Never has a President’s words been scrutinised in so much detail, with people looking for a sign or slip about what he is thinking.
Analysts and journalists have poured over his remarks during his brief trip to Canada on NAFTA, Afghanistan, climate change, clean energy and tar sands.
At the meeting, the two countries promised to hold meetings under the “Clean Energy Dialogue”. “Right now, there are no silver bullets to solve all of our energy problems. We’re going to have to try a whole range of things,” Obama told reporters. “That’s why sharing technologies, sharing ideas, sharing research and development is so important,” he added.
When Obama dismisses any “silver bullets” being available, many people would argue this means current technological fixes such as Carbon, Capture and Storage (CCS) – which oil sands proponents argue could somehow clean the dirty oil – will not work.
But despite this, those who have been at the forefront of promoting tar sands were pleased with what they heard from Obama. Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said Obama was “clearly speaking Alberta’s language.” David Collyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, called the agreement a “very positive and constructive framework,” which hopefully would not “discriminate” against oilsands.
Former US ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci was also pleased with what he heard. “Clearly, Obama is not going to shut down all the coal burning plants in the United States. He’s putting the oil sands into the same basket. It sounds to me like he’s not going to support restricting oil from the oil sands from coming into the United States.”
Environmental groups were disappointed by what they heard .”Talking is worthwhile, but it won’t reduce Canada’s emissions anytime soon,” said Matthew Bramley, director of the climate-change program at the Pembina Institute.
But some media commentators argued that , in passing, Obama had “wagged a finger at tar sands ” by stating that “I think that increasingly we have to take into account that the issue of climate change and greenhouse gases is something that’s going to have an impact on all of us and as two relatively wealthy countries, it’s important for us to show leadership.”
The long and short of it is that if Obama believes there is no “silver bullet” on climate change, that rules out CCS being applicable for tar sands. And if there is no CCS, there is no tar sands, whatever its proponents might argue.