Have the producers of Canadian tar sands oil gone bananas? Or is it the other way around? Let me explain.
Last week, banana distributors Chiquita and Dole were confronted by full-page ads in USA Today challenging their use of energy from Canadian tar sands.
Forest Ethics placed the ads to expose and criticize the banana producers’ use of diesel from tar sands deposits in Alberta, Canada, for shipping and refrigeration. The timing comes as a decision from the Obama administration on the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, amidst vocal protests and demonstrations, is imminent.
James Hansen of NASA, the preeminent spokesman for the scientific community on this issue, has called the pipeline, “a game-over proposition for climate change.”
One of the ads reads, “It takes a lot of fuel to get a banana from the tropics to the produce aisle of your grocery store. Unfortunately, Dole uses fuel made from Canada’s Tar Sands — some of the dirtiest oil on Earth — to bring you its bananas. Extreme energy from the Tar Sands isn’t monkey business—it poisons water, air and communities, while ravaging one of our most important resources: North America’s Boreal Forest.”
The ad goes on to ask, “Does the fuel we buy reflect our values?”
According to ForestEthics, these “operations in Alberta represent one of the most resource-intensive oil extraction processes in history. The health effects of refining tar sands are already evident in Alberta where downwind and downstream communities have levels of cancer more than 400 times the normal rates.”
Tar sands extraction impacts an area the size of Maine threatening the pristine the water resources of the area. ForestEthics calls it “the world’s dirtiest oil.”
The protests in Washington this week are not only about the pipeline, but also about the expansion of the tar sands extraction that this pipeline and the resulting additional access to major refineries would bring.
An article on Forbes.com the following day criticized both Chiquita and Dole for failing to respond appropriately to the links that were posted on each of their Facebook walls. Chiquita shut down its wall and Dole has allegedly deleted a number of comments.
Dole then posted the following message on it’s page:
“Like you, we at Dole are passionately concerned for our environment. After all our business is based on using & re-using our precious growing resources so it’s not in our best interest to destroy or pollute them. When we first heard these allegations, we contacted fuel suppliers worldwide & found no evidence that they provide us with tar sands fuel. We requested Forest Ethics to share facts to support their claims and are awaiting their reply.”
They also include a link to their sustainability page. At this writing, the page made no mention of the tar sands allegations.
Amy Westervelt, who wrote the post, gives the following advice to companies who find themselves in this situation, citing a previous Facebook faux-pas committed by Nestle:
“If people are posting unwanted links or information on your Facebook wall, you need to address it. What you emphatically do not need to do is shut down your wall. Or get pissy with Facebook “fans”. Or delete or hide wall posts or comments.”
Forest Ethics claims to have persuaded 20 companies to commit to stop using tar sands oil. Twelve of them (including Whole Foods, Walgreens, and Gap) and have gone public with their commitment. Apparently, some of those companies came to Forest Ethics themselves, looking for help tackling the Tar Sands issue, and others were targeted by the organization. In either case, Forest Ethics works with these companies to find out which refineries their shipping vendors get fuel from, which of those are tar sands refineries, and where they can buy fuel instead if they want to avoid tar sands fuel.
Why doesn’t ForestEthics just go after the shipping vendors directly?
Because, according to Forest Ethics’ U.S. campaign director Aaron Sanger, “The trucking companies care more about what their customers want than what we want.”
[Image credit:kobiz7:Flickr Creative Commons]
RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water. Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.