Oil is not well

Cool Tips for a Hot Planet

By Ginny Colling

The fossil fuel industry has been using a tactic called "greenwashing" to lull us into thinking that Canada has cleaner oil.

The camera follows an oil and gas worker walking by a forest. He joins colleagues as calming music plays and a narrator admits oilsands contribute significantly to our carbon emissions.

But relax, dear viewers. They’re working on it.

Advertising like this is designed to lull us into thinking they’ve got this under control. Some of the messaging: Canada has cleaner oil. The industry is reducing emissions. They plan to capture the carbon. They’re part of the solution to get us to net zero. It’s called greenwashing.

Reality check #1: From 2005 to 2019 the Canadian oil and gas industry increased emissions by almost 20 per cent, according to the Canadian Climate Institute. And with plans afoot to export more liquified natural gas, that will only get worse. The industry is already Canada’s largest source of climate pollution. Also, oilsands companies have vastly underestimated their emissions from production. That finding came from a study by Canadian and Yale University researchers published this year in the journal Science.

Reality check #2: More than 80 per cent of the industry’s emissions don’t come from producing their product, they come from burning it.

Reality check #3: A study of half the existing carbon capture projects in the world showed the technology is seriously underperforming. It’s not a solution.

Coal, oil and gas – fossil fuels – are by far the biggest contributors to global heating. And 2023 was the hottest year on record. The average global temperature increase, above pre-industrial levels, was perilously close to the 1.5 C limit set by the Paris climate accord.

We saw what chaos that brought. On my daughter’s 28th birthday in August, we watched in horror as images flashed across our screens of unprecedented wild fires raging across Canada, in Maui, Greece and elsewhere. “Mom, I’m terrified,” she said. “The whole world is burning!”

How did it get this bad? In large part, we can thank the public relations efforts of the fossil fuel industry. They have spent millions a year to convince us, at first, that global warming wasn’t happening. Then, that it’s all a natural phenomenon. Today, they’re attacking the solutions that work, and promoting themselves as climate champions.

On its website, the Pathways Alliance (an oilsands company organization) proclaims: “Our path to net zero emissions will help our country achieve a sustainable future.” The problem is the oil and gas sector is increasing production while walking back pledges to shift to renewables. They’re also lobbying hard against a proposed national emissions cap. So much for being part of the solution.

Last year, the Competition Bureau launched an investigation into alleged deceptive advertising by the Alliance’s Clear the Air campaign. In addition to TV and social media videos, their ads appear on buses, bike share stands, and arena billboards.

There are increasing calls to ban fossil fuel advertising, as France has done. The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment points out, “Just like cigarettes, fossil fuels are a threat to public health.” Not to mention, planetary health. The product is the problem.

Obviously, we won’t eliminate fossil fuels tomorrow. Too much of our economy has relied on them for too long. But we need to plan for a rapid, orderly, equitable phase out while replacing them with cleaner alternatives.

And stop the greenwashing that’s getting in the way.

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