by Amelia Meister
Behind closed doors, shortly before COP21 in Paris, the Alberta NDP government met with the leaders of four major tar sands oil producers and four major Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) that oppose them. What came out of this meeting was a pathetic agreement between all parties that touts “sustainable development” of the tar sands.
The NGOs represented were Equiterre, ForestEthics, the Pembina Institute and Environmental Defence. If you don’t know about these NGOs then let me put them into perspective. ForestEthics, in 2014, spent 1.5 million dollars on their anti-tarsands campaigns, the most of any of their campaigns. In 2012, major social justice lawyer Clayton Ruby joined the organization to push it into the limelight for the good work that it was doing against the tar sands. In short, these are major NGOs with significant resources and support bases. These NGOs have been one of many vocal thorns in the side of tarsands development reaching a wide audience through radio and print ads that more grassroots groups couldn’t afford.
However, what was once direct opposition to any development of the tar sands has become a support for a new agreement with oil conglomerates. The agreement between the Alberta NDPs and the oil companies, supported by these four NGOs is a cap on emissions and development. However, the cap is forty percent greater than current development and emissions. This is hardly a revolutionary deal. Anti-pipeline and anti-tarsands activism, including actions from these four NGOs, has slowed down investment and development in the tar sands and their affiliated pipelines. I wonder, with this new endorsement of “sustainable development”, how these NGOs will continue to be a voice of opposition to the tar sands. If all opposition continued to present a united resistance, development could have been slowed even further, instead of capped at something greater than it is now.
It is jeopardizing to the anti-tarsands and anti-pipeline movement when the more mainstream view of what is possible consists of “sustainable development” and creating relationships with oil companies for “workable solutions”. Resistance to the tar sands cannot coincide with collaborating with oil companies. There is no such thing as sustainable development of the tar sands. The only sustainable option is for them to cease to exist, something that these NGOs have apparently forgotten. Any development of the tar sands is destructive not only to the delicate boreal forest ecosystem but to the indigenous nations affected by the pollution and deforestation. There was no consultation in this agreement with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. These NGOs claim some sort of solidarity with Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and yet have no problem negotiating a secret deal with oil corporations and government without any consultation. This is yet another perpetuation of the broken colonial systems that allow the tar sands to continue. While it is not surprising that this happened, the non-profit industrial complex continues to perpetuate the patterns of capitalistic and colonial ecological destruction. We must, then, continue direct action, in solidarity with Indigenous peoples, to apply the pressure that these NGOs have ceased to offer.
Amelia Meister is a poet, healer and radical single mother. She believes in working hard, loving fiercely and grieving deeply. Her writing appears in a monthly column in the Guelph Mercury and her words have been shared on many stages across Canada.