Friday, March 20, 2009

When journalists become apologists

Sometimes you read something in the paper that requires a response. This column on Alberta's oilsands qualified:
  • "Oilsands a poor excuse for world-class bogeyman" (Gary Lamphier, Edmonton Journal, Feb. 28, 2009)
Lamphier's column reminds me of this argument commonly used by apologists everywhere:

Yes, the war in Darfur is awful. And deadly. And ugly. And it creates a pressing humanitarian crisis that clearly must be addressed, from refugee camps to starvation.

We get it. We don't need the United Nations to tell us. But let's get a bit of perspective. Darfur has resulted in about 300,000 deaths. Accurate numbers of dead are difficult to estimate, partly because the government obstructs information gathering, but the death total doesn't even make the top 10.

Hey, WWII killed 6 million Jews to say nothing of 20 million citizens of the former USSR. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (1975-78) killed about 1.5 million, and the war in the Congo (1998-2003) resulted in 4.5 million deaths. Now, those are impressive numbers. You want a world-class humanitarian catastrophe? Sorry, you'll have to look far beyond Darfur.

Does that excuse the Sudanese government from its role in the disaster?* Of course not. But again, a wee bit of perspective.

Yes, Gary, let's get a grip. There are other environmental blights that dwarf Alberta's oilsands. But aren't journalists meant to seek truth and inform society? Are Albertans, Canadians, and the world at large better served when journalists like you take an apologist's view of a serious environmental issue and put smiles on the faces of oil executives?

Your oilsands column makes you just another PR flunky, an apologist whose role it is to whitewash and spin what's happening. The public deserves better.

Note: A shorter, edited version of this blog appeared as a letter to the editor (Edmonton Journal, Mar. 5, 2009): "Maybe not the worst but still bad"

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Alberta's dinosaur legacy

Why is the political right always so wrong? Latest example concerns Alberta's oil sands development. Have you ever seen the oil sands?

Alberta politicians like Premier Ed Stelmach brag that Obama is "speaking Alberta's language":

"Balancing the environment and the economy, investing in carbon capture and storage and technology. They're all things that Alberta has been talking about. That's good news for Alberta, good news for Canada and good news for all North Americans."
Really? The difference that 'Steady Eddy' does not see is that Obama talks about taking a broad approach to energy and the environment. Obama stresses that no one strategy will work - an effort has to be made on many fronts - but the emphasis needs to be on weaning us off gas, oil, and coal and pushing for more sustainable and cleaner sources of energy. See

In truth, our Premier takes the opposite approach to Obama. Out of short term self interest, he and his colleagues emphasize one thing - spending public resources on how to make extracting oil from the tar sands cleaner instead of how to wean us off fossil fuels. They continually grovel to oil companies, thinking of new ways to give them tax breaks and incentives.

Just like their Republican counterparts, in Albertastan it's all "Drill, baby drill!"

That's like screaming,

  • "Typewriters, baby, typewriters!" at the dawn of the computer age*
  • "Carbon paper, carbon paper!" when photocopiers came out
* See Tom Freidman on Meet the Press

The whole world suffers from such short sighted thinking. We need to take a broader approach and think of the

  • Energy of the future (The Economist, June 2008)
  • The best thing that rich-world governments can do is to encourage the alternatives by taxing carbon (even knowing that places like China and India will not) and removing subsidies that favour fossil fuels.

By clinging to fossil fuel, Alberta's dinosaur politicians are leaving us all a sad legacy.

Further reading