STOP: Stop Tar Sands Operations Permanently

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Youth Mobilize Against the Tar Sands

Posted by mhudema on July 4, 2008

Youth mobilize against tar sands TheStar.com – comment – Youth mobilize against tar sands

July 04, 2008

While Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, this week, defending his province’s environmental practices, a spot of trouble was brewing back home.

Young people from across the country were gathering in Edmonton for a national summit on the Alberta tar sands.

“Oil is making us a lot of money right now, but it’s destroying our future, our environment,” said Nicole McDonal, one of the 100 delegates attending the three-day conference.

The Edmonton student used to be proud of her Alberta roots, but now she’s not sure. “A lot of people my age feel this way. Why are we allowing this to happen to Alberta?”

This is the not the kind of publicity Stelmach needs.

Since mid-June, he’s had to fend off blows from every direction. First, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion unveiled his plan to tax fossil fuels, admitting Alberta would be hard hit. Next, U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama mused about cutting off imports from the tar sands. Then America’s big-city mayors threatened a boycott of Alberta’s heavy oil. To cap things off, Greenpeace launched a mock tourism campaign, offering visitors tours of toxic lakes, black sand beaches and clear-cut forests.

Compared to Stelmach’s other woes, the Youth Climate Summit, which begins today at the University of Alberta, might seem trivial. After all, it’s just a bunch of kids. How much harm can they do to his government or his province’s multi-billion-dollar energy business?

The answer might surprise the 57-year-old premier. The mindset of Canada’s next generation could be a bigger threat to the viability of the tar sands than the sabre-rattling in Washington or the carbon tax debate in Ottawa. If young people decide, en masse, that they’re not prepared to sacrifice their health and their habitat for a steady influx of petrodollars, Alberta’s black gold will lose its market appeal.

So far, there are only faint stirrings of such a movement. This weekend’s conference is designed to produce a core of strongly committed, media-savvy young people to build peer support.

First, the participants will get a look at the ravaged landscape of northeastern Alberta. Next, they’ll get a crash course on the upgrading of bitumen, the tar-like mixture of hydrocarbons beneath 140,000 square kilometres of land. Then, they’ll develop a plan to mobilize youth against the tar sands.

The summit was organized by the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition (CYCC), an alliance of student unions, environmental groups, labour organizations and aboriginal activists formed in September 2006. This will be its first major public event.

“We decided to hold it in the West because the tar sands are such an important issue,” said conference co-ordinator Paul Baker of Edmonton. “They are the largest reason for Canada’s greenhouse emission growth.”

Most of the participants paid at least part of their own way. The coalition provided modest travel scholarships. To keep costs low, it arranged accommodation at two local churches and rounded up donated food. Alberta Ecotrust, a non-profit foundation, provided a $7,000 grant.

Regrettably, the young people will not hear both sides of the tar sands story. The coalition invited Syncrude and Suncor to participate, but neither accepted. (Hardly surprising – the agenda describes the development as “the biggest energy quagmire in our country.”)

The only representative of the Alberta government is Bob Savage, the bureaucrat in charge of the province’s climate change program.

All the other “experts” are from Greenpeace, the Pembina Institute and the Sierra Club and the indigenous peoples affected by the tar sands.

The program features anti-oppression training, a presentation called “puppet revolution” and a lot of brainstorming.

Before Stelmach writes off this display of youthful passion, he might want to consider the volatility of public opinion. A month ago, Alberta’s economy looked impregnable. Oil profits were rising, demand was strong and there was a friendly government in Ottawa.

All it took was the phrase “dirty oil” to spoil a perfect summer.

At a time like this, no voice is too small too count.

Carol Goar’s column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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