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Beyond Olympic Glory: Athletes Blast Canada’s Tar Sands Industry

Bill DiBenedetto | Thursday February 18th, 2010 | 0 Comments

The Winter Olympics this year in Vancouver, BC, is a little more than the usual venue for endless corporate advertising and big money sponsorship of “amateur” athletes, thanks to the Sierra Club and its campaign against Canada’s tar oil sands extraction industry.

A few prominent winter athletes are joining with various international environmental groups in calling on Canada to “save the Winter Olympics” and end oil sands destruction.

It’s a combination of athletic self-interest and environmental activism, with the world watching.

“Canada has some of the best snowboarding in the world, but the oil sands industry is going to blow it. This is the dirtiest oil on earth. If we want to save our snow, we have to stop it,” said Jeremy Jones, a mountain snowboarding legend and founder of Protect our Winters in a press release.

And Mike Richter, a former NHL goalie and member of the 2002 team that won Silver at the Salt Lake City Games, added, “We can’t seriously combat global warming while getting fuel from the world’s dirtiest source. Unless we act now to combat climate change, it could put an end to the winters we know and love.”

The Sierra Club this week launched the U.S.-based “Love Winter, Hate the Oil Sands” campaign, featuring winter sports enthusiasts speaking out, a new website, a sticker giveaway, and tens of thousands asking Americans to sign a petition to President Obama.

In Vancouver, the environment watchdog Dogwood Initiative will guide a team of protesters dressed up as polar bears through the city, “in an effort to rescue the Winter Olympics from the oil sands industry.”

Canada’s oil sands have been a dirty, somewhat under-the-radar secret, but maybe not for much longer. Triple Pundit has spotlighted this issue with recent posts, including one on California’s low carbon fuel standard that would essentially ban imports of fuels derived from unconventional sources such as oil sands from California, oil shale from the Western U.S. and domestic coal supplies. Another 3P entry highlighted a damning report from Greenpeace on Canada as a global carbon bully with the title, Dirty Oil: How The Tar Sands Are Fueling the Global Climate Change Crisis.

Oil sands are not quite the viable energy option they’re cracked up to be. For one thing, oil sands production emits three times the global warming pollution as conventional oil and requires clear-cutting of ancient forests, water pollution and waste, and creates toxic lakes. The Sierra Club says that by accelerating climate change, the oil sands industry threatens to cause more drought, receding glaciers and early snowmelt, putting a once and future crimp in Olympic winter sports such as snowboarding and skiing.

“As a skier, I’ve already witnessed glaciers melting and ski areas closing around the world because of climate change,” says Alison Gannett, world champion freeskier and founder of the Save Our Snow Foundation. “The global warming emissions from the oil sands are a threat to the future of skiing and the health of our kids.”

The industry has proposed expanding into the U.S. via a network of pipelines and refineries that would crisscross Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Minnesota and Illinois, in many cases using substandard pipe and threatening drinking water and farmland, the Sierra Club says.

“If we allow the oil sands to expand into America, it will undermine all we’ve done to create good, clean, homegrown American energy. By denying permits for these pipelines, we can signal to the rest of the world that our nation is serious about becoming a global leader in the clean energy economy,” said Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope.

“Canada’s identity as a winter wonderland is threatened by its government’s support of dirty oil and inaction on global warming,” says Charles Campbell of the Dogwood Initiative.

“All the world’s a stage,” the saying goes, and the world’s greatest athletic stage is a good place to start thinking and re-thinking Canada’s tar sands strategy. Yeah it is hard to picture Canada as a carbon bully but there it is: its eco-friendly reputation is getting tarred this week by tar sands.


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