Today, “cog in the Conservative machine” Alykhan Velshi relaunched his website “ethical oil,” with a series of ridiculous posters. Based on Ezra Levant’s tar sands book by the same name, the posters take aim at “the world’s bastards” (Iran, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan). As Velshi argues, “When you’re filling up the tank, I think you’re indirectly funding them and their pet projects.” The “ethical oil” argument counterposes “foreign oil” with Canada’s tar sands — claiming that the latter promotes the environment, human rights, peace and democracy. Below are alternative posters to expose the myth of “ethical oil” and argue that a green economy free of the tar sands is the only viable future for the planet and its people.


Counterposing tar sands oil with other oil is a false dichotomy. The oil economy in general is leading the world to catastrophic climate change, and the tar sands venture is accelerating this process. According to Greenpeace:

The tar sands cover an area of land the size of England, which has been divided up and leased to the world’s biggest oil companies… The tar sands use more water every day than a city of two million people and consume enough natural gas to heat six million Canadian homes. Until the oil boom, the tar sands were too expensive to be economically viable. But our global addiction to oil has us scraping the bottom of the barrel. The tar sands generate 40 million tonnes of CO2 per year, more than all the cars in Canada combined… As the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, the tar sands are the main reason Canada continues to block meaningful global climate regulations. The Canadian government ignores the warnings of the scientific community by aiming for abysmal targets that will leave us at nearly double the science-based target that we need to meet to keep the increase in global temperature below 2 C and avoid catastrophic climate change.

Indigenous rights

The claim that tar sands promotes indigenous rights has been exposed by indigenous people themselves who are leading the fight against tar sands. According to the Indigenous Environmental Network

Indigenous peoples (known as First Nations) in Canada are taking the lead to stop the largest industrial project on Mother Earth: the Tar Sands Gigaproject…The cultural heritage, land, ecosystems and human health of First Nation communities including the Mikisew Cree First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McMurray First Nation, Fort McKay Cree Nation, Beaver Lake Cree First Nation Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, and the Metis, are being sacrificed for oil money in what has been termed a ‘slow industrial genocide.’ Infrastructure projects linked to the tar sands expansion such as the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline, threaten First Nation communities in British Columbia, Canada and American Indian communities throughout the United States. Community resistance is growing and Indigenous peoples throughout North America have mounted substantive challenges to tar sands expansion.


The actions of the Harper government make the false dichotomy of “conflict oil” vs. “ethical oil” obvious. As Opposition, Harper wanted Canada to join the oil war in Iraq, and as prime minister has persecuted U.S. Iraq War resisters (with Velshi an eager participant) for trying to be ethical soldiers refusing to fight for conflict oil. While promoting the tar sands, Harper has extended the oil war in Afghanistan three times, already once extended his oil war in Libya (where NATO intervention is designed to undermine the Arab spring that threatens to overthrow all the Western-backed “bastards”), and plans on wasting billions on oil-dependent fighter jets to participate in further conflicts over foreign oil.

Workers’ rights

The claim that tar sands production supports workers’ rights ignores the experience of workers themselves. Last year a tar sands workers was fired for blogging about the conditions at Fort McMurray:

We have options for bagged lunches to take to work that includes stale vegetables that are sometimes unwashed (and occasionally are rotten/slimy), green fruit, sandwiches so high in salt it would terrify you, and a selection of donuts/cookies/cupcakes that would make Tim Horton’s pale in comparison…All the vents are connected together so that if one person gets sick you are almost guaranteed to get it as well, the only answer is to stuff your vents with towels and live with stuffy stale air. It is not uncommon to have dozens of people ill, and there are occasional outbreaks of flu or cold that can affect hundreds at a time…There is no viable complaint procedure, no responsible person to notify of low quality or dangerous conditions, as camp patrons we are almost entirely helpless and at the whim of these people and they know it. This only reinforces the general resentment (or forced acceptance) of these conditions.


The simplistic and racist dichotomy between inherent Western democracy and inherent Middle East dictatorship ignores Western arms sales to dictatorships, Western political support for dictators (from Paul Martin’s support for Libyan dictator Muamaar Gaddafi, to Harper’s support for Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak), and Western oil companies profiting from dictatorships (like Canada’s Suncor operating in Libya and Syria, as well the tar sands). Meanwhile the Harper government has ignored majority support for a green economy, highlighted last year by Greenpeace’s banner drop from Parliament. According to a poll last year,

over 70 per cent of Canadians support redirecting of military spending toward efforts that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the idea of a World Climate and Justice Tribunal to judge and penalize countries and corporations whose actions have contributed climate change. Over 80 per cent of Canadians believe the Canadian government should invest in ‘green jobs’ and transition programs for workers and communities negatively affected by a shift off of fossil fuels.

Despite attempts to greenwash the tar sands, the majority of people support a truly green economy — and movements uniting indigenous groups, environmentalists, the labour movement and the anti-war movement are working to bring for this democratic and green future to life. 

Jesse McLaren

Jesse McLaren

Jesse McLaren is a physician, activist and blogger, who like Virchow believes that if medicine is to accomplish its great task, it must intervene in political and social life. He blogs at yourheartsontheleft.blogspot.com,...