Jessica Wilson: Tar sands no longer Canada’s dirty little secret
What has become most evident to me—working from Norway over the last six weeks—is that the tar sands are no longer Canada’s dirty little secret. Europe and Scandinavia have been hit over the head with one tar sands scandal after another. Each scandal smacked harder than the last and reminded Europeans that the tar sands, as a major driver of our government’s weak climate policy, are not just Canada’s problem.
Judging by the escalating media coverage, and the way the tar sands dominated the AGMs of BP, Shell, and Statoil, the black mark that the tar sands leave has spread to the U.K., Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, and, of course, Norway. For the second year in a row, and this time partnered with WWF Norway, we at Greenpeace tabled a motion that Statoil withdraw completely from the tar sands—a bold mission, to be sure, and one that made big waves at the AGM.
For 10 days in the lead-up to the big vote, Greenpeace, WWF, and the Indigenous Environmental Network hosted a speaking tour across the Nordic countries, meeting with nearly 100 investors, advisers, analysts, politicians, journalists, researchers, and scientists. From Canada came David Schindler, the respected water scientist and ecologist from the University of Alberta; George Poitras, former chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation; and Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a Lubicon Cree and a Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner.
Together, we blazed a trail toward the Statoil AGM on May 19 in the beautiful coastal oil town of Stavanger, Norway. In our wake, we left behind front page articles, TV features, and, most importantly, dozens of investors scratching their heads and wondering why the realities of Statoil’s operations in the tar sands had been so well hidden from them for so long.
The front page of Politiken screamed tar sands across Scandinavia last week, and created a reaction that reverberated across the investment community here. Politiken, arguably Denmark’s most important and well-read daily, published a scathing three-page spread (starting on the front page) on the dangers of tar sands investments, with a headline that singled out some of Denmark’s top investors for backing “an environmental bomb”.
And it certainly exploded. From there, investors and pension funds started calling us for meetings, scared of being pegged as the next irresponsible investors to finance a project that violates First Nations treaty rights, destroys massive amounts of natural resources, and pushes runaway climate change to the tipping point.
Not long after that, we connected with renowned U.S. climate scientist James Hansen, who shares our views on the tar sands and what they represent at this critical time in history. Together with 25 other environmental organizations, social justice groups, and impacted First Nations, we produced a full-page ad in a national daily in Norway that Hansen signed, pleading with Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg to step in as owner of Norway’s majority state-owned oil company and support our motion at the AGM.
Hansen also wrote an open letter to Stoltenberg in the same vein, published in Norway’s most conservative national daily. “Prime Minister Stoltenberg,” read the letter, “the world has reached a critical juncture in the climate debate. We can either move into the production of the most damaging fossil fuel, or we can begin to address our destructive addiction. We desperately need leadership at this time. I am confident that you could provide that leadership. Please do not prove me wrong.”
While Stoltenberg did not intervene, and the state, as expected, voted down our motion, we received incredible support from the private investment community: 34 million votes in favour, and 25 million abstentions, which translates into $7 billion kroner worth of backing. Not the least of what swayed those at the AGM were the moving words of Francois Paulette, spiritual leader of the Dene people, from a community roughly 240 kilometre from the tar sands.
“What you do with your money is your business,” began Paulette, addressing the CEO of Statoil, Helge Lund, the board, and a room full of investors. “But when you come into my territory, and you disrupt and you destroy my way of life—then it becomes my business.”
There are many uncertainties in investor campaigning, and a lot can happen between now and next year’s AGM. But one thing is for certain: as long as Statoil remains in the tar sands, we will be sure to make their every move our business.
Jessica Wilson is a media and public relations officer for Greenpeace Canada. She is currently on temporary assignment in Norway working on the campaign to stop the tar sands.