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August 20 2012


Enviro News Wrap: Cape Cod Wind Project Approved; Few Deniers in Canada; the Dangers of Arctic Drilling, and more…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

August 15 2012


Media Fails Again On Climate Change Coverage During Massive Heat Waves

North America just witnessed the hottest month in the history of record keeping (about 117 years). The month of July shattered every previous record, but was certainly not a freak occurrence. So far, the first 7 months of this year have been the warmest on average since records began over a century ago. Media outlets were abuzz with coverage of floods, droughts, fires, and storms, so naturally you’d think climate change would have played a massive role in their coverage.

You’d be wrong.

A great new study by Media Matters for America shows that our major media outlets – from cable news to print – almost completely ignored the role that man-made climate change played in our severe weather.

According to the study, only about 25% of print articles on the massive heat wave even mentioned climate change, while less than 9% of TV news stories about the weather mentioned climate change. Of the major cable outlets, MSNBC devoted the most time to discussing climate change, bringing up the issue in about 88% of their stories on the heat wave.

Not surprisingly, Fox News only mentioned climate change once, and the theory was quickly shot down by conservative hosts.

From the Media Matters report:


Of the six TV outlets included in our analysis, ABC mentioned climate change the least, in only 2% of coverage. Among the cable networks, CNN mentioned climate change the least, in less than 4% of coverage. MSNBC was the only television network to regularly incorporate climate change into primetime segments on extreme heat.

Fox Mentioned Climate Change Once, Only To Dismiss It. In six primetime segments on extreme heat, Fox News raised climate change once. The Five's only liberal co-host Bob Beckel noted that record July heat is consistent with global warming, and was promptly dismissed by co-host Greg Gutfeld, who routinely denies that manmade global warming is occurring.

Overall, the major print outlets mentioned climate change in just over a quarter of articles on extreme heat. The New York Times led the pack, mentioning climate change in more than half of its coverage (54.5%), and the Washington Post mentioned it in 26% of articles on July heat. But the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today mentioned it in less than 15% of coverage. The Wall Street Journal didn't mention climate change at all, although the paper had significantly fewer stories on extreme heat.

Only 8% Of Coverage Pointed Out That Human Activities Are Driving Climate Change. Only 6% of television segments and 12% of print articles noted that climate change is fueled by human activities including the burning of fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. The Associated Press, USA Today, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal never made that connection.

Media Matters also took the time to show that these events were predictable, and that they were consistent with the effects we were expecting with anthropogenic climate change:

A 2012 Special Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) deemed it "virtually certain" that heat extremes will become stronger and more frequent on a global scale in the 21st century, and "very likely" that heat waves will increase in "length, frequency, and/or intensity … over most land areas." The report noted that "[p]rojected changes at subcontinental scales are less certain than is the case for the global scale" and that "[m]ean global warming does not necessarily imply warming in all regions and seasons."

A study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's James Hansen and other scientists found that land areas across the globe are "much more likely to experience an extreme summer heat wave than they were in the middle of the 20th century".

But this isn’t the first time that the media has failed in their coverage of climate and environment-related events. In January of this year, Media Matters put together a report showing that media outlets were almost twice as likely to host Keystone XL proponents in their coverage of that issue. A report from the organization last year also showed that climate skeptics and anti-EPA carpers were more likely to receive airtime than those who acknowledge climate change science and support strong environmental safeguards.

The poor media coverage could be the main reason why American voters don’t believe that climate and environment issues are important in this year’s elections, with only 21% saying that combatting climate change is important to them. Canadians, on the other hand, have clearly learned more than Americans simply by observation, as a new poll shows that only 2% of Canadians believe that climate change is a hoax.

July 22 2012


Understanding Harper's Evangelical Mission

This post originally appeared in The Tyee, and is re-published with permission.
Any Canadian listening to the news these days might well conclude that the Republican extremists or some associated evangelical group has occupied Ottawa.

And they'd be righter than Job, I believe.

Almost daily, more evidence surfaces that Canada's government is guided by tribalists averse to scientific reason in favour of Biblical fundamentalism — or what some call "evangelical religious skepticism."

First came Canada's pull-out of the Kyoto agreement without any rational or achievable national plan to battle carbon pollution.

Next came the hysterical and unprecedented letter by Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver, an investment banker. It branded local environmentalists and First Nations as foreign radicals because they dared to question the economic and environmental impacts of a Chinese-funded pipeline.

At the same time federal security types declared Greenpeace, a civil organization originally started by Canadian journalists, to be a "multi-issue extremist group."

After quietly gutting the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Harper government now proposes to dismantle the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act as well as the Fisheries Act, Canada's strongest and last remaining water safeguard.

While government and industry PR folk spin fabrications about Canada's environmental record, Scott Vaughan, Federal Environment Commissioner in the office of the Auditor General, reports that there are only 12 water quality stations for Canada's 3,000 First Nations communities and just one federal water monitoring station operating downstream from the oil sands. Until last year it was calibrated only to detect pulp mill pollution.

The data-antagonistic Harper government has so muzzled federal scientists that an editorial in the prestigious Nature magazine demanded that it was "time for the Canadian government to set its scientists free."

And now Tory senators are threatening to revoke the charitable status of any group that dares to criticize the government's environmental performance or its subsidies for fossil fuels.

From where does the government's extreme animus towards journalists, environmental groups, First Nations and science (and I've put together but a partial list of victims here) arise? The moment demands we take a close look at Stephen Harper's evangelical beliefs.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Alliance Church holds to four foundational convictions based on the belief the Bible is without error, according to a 2007 Vancouver Sun article citing Indiana State Purdue University religious studies Prof. Philip Goff. The article says:

"The Alliance Church places an intense focus on the need for personal salvation, emphasizes the importance of leading a 'holy' life and encourages spiritual healing, says Goff.

"The denomination also stresses that Jesus Christ's return to Earth is imminent, says the evangelical specialist, who was raised in the Alliance Church.

"Alliance Church rules, like those of other evangelical denominations, strongly oppose homosexual relationships, describing them as the 'basest form of sinful conduct.'

"The Alliance Church is also tough on divorce and holds that Christians who have been adulterous do not have a right to remarry.

"The denomination's leaders, in addition, oppose abortion, stem-cell research, euthanasia, the use of marijuana and ordained female clergy…"

Harper's Creed
Unknown to most Canadians, the prime minister belongs to the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an evangelical Protestant church with two million members. Alberta, a petro state, is one of its great strongholds on the continent. The church believes that the free market is divinely inspired and that non-believers are "lost."

Now let's be clear: I am a Christian and a social conservative and a long time advocate of rural landowners and an unabashed conservationist. I have spent many pleasant hours in a variety of evangelical churches and fundamentalist communities. Faith is not the concern here.

But transparency and full disclosure has become the issue of paramount importance. To date, Harper has refused to answer media questions about his beliefs or which groups inform them. If he answered media queries about his minority creed (and fewer than 10 per cent of Canadians would call themselves evangelicals) he'd have to admit that he openly sympathizes if not endorses what's known as "evangelical climate skepticism." 

No one knows this fossil fuel friendly ideology better than Dr. David Gushee, a distinguished professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and a Holocaust scholar. The evangelical Christian is also one of the drafters of the 2006 Evangelical Climate Initiative. It declared climate change a serious threat to Creation that demands an ethical Christian response.

But that's not the wing of the evangelical movement that Harper listens to. Given his government's pointed attacks on environmentalists and science of any kind, Harper would seem to take his advice from the Cornwall Alliance, a coalition of right-wing scholars, economists and evangelicals. The Alliance questions mainstream science, doubts climate change, views environmentalist as a "native evil," champions fossil fuels and supports libertarian economics.

'Resisting the Green Dragon'

A recent declaration on climate change by the Cornwall Alliance denies that carbon dioxide "is a pollutant" and adds that "there is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming." Moreover any reduction in emissions would "greatly increase the price of energy and harm economies."

A separate Cornwall declaration describes environmental regulation as an impediment to God's will:

"We aspire to a world in which liberty as a condition of moral action is preferred over government-initiated management of the environment as a means to common goals."

A book published by the Alliance called Resisting the Green Dragon: Dominion not Death even portrays environmental groups as "one of the greatest threats to society and the church today."

One passage reads that, "The Green Dragon must die… [There] is no excuse to become befuddled by the noxious Green odors and doctrines emanating from the foul beast…"

The Cornwall Alliance also believes that renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar are only good enough for poor or rural peoples until nuclear and fossil fuel facilities "meet the needs of large, sustained economic development."

Beware 'the new hypocrite'

In a 2010 interview, Gushee, a brilliant and passionate Christian, detailed the basic tenets of "evangelical climate skepticism." He said there were seven main points and argued that they had poisoned the Republican Party. These tenets not only explain startling developments in Canada but should raise the hair on the neck of every thinking citizen regardless of their faith:

1. Disdain for the environmental movement

2. Distrust of mainstream science in general

3. Distrust of the mainstream media

4. Loyalty to the party

5. Libertarian economics as God's will (God is opposed to government regulation or taxation

6. Misunderstanding of divine sovereignty (God won't allow us to ruin creation)

7. Unreconstructed Dominion theology (God calls on humans to subdue and rule creation)

In the end of the interview, Gushee summarized the purpose of this new evangelical Republicanism: "God is sovereign over creation and therefore humans can do no permanent damage… God established government for limited purposes and government should not intervene much in the workings of a free market economy… The media is overplaying climate change worries… The environmental movement is secular/pagan and has always been a threat to American liberties…

"Nice worldview, huh? I disagree with just about every word of it."

But that Republican religious tribalism is now Ottawa's worldview.

Readers looking for a thoughtful analysis on Harper and the rise of libertarian religious tribalism in Canada should pick up Marci McDonald's The Armageddon Factor.

Another touchstone might be G.K. Chesterton, a radical Catholic, who regularly questioned the wealth and power of big government and business decades ago.

He would have advised us to get to the bottom of whether our prime minister is pretending to be just a wonkish politician while pursuing an extreme Republican evangelical agenda.

"The old hypocrite was a man whose aims were really worldly and practical, while he pretended that they were religious," the radical Catholic once observed. "The new hypocrite is one whose aims are really religious, while he pretends that they are worldly and practical."

Canada needs to have an open conversation about the virtues of democracy over theocracy.

May 08 2012


Canada Is Slow to Act on Emissions, Audit Warns

The government has not undertaken the kinds of analyses that would be needed to reduce emissions sector by sector, the environment commissioner warns.

April 18 2012


April 17 2012


On Our Radar: Cautious Support for British Fracking

Experts recommend the use of a "traffic light" control system in which fracking operations are suspended if a red light indicates seismic activity beyond a certain threshold.

March 23 2012


Look to Canada for Proof that Neither Presidents Nor Pro-Drilling Policies Control Gas Prices

Another Spring, another round of totally uninformed and illogical arguments about gas prices.

You could be forgiven if you’re feeling some deja vu. As conservatives and Congressional Republicans scramble to blame the president for rising gas prices, you might have the feeling that we’ve been here before.

Oh, that’s right. It was just last year (almost exactly a year ago, actually) that prices were pushing towards $4 per gallon, and everyone from Sarah Palin (in a ludicrously misguided and ill-informed Facebook rant) to Speaker Boehner were misplacing blame for pump prices.

Anyone who takes the time to actually look into it can pretty easily learn that the president alone can’t do much about rising gas prices, through expanded drilling or approving pipelines or whatever else.

The AP just ran a definitive piece that looked at 36 years of data, and found “no statistical correlation between how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump.”

And here are twenty experts from across the political spectrum (including the staunchly conservative American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute) stating clearly that domestic drilling has no real effect on gas prices.

A full 92% of economists surveyed replied that gas prices are set by external market forces, and not domestic policies. Even Fox News reported in 2008 that “no President has the power to increase or to lower gas prices.”

Still, the disinformation flies, and so I’ll throw another fact-based argument in the mix. You want more proof that we can’t drill or pipeline our way to lower gas prices? Look north, to Canada.

read more

March 05 2012


On Our Radar: BP Shares Climb

After reaching a $7.8 billion accord with businesses and individuals over the gulf oil spill, the company predicts that it will reach a settlement with the federal government as well.

March 04 2012


Canadian Environmentalists: Tree Hugging Terrorists or Just Concerned Citizens?

The Canadian Federal government’s new counter-terrorism strategy has been ruffling feathers in the environmental community since it was released by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews on February 9.

The report says that the Federal government will be vigilant against domestic extremism “based on grievances – real or perceived – revolving around the promotion of various causes such as animal rights, white supremacy, environmentalism and anti-capitalism.”

Admittedly, Blake Bromely and Syed Hussan are right to complain that the media coverage has been swamped with the report’s single mention of environmentalism, largely overshadowing concerns around the document’s actual emphasis: the threat of "violent Islamist extremism."

However, the characterization of the environmental grievances of Canadian citizens as extremist and somehow akin to the violent, hate-based ‘white supremacist’ ideology is not something that Canadians can or should take lightly.

read more

February 14 2012


February 08 2012


China Looks To Stephen Harper For Lessons In Dirty Energy Exploitation

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in China this week to meet with Chinese leaders about how both countries can profit big by exploiting China’s shale gas reserves, as well as by importing Canadian tar sands oil. Harper is scheduled to meet with both Chinese officials, as well as heads of oil and gas companies during his four-day visit to the country.

More on the specifics of who will be attending these meetings, from Reuters Canada:

During his trip Harper will meet President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao as well as two important regional players - Chongqing Communist Party chief Bo Xilai and Wang Yang, the chief of Guangdong province.

The Canadian mission, which will arrive in Beijing on Tuesday, is the largest of its kind since 1998. Guests include top executives from Shell Canada, Enbridge and Canadian Oil Sands as well as uranium producer Cameco Corp and mining firm Teck Resources Ltd.

Other firms include plane and train maker Bombardier Inc, Air Canada, Eldorado Gold Corp, SNC-Lavalin Group Inc, Canfor Corp and West Fraser Timber Co Ltd.

After the United States’ rejection last month of the Keystone XL pipeline, Canadian officials are hoping to reap a profit in the world’s largest emerging market. But any energy trade deals would certainly benefit both sides, as just last week PetroChina, parent of China’s largest oil producer, purchased a 20% stake in a Canadian shale gas project being run by Royal Dutch Shell.

Chinese oil companies are hoping that their cooperation with Shell and the Canadian government will help them use these valuable resources to teach officials more about the process of extracting shale gas, mostly through fracking.

Just last year, with some financing through other Chinese oil companies, Shell invested more than $400 million in Chinese shale gas projects, which included the drilling of at least 15 different shale extraction wells.

read more

Reposted by02mydafsoup-01 02mydafsoup-01

February 02 2012


Smarting Over Cod Shortages, Fishermen Blame Seals

Scientists denounce a proposal in Canada for killings of Atlantic gray seals, saying there is no evidence that it will cause the cod population to rebound.

January 20 2012


Friends with Benefits: The Harper Government, EthicalOil.org and Sun Media Connection

Just over a week before the Northern Gateway Pipeline hearings began, EthicalOil.org and its allies launched a pre-emptive PR offensive on environmental and First Nations groups who oppose the pipeline. Their new website, OurDecision.ca, and ad campaign are an attempt to invalidate opposition to the pipeline by pointing to the small amount of American funding going to some environmental groups, and claiming that pipeline opponents are actually the “puppets” of “foreign interests.”

Sun News was first to promote the campaign, and by the end of the week, numerous papers across Canada were repeating the story. After mentioning last November that "significant American interests" would line up against the pipeline, Stephen Harper eagerly picked up where he left off, touting EthicalOil.org's cause, decrying the foreign influence attempting to “overload” the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Review. By Monday, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver had penned a letter to Canadians denouncing the foreign interests trying to “hijack” the review process "to achieve their radical ideological agenda". The same ominous tone and divisive talking points were parroted over and over by EthicalOil.org, Harper, Oliver and the credulous media, driving an entire week of news coverage.  

The OurDecision.ca campaign was timed to hit national news just as many Canadians were tuning into this issue for the first time, and this frame (“foreign interests” vs. a “Canadian decision”) could have a lasting impact on how people view one of the most important debates in a generation. 

So how did a small industry front group with secretive funding sources manage to have so much impact on the national conversation? Well, it looks like the Harper government, EthicalOil.org, and Sun Media have coordinated with one another to create an echo chamber that turns industry talking points into national news. We'll show how one digital communications company intimately connects EthicalOil.org, the Harper Government and Sun Media.

Ethical Oil Echo Chamber

The 'ethical oil' echo chamber was built in 2010, after the release of Ezra Levant's book of the same name. As Donald Gutstein writes, Sun papers prominently featured three excerpts from Levant's book, giving it national exposure. Through a series of articles and appearances in Sun-owned papers, the National Post and right wing talk shows, an echo chamber of voices amplified the 'ethical oil' message. Then came bloggers like Alykhan Velshi, who helped to turn Levant's book into the ethicaloil.org website, and before long it reached the mouths of politicians.

From Gutstein's perspective, ideas often take years to percolate through public opinion filters before they end up on national policy agendas. But in this case, it appears that industry and government synced up messaging very rapidly. 

Go NewClear

Last week, we reported an extensive web that connects EthicalOil.org with oil interests, the Harper government, and other conservative leaders and groups. At the centre is Go Newclear, a Vancouver-based digital communications agency with a focus on public affairs and politics. An analysis of the web server hosting of gonewclearproductions.com reveals an intricate network of over 50 websites connected primarily to the Conservative Party of Canada, the Wildrose Alliance Party, EthicalOil.org, and other right wing causes and politicians.

Go Newclear’s President and COO is Hamish Marshall, the husband of current Ethical Oil spokesperson Kathryn Marshall, and a former Conservative campaigner, former PMO staffer and Conservative strategist deeply connected to oil interests. The other two principals in the company have deep connections to the Harper government as well.

One of the principals, Brendan Jones, worked as a website administrator for the Office of the Leader of the Opposition from August 2005-February 2006. Following Harper's election, he worked as the special assistant for the Prime Minister from February 2006-November 2007. Jones then moved to the Conservative Resources Group, or Conservative Caucus Research Bureau, an agency responsible for developing political communication products, branding and marketing decisions and liaising between the federal Conservative caucus and Prime Minister’s Office, until 2009. In that role, he was a television and radio specialist. The third principal of Go Newclear, Travis Freeman, is still listed with the Conservative Resources Group.

Now that we know that EthicalOil.org and the Conservative government are deeply connected, what about the other part of the Conservative echo chamber, Sun Media?

Digital fingerprints

A follow-up analysis of the network neighborhood around the Go Newclear server revealed some amazing coincidences. Almost right beside their "birds of a feather" server is another server that hosts suntvnews.ca, suntvnewchannel.ca, suntvnewschannel.com, suntvnewschannel.net and suntvnewschannel.org. The IP addresses for these servers are different by only two numbers, and it is highly likely they are sitting right next to each other.
Deepclimate notes some considerable similarities between the websites. In addition, an analysis of many of the websites either currently or previously on the neighboring servers show a number of striking similarities at the code level including naming conventions and comment style. Of particular interest is the CSS Reset. The sites we have analyzed use the exact same derivative of Eric Meyer's classic CSS Reset.
Go Newclear's Brendan Jones also has the same CSS Reset on his personal website. 
The websites of KathrynMarshall.ca, abingdon.ca, campusPC.ca, JohnParker.ca, DavidYager.ca, DustinNau.comVoteDougCooper.ca and axethegastax.ca also have the same CSS Reset, and are all listed as authored by Newclear. 

As Evan Leeson, the Principal of Catalyst Internet (which is DeSmogBlog's IT team) and a 19 year veteran of website development writes: 

Developers have their bag of reusable tricks to make coding efficient. In this case, all of these sites use precisely the same CSS reset - same elements, same formatting, down to the character. Many sites will use something similar to this one, but this is exact. It's even used on Newclear's own custom home page. It is highly likely the same developer did all these sites.

Connecting the Dots

The aforementioned Sun TV News websites were registered in December of 2008, prior to Sun Media’s application with the CRTC (the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) in 2010. SunTVNews.ca was a promotional website that invited Canadians to pledge to watch the channel when it was launched. It appears that GoNewclear registered these websites while both Brendan Jones and Travis Freeman were working directly for the Conservative Caucus Research Bureau.  

At the time of the website registration, Kory Teneycke was Prime Minister Stephen Harper's director of communications. He had been the director of the Conservative Caucus Research Bureau while both Jones and Freeman worked there. 

On March 30, 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper went to New York to meet with Ruport Murdoch. The meeting did not appear on Harper's itinerary, and was intended to be secret, according to reporting by Bruce Cheadle of the Canadian Press. The pair were joined by the President of Fox News (and legendary Republican communications expert), Roger Ailes, and Kory Teneycke.

Within four months of this meeting, Kory Teneycke took a contract with Quebecor to explore the creation of a new Canadian media outlet. Then, ten months later, Quebecor launched Sun Media. Teneycke is now the vice president of the Sun News Network.

This new information sheds some new light on this meeting, and provokes a few fundamental questions. Why does a website for our new conservative-leaning media institution, dubbed "Fox News North," appear to have a direct link to government staffers? On whose orders were these websites created by Go Newclear? Were any of these orders from government? From oil companies?

It's time for the media to ask some hard questions about the relationships that are powering the EthicalOil.org echo chamber. 


Check out this funny Rick Mercer video mocking the "foreign influence" campaign:

January 19 2012


Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Blocked – For Now

The Obama administration blocks the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline - for nowResponding to a mandate laid down by conservatives in Congress last month for a decision within 60 days, the Obama administration denied the permit for  construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The proposed route for the 1700-mile pipeline would stretch from Canada to Texas, crossing through sensitive areas including Nebraska’s ecologically sensitive Sandhills region and the vast Ogallala Aquifer that supplies fresh water to millions of Americans.

The Obama administration had originally said it would postpone a decision on the project to 2013, after the presidential election later this year, but Republicans in Congress attempted to force Obama’s hand by moving the deadline to within 60 days, and that the president responded well ahead of that deadline.

While environmentalists applaud the decision to block the pipeline, which would transport Canadian tar sands oil, the production of which produces more carbon emissions and environmental destruction than “conventional” oil, many are concerned that the Obama administration will eventually approve the project in some form.

“This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline,” Obama said in a statement, “but pertains more to the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people.”

Republicans in Congress vow that the fight for the tar sands pipeline is “far from over” and Keystone’s TransCanada has said it will immediately apply for a new permit to build the pipeline.

Job claims inflated

The official State Department report to Congress released yesterday also characterized claims that the pipeline would create 100,000 jobs as “inflated,” saying instead that the project would have no “significant impact on long-term employment in the United States.”

The report says that instead that the project would only create between 5,000 to 6,000 temporary jobs lasting only two years.

Undermining U.S. energy security

A report released by the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) says that heated debate over the project has obscured the true intent of the pipeline: to export Canadian oil to the world market via the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“Canada isn’t even producing enough oil to fill its existing pipelines,” says the NRDC, “which are running half-empty.”

The real reason for the big push to build the pipeline across America’s heartland is not to enhance U.S. energy security, but to grow oil company profits by exporting oil to international markets through Gulf Coast refineries in tax-free Foreign Trade Zones.

Obama’s commitment 

One thing conservatives in Congress and environmentalists do agree on is that the Keystone pipeline story is far from over. Today’s rejection of TransCanada’s permit by the State Department is just as much a rejection of acting on the GOP’s attempt to mandate a timeline than of the idea itself.

“I’m disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my Administration’s commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil,” Obama said in his statement.

So while today those that voiced their concerns and made clear their opposition can celebrate a “victory”, bringing to heel what many considered a “done deal,” the fight for America’s sustainable energy future is far from over. The Keystone XL pipeline is but one small battle, and only temporarily won.

Image credit: National Geographic

January 18 2012


The Enbridge Board: A foreign Special Interest Group

If Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver is looking for ideologues and "foreign special interest groups" who are trying to interfere with the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline hearings, he need look no farther than the Board of Directors of pipeline proponent Enbridge Inc.

Oliver got his lapels all flecked with foam last week over pipeline criticism from Canadian environmental groups such as the David Suzuki Foundation or the Pembina Institute, organizations which, in a good year, might get almost 10 per cent of their funding from U.S. sources. These, he said, were clearly "radical groups" that were "driven by an ideological imperative" - and they were meddling inappropriately in Canadian affairs.

But according to a secret source (okay: it's the company website), Enbridge Chair David Arledge and six of the 12 Enbridge directors are (everyone get ready to gasp in unison): AMERICANS!

These directors, though, couldn't possibly be part of the plan to paint environment groups as "foreign special interest" boogeypeople, could they? If you're wondering, tune into this video: Ethical Oil spokester Kathryn Marshall is sure to leave you convinced.

January 17 2012


January 15 2012


Ethical Oil, the Sub-Prime Mortgage Scandal and The Next Great Generation

We are living in difficult times. The ongoing economic crisis started by the 2008 Sub-Prime Mortgage Scandal has all of us thinking about our future. We are vulnerable to unethical appeals to our anxiety in the form of quick fixes and easy profits. The promise of "Ethical Oil" is the worst of these appeals. We have to resist. Even more, we have to take decisive actions that the current leadership will not. To quote a famous man, we have an ordeal before us of the most grievous kind and we need a new generation of leadership to tackle it. We need the next Great Generation.

In 2008, world financial markets collapsed in dramatic fashion due to unethical investment practices, particularly in the previous five years. Toxic subprime mortgages had been injected like a virus into securities like Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs). Investment banks around the world were in on this scam and kept pushing it far beyond the point where it was obvious something had to give. Last year, the U.S. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission concluded:

"the crisis was avoidable and was caused by: Widespread failures in financial regulation, including the Federal Reserve’s failure to stem the tide of toxic mortgages; Dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance including too many financial firms acting recklessly and taking on too much risk; An explosive mix of excessive borrowing and risk by households and Wall Street that put the financial system on a collision course with crisis; Key policy makers ill prepared for the crisis, lacking a full understanding of the financial system they oversaw; and systemic breaches in accountability and ethics at all levels.“

How could the crisis have been avoided? People entrusted with our collective futures were warned. In 2005, economic oracle and author of the bestseller Irrational ExuberanceRobert Shiller warned the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation about a housing bubble that might lead to a worldwide recession. His advice was ignored. Also in 2005, Greg Lippmann, the head CDO trader at Deutsche Bank, called the CDO market a ponzi scheme and bet $5 billion against the housing market. He did this with full knowledge of Deutsche Bank management. All the while, the very same bank continued to sell CDOs to investors.

These are only two examples of many key moments in which the financial crisis could have been mitigated if elected officials and their appointees had acted in a responsible manner. This would have meant acting in the interest of the majority of people.

Warnings came and went, but the cash cow freight train kept hurtling toward the inevitable outcome: outright failures of some of the oldest, most established banks in the world. The impact on average people was and continues to be devastating.

It is interesting to note, however, that those who benefited from the ongoing sale of unethical securities continued to reap huge bonuses even after the collapse, paid for by consumer tax dollars. That's right. Not only did the wealthy get even wealthier from unethical behavior, they continued to do so even after being caught out. The mass of us paid for this with our savings, with our taxes, with our jobs and with our security. They are wealthier, and we are all the poorer for it. 

Fast forward three years. In May 2011, with the support of less than 25 percent of eligible voters, and with the oil-producing communities as its base of organisational and financial strength, the Conservative Party of Canada succeeded in forming a majority government. 

Backed by the evangelical Right and the heavily foreign-owned tar sands industry, and against all warnings about climate change, the Harper government is enacting an aggressive pro-Tar Sands agenda. Ring any bells?

Add to this the fact that Canada's system of government puts extreme power in the hands of the Prime Minister of a majority government, and you have a recipe for four years of disastrous policy. Indeed, the first six months has seen Canada embarassed on the world stage numerous times for its contempt for anything resembling a global warming treaty. In addition, Canada has been actively sabotaging climate policies in other countries.

I grew up in Alberta and worked on the oil fields around Edmonton in the early eighties. Those were the now vanishing days of pumping sweet, light crude from the golden wheat fields of the prairies. Alberta is now known for exploiting the world's largest deposit of tar sands, and there's nothing pretty about it. The environmental record of this project is well documented.

Unfortunately, the damage to Alberta's North is not the most serious problem. The biggest threat comes from the idea that we can get away with burning the carbon sequestered in the tar sands. We can't.

This is well documented by unprecedented scientific collaboration around the world. It is a fact that if we burn the 230 billion tons of carbon locked in Alberta's tar sands it will spike global warming to catastrophic levels. The global climate will start to change more quickly than we can manage.

The social and political upheaval resultant of rapid warming would be far worse than previous wars, famines or environmental catastrophes. It would alter the course of humanity forever. Millions, perhaps billions will be negatively affected by the changes that we invited upon ourselves.

If what I have said sounds hyperbolic, that's because we all want to believe that it is. We want to maintain our bias toward a positive outcome. Rational people, when confronted with facts over and over, eventually come around to recognize the truth. Sometimes too late, but they eventually do.

In our time, unfortunately, there are those among us who are willing to take money to cover up or blur the facts - people who consciously choose to lie about the future and attack legitimate science for their own short term benefit, or for the industries they protect. 

It is unethical beyond comprehension to rob future humans of climate stability and security for the sake of more profits for today's elites. Unfortunately, as there was leading up to the subprime scandal in the USA, there is groupthink of an unprecedented level occurring in Canada right now. 

The political and economic elite will nod gravely at the idea the Canadian economy will collapse if we don't go ahead with the tar sands expansion, when the opposite is true.

Companies line up for a chance to extract the oil and ship it anywhere they can sell it.

Pipelines crossing thousands of miles of pristine wilderness are hard-sold to communities

Supertankers sailing in narrow channels of rich coastal fishing grounds are needed, say our leaders, in spite of the risks

Communities whose livelihoods depend on the oil industry return Conservative, pro-tar sands politicians to our national government in record levels of popular support.

Politicians talk about "Nation Building" when no such plans exist.

And, yes, PR professionals like those behind the Ethical Oil campaign continue to take money and benefits today while selling our children and grandchildren down the river.

Canada is being run like a colonial outpost and our Federal and Provincial governments facilitate rapid resource extraction at the highest profit.

climate change groupthink

Certainly there is plenty of money to be made, just as there was with the toxic securities that drove the 2008 collapse. The pear-shaped outcome of burning the tar sands will be similar. Elites will be safe and the masses of the population in general will pay dearly. Even the one percent will feel the impact but the difference for the poor will be the exponentially larger scale of the disaster.

The psychology is all too familiar. Groupthink helps us go into a mode where the anonymity of the crowd absolves us of sin: "Everyone else is doing it, I should get in on it. It's not me who makes the call. I'm just going along. I owe it to myself and my family to get the best return I can."

We do it on a national level as well. The USA, like a big brother, behaves badly on the world stage, and Canada, like a little brother, accused of misdeeds, says "if the USA doesn't have to behave, we don't either."


In this time I think a lot about my grandparents' generation. We just buried a 90 year old in my family who fought in the Second World War. He was a member of the "Greatest Generation" that suffered in the Great Depression and sacrificed millions of their lives to beat back Fascism.

Elites in their generation wanted to work with fascists. Initially, there was a policy of Appeasement.

It's not that different today. The stakes are the same, or higher. Elites pushing the Carbon agenda want to stay the course. Don't upset the apple cart. Like the Subprime scandal, we appear willing to go full tilt until the last drop. We seem willing to blind ourselves to the climate catastrophe by lapping up the nonsense of industry-funded fringe climate change deniers. Mass media continues to present their nonsense as morally, ethically and scientifically equal to the results of unprecedented global scientific collaboration. In the name of "Balance"? This is a tragedy.

If my grandparents' generation was the last great generation, who will be the next? The Boomers have already checked out. The subprime scandal was a great example of how they can't be relied on. Their investments are made, the beds are feathered and the job now is to protect the nest egg. Stick a fork in them. They're done.

Will it be my generation, Generation X? Will it be Generation Y? The Millenials?

Who will step up to confront this reality headlong? Who will go down in history as the ones who made the difference?

Who will be the last generation to turn a blind eye for one more dollar?

January 13 2012


Cozy Ties: Astroturf 'Ethical Oil' and Conservative Alliance to Promote Tar Sands Expansion

As the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project Joint Review Panel begins hearing over 4,000 comments submitted by community members, First Nations, governments, and environmental groups, the tar sands front group EthicalOil.org has launched its latest PR offensive in support of the pipeline. OurDecision.ca, the new astroturf ad campaign, is another dirty PR attempt to undermine the real and growing grassroots opposition to Big Oil’s plans to ram through this destructive pipeline. 

The controversial Northern Gateway project is opposed by 70 First Nations and a majority of British Columbians, who fear the inevitable oil spills that will accompany tar sands expansion, and in particular the threat of offshore tanker accidents on BC’s coast.

Viewers of Ethical Oil’s disingenuous new ad campaign aren’t being told about the intricate web of industry influence peddlers behind the effort and their connections to the Harper government and oil interests. In the middle of this web is Hamish Marshall, a Conservative strategist deeply connected to oil interests as well as both the Conservatives and ultra-right wing Wildrose Alliance Party. In this case, the lines between politics and big business interests are so blurred, it is nearly impossible to distinguish them.

OurDecision.ca is the Ethical Oil Institute's attempt to dupe northern BC citizens into supporting the Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker infrastructure, claiming that it’s “our choice” as Canadians to exploit the tar sands and pipe it to foreign export terminals. The fact that the oil boom will actually enrich foreign investors from China, Europe and the multinational oil companies with a major stake in Alberta oil patch is nowhere to be seen in Ethical Oil’s propaganda. (The hypocrisy of their arguments here is reminiscent of their previous attempt to claim the mantle of women's rights to greenwash the tar sands.)

Since the overwhelming public opposition to the project is hard to argue with directly, Ethical Oil decided to change the subject entirely by claiming a foreign conspiracy because some of the environmental organizations working to oppose tar sands expansion receive funding from U.S. foundations. 

Stephen Harper was quick to echo EthicalOil.org’s talking points by decrying the foreign influence that is “overloading” the Northern Gateway review process. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver took a page from Harper's playbook, writing that environmental groups "threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda," using funding from "foreign special interest groups."

The “foreign special interests” in question are progressive American foundations that fund a wide range of initiatives: from education and infrastructure in developing countries, to the performing arts and urban poverty in North America and around the world.

Since climate change recognizes no political borders, the foundations have supported the efforts of a wide range of Canadian and American groups to raise awareness about the consequences of expanding tar sands development. This is a global issue, no doubt about it, and that's why people from all over the world are watching Canada and weighing in on this. Tyler Mccreary covers this point well today at Rabble.

Yet, Ethical Oil's OurDecision.ca website refers to these foundations and environmental groups as “foreigners and their local puppets.”


Ethicaloil.org is a classic case of dirty energy industry astroturf. Visit OurDecision.ca’s donation page, and you’ll be linked to a PayPal account for the Ethical Oil Institute. As previously noted, the Ethical Oil Institute was incorporated to the Edmonton law firm McLennan Ross, which has many tar sands industry clients.

The Ethical Oil Institute's Board of Directors has two members, Ezra Levant (the creator of the 'Ethical Oil' myth) and Thomas Ross, Levant’s lawyer and a McLellan Ross partner. Thomas Ross is also one of ten lead partners in McLellan Ross’s OilSandsLaw.com initiative, a “slick new oilsands cross-selling strategy" and marketing campaign.

But that's just the beginning of the connection. The websites of both OurDecision.ca and EthicalOil.org are hosted on exactly the same server and IP address as strategicimperativesonline.com. Normally this wouldn’t be surprising – it's common for many websites to be hosted on the same server. But this isn't a coincidence. Strategicimperativesonline.com is registered to GoNewClear Productions, a business incorporated in British Columbia to Travis Freeman, Brendan Jones, and Hamish Marshall.


Hamish Marshall is the President and COO of GoNewClear Productions. He is a well-known strategist and activist trainer within Conservative circles, and also served as one of two British Columbia representatives on the federal Conservatives' national council between 2008 and 2010.

He started his political career working for Canadian Alliance MP Joe Peschisolido from 2001-2002, and for the Conservative Party doing outreach for the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition from 2002-2003. He then left his position at the Conservative-Party connected NaiKun Energy in 2006 to work in the Prime Minister's Office as Harper's Manager of Strategic Planning until September 2007. In 2008, he managed polling for the Conservative re-election campaign.

The Ethical Oil-Harper government revolving door doesn’t end there. Hamish Marshall is married to EthicalOil spokeswoman Kathryn Marshall, who took over last fall when her predecessor Alykhan Velshi moved into the Prime Minister’s Office as the director of planning.

Hamish Marshall, through strategicimperativesonline, has registered 32 websites. Nearly all are connected to EthicalOil.org, the Conservative Party of Canada, and the right wing Alberta Wildrose Alliance Party.

Both ethicaloil.org's americans4opec.com and chiquitaconflict.com are hosted on the server, as is Kathryn Marshall’s personal website, kathrynmarshall.ca.


The web gets really interesting when you look at the other sites registered on Marshall's server.

Conservative Party candidates with websites hosted on Hamish Marshall’s server include Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, one of the most vocal proponents of the tar sands. Oliver's open letter last week refers to the "environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade". See the WhoIs profile for www.JoeOliver.ca.

Pierre Poilievre's www.ResultsForYou.ca website is hosted on the strategicimperativesonline server as well. A Calgary-school graduate, Poilievre is Harper's former Parliamentary Secretary, and is currently the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Poilievre also worked for Jason Kenney, whose site www.JasonKenney.com is hosted on the same server. 

Former EthicalOil.org spokesman Alykhan Velshi used to serve as the Director of Communications for Kenney. And Velshi's mother, Rumina Velshi, was just appointed by John Oliver to the national nuclear safety commission, raising ethics questions among critics. 

For the pro-tarsands Wildrose Alliance Party, Hamish Marshall hosts both the official party websites, wildroseallancecaucus.ca and wildrosecaucus.ca, as well as numerous Wildrose Party candidate websites. This includes former leader Paul Hinman, and candidates Doug Cooper, Corrie AdolphDave Yager, Heather Forsyth, and Richard Dur. Dur is also the Chairman of Policy for Jason Kenney’s Conservative Party constituency association.

Toronto City Councillor John Parker's website is also hosted on Marshall's server. 

Back in BC, Marshall hosts the website of former BC Liberal candidate Kevin Falcon. After working on Falcon’s unsuccessful run for BC Premier, Marshall went to work for BC Conservative leader hopeful John Cummins as his campaign manager. His website is also registered on Marshall’s server. Hamish Marshall is now one of the directors of the BC Conservative party

Finally, Marshall’s server hosts a website that makes campaign signs for Conservative MPs, as well as the website of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Association (OPCCA), the campus youth wing of the PC Party of Ontario is hosted on this server (campuspc.ca).

This is certainly only the beginning of an expansive web of connections between EthicalOil.org and the Conservative Party. The dizzying connections between them suggest that EthicalOil.org and the Ethical Oil Institute are acting as shadow arms of the Harper government and its desire to protect tar sands interests ahead of the public interest.

(Update: See DeepClimate's extensive look at this entangled web.)

What is most disingenuous about EthicalOil.org’s campaign is its work to systematically discredit the hard-working individuals in the Canadian environmental movement who work to protect public health, robust ecosystems and the global climate from the tar sands threat. The real threat to Canadian sovereignty is the greedy foreign corporations and governments buying up financial stakes in the Alberta oil patch, and EthicalOil.org’s support of them.

Ask yourself: who are the real patriots in this scenario?

Will the Harper government and ethicaloil.org own up to their cozy connections and finally recognize the importance of a rapid transition away from an oil-addicted economy towards a clean energy economy that relies on the robust, renewable resource of Canadian ingenuity and sustainability know-how? The clock is ticking.

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January 10 2012


Oil Sands Foes Are Foes of Canada, Minister Says

Denouncing opponents of the Keystone XL project, Canada's environment minister says they are financed from abroad.

December 23 2011


Canada’s White Christmas Isn’t So White Anymore

The tradition of snowy white Christmases is threatened by climate changeEnjoying a white Christmas is an honored tradition for many all over the world, and nowhere  more than for those in Canada’s Great White North. But for most Canadians, the tradition of a white Christmas is becoming more a dream than a reality.

David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada studied weather records and snowfall trends collected across Canada between 1964 and 2009. What Phillips found was that the chances of having a white Christmas with more than  2 centimeters (.7 inches) of snow on the ground has decreased dramatically in the past few decades.

The second largest and second coldest country on earth, 85 percent of Canada will still be blanketed in snow, says Phillips. But in the countries southern tier, where most people live and celebrate Christmas, the chances of a decent snowfall has dropped by nearly a quarter since 1991.

“Most Canadians will see a green Christmas,” said Phillips. “Who would have thought in the Great White North, the land of ice and snow, that we would be denied something that we hold close to our hearts?”

“It’s about a feeling,” added Phillips, “it’s about the Christmas card look to a scene, it’s about sleigh bells and chestnuts roasting.”

In Calgary Alberta, the chances of a white Christmas has fallen most precipitously. Between 1964 and 1984, the city had a 74 percent chance of a decent snowfall by Christmas. But from 1991 to 2009 the probability of a white Christmas  fell to only 47 percent.

And even when the snow does fall, there is less of it. Goose Bay, Labrador, in northern Canada, still has a 100 percent chance of snow by Christmas, but instead of the average 25 inches of snow depth recorded between 1964 and 1982, only 13.7 inches on average blanketed the community on Christmas between 1991 and 2009.

Fewer white Christmases don’t necessarily put anyone in peril, but it could have an impact on Canada’s tourism industry and is a “bummer” for those attached to the idea of a pristine, white Christmas full of deep fresh snow.

“It’s an emotional thing,” says Phillips. “We’re the great White North, we are the land of ice and snow, and we are losing that reputation, because winters just aren’t what they used to be.”

But the changing winters in Canada may help the onset of climate change “resonate” with Canadians suggests Phillips.

“When climatologists talk about climate change and global warming and it sounds technical, but it hits home with white Christmases.”

Additional source:
Climatewire (subscription required)

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