In a recent visit to Fort McMurray, Alta. and the surrounding oil sands of northern Alberta, Jane Fonda infuriated Albertans and Canadians alike. Akin to similar celebrity visits before her, this brand of environmental activism was misinformed and out of step with reality.
American actress and political and environmental activist Jane Fonda participated in a tour of the Alberta oil sands hosted by Greenpeace earlier this month. That’s right, the same Greenpeace that vandalised a World Heritage Site in Peru and opposes life-saving genetically modified crops.
The tour included meetings with local Aboriginal leaders and a fossil-fuel-consuming fly over of the areas actively involved in oil extraction.
Fonda described the visual impact of this industrial activity as having made “my body ache.” To the uneducated viewer, her words may invoke a feeling of sadness and environmental sympathy for the people and trees of northern Alberta. There is, however, much more to the story than just what Fonda and Greenpeace have to say.
Fonda has not been the first Hollywood so-called activist to visit the Alberta oil sands, preceded by visits by James Cameron and Leonardo DiCaprio. What made Fonda’s appearance different was how it was particularly insensitive to the residents of Fort McMurray who are still recovering from the devastation of the forest fires that ravaged the city in May 2016.
A CBC video interview with Fonda was interrupted more than once by locals discontent with her tour, where one individual questioned Fonda’s awareness of Indigenous investments in the oil sands. She was quickly whisked away by a member of her company before having an opportunity to counter — that always looks good.
In fact, this local’s concern regarding Indigenous investments in the oil sands is not without merit. Following Fonda’s visit, Fort McMurray No. 468 First Nation has issued a press release in which it has clearly stated that it was not in any way associated with or endorsing the Fonda tour.
The press release goes on to give its praise to the responsible development of the oil sands and credits the partnership for contributing to the economic success of the First Nation. This is not something Fonda was likely unaware of.
Something Fonda is probably also unaware of are the actual numbers when it comes to land use regarding resource extraction within the oil sands. According to the Government of Alberta, there are a total of 142,200 square kilometres of land in northern Alberta under which there is oil within sand.
Of this, only 4,800 square kilometres — or 3.4 per cent of total oil sands area — are actually shallow enough to be mined.
The province of Alberta was also the first authority in North America to pass strict laws regarding greenhouse gas emission reductions for industrial activity with the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation of 2007.
As well, per barrel emissions were reduced 28 per cent between 1990 and 2012 in oil sands production, according to Environment Canada. It certainly cannot be argued, then, that this is an unregulated-growth industry with no regard for human rights or the environment, unlike that of the majority of foreign oil, which would otherwise be imported to replace our own.
That being said, why do so many insist on targeting and vehemently attacking the domestic production of oil and gas resources? Yes, it’s a dirty industry and yes, there are cleaner ways to harness energy, but we still need it for the time being.
Oil goes into so much more than the fuel that ferries celebrities to and from the oil sands. Oil produces the plastics you use, the clothes you wear, the mattress you sleep on and the electronics you are addicted to.
So, to the celebrities who feel so compelled to come to our oil sands and make an attempt at convincing the world that they are so irresponsibly maintained: stay home. Stay in Los Angeles, do some research and make a damn video if you must. YouTube videos don’t burn oil like jets do.
Photo: rob-young / Flickr