What are the tar sands, anyway?
The term tar sands refers to oil that has been trapped in a sticky mixture with sand and water. While you may imagine oil à la Beverly Hillbillies, spurting out of the ground, tar sands need to be dug out and put through an energy intensive process to separate the oil from the sand and water. There are tar sands in different regions around the world, but Alberta is home to the largest known reserve on the planet.
The fact tar sands require extra steps – and extra energy – to turn it into the stuff that flows easily through a pipe or into our gas tanks is why it is especially polluting and bad for our environment and our climate.
The processes to extract oil from the tar sands leave behind significant amounts of toxic waste that is making its way into our air and water. Every day, 200 million litres of toxic liquid waste are generated in the tar sands, and each day 11 million litres of toxic waste leaks into the surrounding ecosystems. Learn more about the tar sands and water in this video:
Toxic cancer-causing air pollutants have been found in concentrations 6,000 times higher than normal in communities near the tar sands, which has been linked to elevated rates of rare and deadly cancers of in the region.
Rather than taking meaningful actions to limit pollution from the tar sands, Big Oil wants to triple tar sands production by 2030. This will mean more polluted air, more polluted water and more damage to our climate.
What do the tar sands have to do with my family?
The discussion about Canada’s energy is a discussion about our kid’s future. Do we want our kids looking back in 30, 40 or 50 years and wondering what the heck was the matter with us? Why didn’t we change course when the science was clearly telling us about the dangers of climate change?
Burning fossil fuels (like the tar sands) is filling up our atmosphere with heat trapping gasses and causing global warming. Experts say we need to keep 2/3 of all of the oil and fossil fuels that we know about in the ground if we want to avoid the worst of climate change.
We’ve already seen the horrific impacts of climate catastrophes like Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Closer to home, we’ve seen the horrible floods in Calgary and Toronto, and Hurricane Sandy along the Atlantic coast.
We teach our children to avoid things that aren’t safe. Continuing our addiction to polluting fossil fuels is unsafe for our climate. We need to keep the tar sands in the ground. Otherwise, we’ll be signing our children up to a future they don’t deserve.
It’s time to go on a carbon diet and the first to go will be the highest polluting of the fuels – like tar sands. We need this diet so that future generations don’t have to experience the worst of climate change.
The tar sands are already the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. Canada can’t tackle climate change in a meaningful way while expanding the tar sands. That’s like trying to go on a diet while eating five chocolate cakes a day. It just doesn’t work.
And economically, relying on the tar sands doesn’t make sense. The price of oil has always been volatile, but in a world on a carbon diet it’s going to get much worse. As the world begins to take climate change seriously, many countries are cutting their demand for oil and building smarter, cleaner energy solutions. Globally, the green economy is growing. Unless Canada changes its energy priorities, we are at risk of being left behind as the renewable energy sector grows.
What can you do?
While day-to-day choices about our energy use add up, getting our governments to move away from being dead last among developed countries when it comes to climate action and clean energy will require more than individual actions. Our politicians are making decisions that will define our children’s generation and they need to know that nothing is more important to a parent than ensuring their children have the best shot at a good future.
Pick up the phone, or send an email to your Member of Parliament. Tell them you care about your kid’s future and you want to see Canada succeed in a smart, clean, modern energy future, not be dragged under by dated oil.
Across Canada, more and more voices are calling for Canada to take a cleaner energy pathway. Our movement is growing stronger. But the more voices speaking out, the better.
Visit http://environmentaldefence.ca/issues/tar-sands to learn more about our work and how you can get involved in the growing movement that is saying No to reckless tar sands expansion.
Want to learn more? Visit www.tarsandsrealitycheck.ca for quick and clear facts about the tar sands.