Information is power, and as Edward Bernays, the founder of the modern public relations industry knew all too well 100 years ago, it can be used to persuade consumers and citizens to believe in a reality that simply doesn't exist.
Canada's federal government launched its latest attack on the truth behind the oil sands, a multi-media extravaganza of billboards and print and online advertisements. Click on the web ad and you'll end up at the government's “Go with Canada” website, a collection of well-crafted messages that play fast and loose with the facts about the oil sands, particularly the significant social, economic and environmental impacts the world's largest industrial project imposes on Albertans, Canadians and the rest of the world.
There's no room here to respond to all of the half-truths and misinformation you'll find there, but suffice to say they're the same tall tales the oil sands industry and Alberta and Canadian politicians have been using to try and persuade Canadians, Americans and Europeans that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the oil sands are an environmentally benign bonanza of energy riches managed through responsible environmental policy.
To cite the most egregious example, the website claimed that tar sands greenhouse (GHG) emissions had been reduced by 26 per cent between 1990 and 2011. Nothing could be further from the truth: in reality, GHG emissions have quadrupled over this period, making it the most rapidly increasing source of GHG emissions in Canada and the biggest reason Canada, after pulling out of the Kyoto Accord, will not meet its GHG reduction targets by 2020.
The erroneous information has been since removed from the site after Greenpeace’s Keith Stewart pointed it out to a reporter. How many other lies are buried in what is being reported as a $60 million public relations effort?
When a government uses taxpayer money to spread outright lies, it’s time for a reality check, and www.tarsandsrealitycheck.com is where you’ll find it.
Six months in the making and vetted by leading scientists, economists and academics, this campaign counters the spin and presents the 25 most important, accurate facts you need to know to have an informed discussion about the real impacts of tar sands expansion on our climate, water, land, animals, economy, and human rights.
Here are a few of the most important nuggets that everyone—especially American politicians who have to decide the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline and European politicians attempting to implement their Fuel Quality Directive—should know. Oil sands production emits three to four times more greenhouse gases as conventional crude, making it one of the world’s dirtiest forms of fuel. Oil sands emissions will continue to increase, doubling over the next 17 years. And Canada’s climate performance, touted by Canadian politicians as effective and responsible, is actually the worst in the Western world.
Enough is enough. It’s time that journalists, politicians and the public understand the truth about the intolerable environmental impacts of the tar sands and its assorted pipeline proposals that will lock us into a future that continues to rely on increasingly dirty hydrocarbon sources of energy, a hotter, more dangerous world that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, never mind leave to our children and grandchildren.
It’s time for a reality check. I’m sure even Edward Bernays, who eventually decried his involvement in helping tobacco companies promote the cancer-causing enjoyment of smoking, would agree.