On one hand, the procurement of fuel from Canada, largest exporter of petroleum to the US, makes sense. Canada is the United States’ friendliest ally, shares many family and cultural ties with its southern neighbor, and fuel is only transported a few hundred miles instead of several thousand. Canada also scores fairly high on the ESG (environmental, social, and governance) index. Last we checked, unlike some unnamed countries that surround a certain Gulf, Canadian women are allowed to drive and vote and never are at risk of punishment by stoning. Canadians are granted many personal freedoms, and the country provides its citizens, by some surveys, the highest quality life in the world. Oh, and Canadians can marry whomever they choose. If we Yankees need all that fossil fuel, why not haul it from a friendlier and more enlightened nation.
Not everyone down here is impressed. The advocacy group Forest Ethics is urging that Americans refrain from buying gasoline that comes from Alberta’s tar sands. According to the group’s site, “producing one barrel of Tar Sands oil generates three to five times the greenhouse gas emissions the production of the same amount of conventional oil would.” And while Forest Ethics said the group never called for an all-out boycott, more US-based companies are turning away from fuels sourced from northern Alberta. Albertans and more Canadians, meanwhile, are replying in kind.
Companies including Walgreens, Levi Strauss, Timberland, The Gap, and FedEx are either considering or implementing plans to reduce or eliminate vendors that source fuel from the tar sands. Give Forest Ethics and the retailers some credit—they are actually surveying their vendors to gauge where exactly their transport fuels are sourced. Unlike many of the knee-jerk BP station boycotts earlier this summer, which goaded consumers into not buying from BP stations (while missing the point that many competing retailers buy gas from, guess who, BP), Forest Ethics and its partners have researched the issue. Call it what you want: boycott or not a boycott, is the refusal to purchase fuel from Alberta the right move?
Albertan business groups accuse American businesses of hypocrisy, and suggest that Canadians no longer buy clothing from companies that stop buying bitumen-based gasoline (technically the tar sands really are not tar or sand), but have been accused of labor violations in Asia. As one Canadian retorted:
We invite Levi Strauss Co, The Gap and the affiliates (as well as any other American/international company currently marketing their products in Canada that does not want to accept our “dirty” money) to NO LONGER do business on Canadian soil. By all means, purchase your oil from regimes that provide NO human rights or environmental stewardship. Don’t let the door hit your “behind” on the way out.
Canadians are also insulted by another campaign that urges Americans and Britons to skip Banff and Jasper National Parks, and view Alberta instead as a polluting province.
Perhaps a country with 5% of the population that uses 20% to 25% of the world’s energy needs to find other tactics to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. We don’t want oil from the Middle East, Hugo Chavez has mismanaged Venezuela and is a diplomatic headache (though his comments, like the “illiterate” Condoleezza Rice having a crush on him, are amusing!), we are appalled by the Gulf of Mexico spill, yet we don’t want to make the initial upfront investment required to grow alternative fuels—but we do like our big cars.
A dialogue really should start before the heated rhetoric escalates along with any boycotts. Albertans claim that improvements in tar sands extraction are underway, and many Canadians share concern that filling those deep pits is not enough to reverse the environmental damage that has occurred in northeast Alberta.
More clarity from Forest Ethics on where Americans should buy their gasoline, however, would be a start. And for a summer vacation, by all means visit Calgary and the nearby Rockies. We should be doing more business with our largest trading partner—not less. Or maybe we just should not drive to the mall to buy clothing made of chemical-ridden cotton and sewn by 10 year olds–there, problem solved.