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Government defends the tar sands

Today, in my journey to the tar sands, I talked with people from the other side of the debate, pro-tar sands. I met with representatives from the Alberta Environment Ministry who defended the project for more than just economic reasons.

First I spoke with a water expert, who perspired during the interview when questioned on toxic tailing ponds leaking into the Athabasca River. He also told me that companies in the oil sands "have bad days" and "they do get away with some things." He even admitted that there is some leakage but the water is monitored and any thing they have found in the water is "natural."

The term "natural" is used a lot by the Alberta government as a kind of green double-speak to placate the public. Anything can be claimed to be natural, but when the so-called "natural" work by companies is affecting people downstream with rare cancers and diseases -- natural or not -- there is something wrong and unjust going on.

Next, I spoke with a climate change representative who touted the Albertan government as some kind of "eco-warrior" with their massive carbon capture and storage (CCS) scheme. The climatic "holy grail," or so its been claimed to be, that will be some kind of catch-all solution to the tar sands, as well as other carbon intensive industries like coal.

But for a technology that has been unproven, has no infrastructure in place yet and their will likely be a high expense to taxpayers -- it is not a "silver bullet" to our climate dilemma. Especially when the tar sands effects more than the climate, affecting also the boreal forest, water scarcity and pollution, as well as human health. It seems like more of a device to allow a business-as-usual with carbon emission when we are supposed to be cutting GHG.

But my meeting with representatives from the Alberta Environment Ministry made me think a little differently today. These were good people who seemed to genuinely believe in what they were doing was the right thing. This shocked me as we (or at least in environmental circles) typically paint corporate and government types as a form of evil in the world, organizing sinister schemes against us. But things aren't white and black, instead they are looking a little more grey right now.

I think these individuals and many like them are indeed trying to do the best they can with the oil situation we are in. But it comes down to a philosophical underpinning -- do you believe the 21st century will exist with oil or not? For those that do, like the people I have spoken with today, they are trying to lessen oils impacts and make it more efficient. For those that don't, they are trying to end our dependency on it all together. Neither one is the sinister party; the difference between them depends on what your oil philosophy is.

Emily Hunter's Journey to the Tar Sands airs this fall on MTV News Canada.

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