming emissions. Outside the shareholder meeting school children, bank customers of every age, First Nations community representatives joined Rainforest Action Network, Indigenous Environmental Network, No One Is Illegal, and Council of Canadians made their outrage at RBC’s investments heard – to the thumping beats of street Samba band, the crowd shouted “Cultural Genocide: who do we thank? Dirty investments from Royal Bank! Inside the shareholder meeting, Chief Al Lameman of Beaver Lake First Nation, Alberta,Vice Chief Terry Teegee of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council of BC, Hereditary Chief Warner Naziel of the Wet'suwe'ten First Nation of BC, and Gitz Crazyboy of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation addressed RBC CEO Gordon Nixon directly about the way tar sands extraction projects have jeopardized their health and their rights. Downstream communities have experienced polluted water, water reductions in rivers and aquifers, declines in wildlife populations such as moose and muskrat, and significant declines in fish populations. Tar sands has all but destroyed the traditional livelihood of First Nations in the northern Athabasca watershed. RBC is clearly feeling the public pressure over their tar sands financing. They spent half their shareholder meeting addressing the issue. Recently, the bank convened a high-level meeting with more than a dozen international banks for a “day of learning” about the reputational risks associated with the tar sands. In addition, according to information the bank provided to RAN during a February meeting in San Francisco, RBC is currently evaluating new lending criteria that would apply to the oil and gas sector, in particular to the tar sands. However, the bank has been reticent to include Free, Prior and Informed Consent in its policy, which would ensure that First Nations communities are respected in lending practices. [youtube nRE8aStTq5Y] “RBC’s significant financial relationship with companies pursuing tar sands development activities within our traditional territory and without consent warrants close attention,” said Chief Al Lameman of Beaver Lake First Nation. “RBC should update their policies to include a recognition of Free, Prior and Informed consent for Indigenous communities; this globally recognized concept was adopted by TD Bank Financial Group in 2007 and is endorsed by Indigenous communities across the political spectrum.” [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="211" caption="activists disrupt the RBC shareholder meeting inside"][/caption] Internationally, tar sands financing is gaining tremendous negative attention. An increasingly vocal group of shareholders and environmentalists turned last month’s BP, Shell and Royal Bank of Scotland annual meetings into a referendum on the oil extraction projects. Today’s marches, rallies, and actions were a triumphant roar of grassroots power from across the spectrum. The day concluded with an apt chant to RBC Headquarters, foreshadowing the growing flame of tar sands resistance across Canada, “Native communities under attack! We won’t stop until you act!”

Freedom From Oil Tour diary # 2

The second edition in the 10 day adventure of educating and mobilizing people to stop the Tar Sands, with rock bands Propagandhi and Strike Anywhere [youtube fUbe3jztWEI]