After the Canadian province of Alberta announced last week that it was establishing an “Oil Sands Advisory Group” (OSAG), to advise the government on the tar sands aspects of its Climate Leadership Plan, it immediately caused an out-cry from opposition groups and some parts of the oil industry.
OSAG is composed of 15 members from industry, environmental organizations and Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. The idea behind the panel is how to reconcile Alberta’s climate goals with any continuing development of the controversial and carbon intensive tar sands.
“The simple fact is Alberta can’t let its emissions grow without limit, but we can grow our economy and our market by showing leadership, including reducing our carbon output per barrel,” Alberta Minister for Energy Margaret McCuaig-Boyd said in a statement.
The panel is tasked with reducing the carbon impact of the tar sands and helping Alberta implement an emissions cap for the sector. Last year, the Province announced new climate legislation, with the new Premier Rachel Notley, saying “This is the day we stop denying this is an issue, and this is the day we do our part.”
For many environmentalists and Indigenous groups, having people represent them on the panel is a significant step forward. But it is the appoitnment to one of the three co-chairs of long standing ernvironmental activist, Tzeporah Berman, who is currently the Adjunct Professor of Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, which has caused an outcry.
Berman is one of Canada’s most celebrated environmentalists who has spent decades speaking truth to power. She cut her teeth fighting loggers at the beautiful Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver island, before setting up Forest Ethics and working with Greenpeace and becoming a leading critic of the tar sands.
After her appointment was announced Berman told Desmogblog: “Let’s be clear: under previous governments environmental leaders had very little access and were outright ridiculed by many ministers and department. First Nations leaders were simply shut out. Climate change was denied. A lot has changed in a year in Alberta and it is opening up new conversations.”
She added: “I look forward to co-chairing the OSAG – ensuring that the wisdom of all communities is reflected in our advice and that Indigenous knowledge and values are meaningfully included. I believe we can reach a unified vision on Alberta’s climate change objectives for the oil sands.”
However, the appointment has been met with opposition from Alberta’s Opposition Wildrose Party, with the media reporting that the party finds it “horrible” that Berman is now a co-chair of the NDP’s new Oilsands Advisory Group.
In a press release, Wildrose said it was a concern that Berman “is openly at war with the energy industry.”
Wildrose energy critic Leela Aheer added: “To see that this NDP government have appointed an individual from Ontario who openly opposes Keystone XL, Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan and Energy East is deeply disappointing. Hardworking Albertans and their families deserve better.”
Such is the vitriol against Berman that a petition has been set up online to get her removed from her job.
But as one columnist points out that critics of Berman’s appointment are “missing the point” that “the economy has begun a transition from fossil fuels to clean energy technology.”
Berman, who has been subject to online abuse over the appointment has responded too, saying on Facebook:
“Though I have been a vocal critic of ‘business as usual’ in the oil sands, I recognize that change doesn’t happen over night. It is a tremendous step forward that the Alberta government has decided to extend our earlier industry-environment work and enlist the help of more industry participants and the wisdom of non-Indigenous and Indigenous community leaders”.
“I am committed to working in good faith with the rest of the advisory group to develop advice that ensures a strong economy and a leadership position for Alberta on environmental issues”.
She adds: “I am committed to moving forward, as I have a with industry parties already, to provide advice on solutions that work for all Albertans and Canada.”