As the Obama administration revisits its decision on whether to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, DeSmog Canada decided to take a look at how the project became a cause célèbre.
We asked ourselves: Of all the environmental causes to fight, what was it that mobilized Hollywood celebrities, renowned scientists, environmental activists and a handful of Texans to face jail time protesting a proposed pipeline from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast?
What’s more: How did a decision on the project - which Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper once brushed off as a “no-brainer” - get sidelined by the U.S. government ahead of a crucial 2012 presidential election?
In fact, if the Obama administration decides to reject TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, the Harper government will need to face facts: Its own environmental policies and PR tactics will be largely to blame.
In the first part of this article, I described what specific challenges the climate movement faces when confronting its own limiting tendencies as well as industry funded public relations campaigns. In this second part I outline what I think are four essential ways the climate movement must evolve in order to overcome these obstacles.
FIRST, we must become a lot more political, in the sense that it’s fundamentally the laws, policies, and agreements that shape our greater society and economy. And it’s our society and economy which are the foundations of our personal lifestyles. What is available, affordable, practical, and possible in our lifestyles is largely a product of the society in which we live – what clean energy sources exist at what price relative to dirty energy, how available public transit is, how well or poorly our cities are designed for walking, cycling, and accessing our needs, how energy efficient our buildings are, and so on.
No individual is an island unto himself; the way we live is fundamentally shaped by the economy and society in which our lifestyles are nested.
The Harper government has been using taxpayer money to sharpen its marketing toolkit in the debate over natural resource development. According to a recent report from Léger Marketing, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) commissioned the company to perform pre- and post-testing of their $9 million Responsible Resource Development advertising campaign.
Aside from revealing the extraordinary cost the Harper government is willing to foot in order to assure that the country gets a sunny picture of its economic policies, the report provides a unique behind-the-curtain view of the mechanics involved in selling energy and resource development to Canadians.
The reasoning behind the move to hire a marketing firm seems relatively innocuous: “It will be important in this environment to encourage Canadians to become better informed about the development of Canada’s natural resources and the critical impact to Canada’s economy that contributes to our economic growth and jobs, and through generated tax revenues helps to maintain important social programs like health, education and pensions.”
However, the report reveals Léger used focus groups to test not only comprehension and recollection of the message in the ads, but also “the extent to which Canadians were impacted by the language, content and context of the advertising concepts.”
What is ethical public relations? Where do you draw the line and what should your boundaries be when influencing public perceptions and opinions? As president of a Canadian public relations firm my colleagues and I face this question all the time. Some days the answer is more obvious than others, so I asked Rutgers University philosopher Jason Stanley how to maintain a principled position.
It’s a question that floats to the surface like a greasy slick these days because during the last 12 to 18 months, Canadians have been subjected to one of the most expensive and extensive PR campaigns in history, in an attempt to nudge public attention away from the environmental impacts of tankers, pipelines and oil sands mining, and redirect it towards economic benefits.
Whether it has been Enbridge ads regarding the Enbridge Northern Gatewaypipeline — “A path to prosperity … a path to thriving communities” — or Canada’s own federal government talking about creating “more than a million jobs from coast to coast to coast,” the tactic has been relentless.
Harper’s federal government spent more than $55 million on advertising last year and conducted hundreds of polls, to not just reflect public opinion but also shape it. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) featured greenwashing, pro oil-sands ads that showed scientists and workers standing in pristine wilderness expounding their concern for the environment.
I asked Stanley what the communication ground rules are: Should the touchstone be whether you are increasing people’s understanding, or decreasing it? Or is that too naïve a distinction?
After years of apathy and political inertia, North America’s climate sustainability movement has found itself in the midst of a timely resurgence, as is evident by the recent massive expansion of Bill Mckibben's 350.org movement against the Keystone XL pipeline.
With climate change regaining its footing as a central political issue, now is the time to pressure governments to enact the needed laws, policies, and agreements required to curtail runaway global warming. But unless the moment is seized right, climate action will be stymied again – and there is no time to wait for another opportunity.
During his State of the Union address on February 12, 2013, US President Barack Obama stated:
"For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change...We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late."
Recent studies project that the Earth’s average temperature is on course to rise over four degrees this century, far beyond the two degree rise when “runaway” global warming kicks-in due to positive feedbacks that make it extremely difficult to halt.
Companies responsible for two separate oil spills in Alberta failed to provide adequate oversight for their operations, according to federal government documents released by Environment Canada through Access to Information legislation.
The documents detail how Devon Canada and Gibson Energy violated environmental laws, including the federal Fisheries Act, when their operations cause two oil spills into fish-bearing waterways in 2010.
Gibson Energy, a midstream pipeline operator, spilled a few hundred litres of oil into an Edmonton creek after failing to properly abandon an unused pipeline. According to a warning letter issued to the company from Environment Canada, "Gibson Energy ULC made a business decision to keep the Kinder Morgan lateral full of crude oil and to not purge it with nitrogen."