Blog Posts | Pembina Institute

Attacks on environmental group supporters are disingenuous and disturbing

Blog - Dec. 12, 2011 - By Ed Whittingham

Yesterday the reputation of the Pembina Institute and that of the British government was attacked in a column by Kathryn Marshall, a professional oilsands booster. It doesn’t seem too much to ask of someone who regularly writes commentary in the news media to do a little fact checking. However, this basic journalistic standard appears to have escaped Marshall, as her commentary repeats many misleading or downright false statements about the Pembina Institute and the nature of our work.

For instance, if Marshall had done her research, she would have discovered the Pembina Institute does not have an "anti-oilsands bias." As a rural Alberta-bred organization, we've spent 18 years proudly working together with industry, government and non-profit colleagues to develop and advocate for more responsible oilsands development.

In the last two decades, we've been part of all the major planning processes and groups, participated in all the major development hearings, and have collaborated directly with most of the major producers on environmental management improvements through our consulting work (business that we earn, by the way, through our long track record of offering top-tier technical and management advice.)

We are a vocal critic of industry and government when evidence shows that development is not taking place in an ecologically responsible manner and impacts are not being managed adequately. But we always aim to make our criticism constructive, and have built a reputation as an organization that is ready to come to the table with our minds open, our sleeves rolled up, and solutions in hand throughout those 18 years.

Marshall also alleges that the UK government is funding "anti-oilsands campaigns." Nothing could be further from the truth. The British High Commission funded our research evaluating the employment opportunities created through clean energy polices. That research found that Canada's government could have created more jobs by investing in clean energy development rather than through the projects it funded with its economic stimulus spending. The High Commission provided funding to promote healthy dialogue around green jobs in Canada, and did not have any kind of editorial license or control over the content or conclusions of our work.

The High Commission also provided support to help us convene a dialogue between industry leaders and environmental groups around market-based solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. The knee-jerk reaction of our critics to last week’s news reports about the High Commission’s funding demonstrates that this kind of solutions-based dialogue is still sorely needed in Canada.

The reality is those, like Marshall, who specialize in polarizing the debate over energy issues and defending the status quo don't like it when think-tanks such as the Pembina Institute suggest that Canada needs to proactively address the impacts of energy development, and prepare for the global transition to more renewable and low-carbon sources of energy.

She must really not like it when pragmatic leaders like Alison Redford, Alberta's new premier, say things like this in her leadership platform: "Hydrocarbons will not remain the world’s fuel of choice forever and Alberta must be prepared for the spread of alternative sources. We need to leverage revenues from today’s energy sources to ensure that Alberta remains a leader when the shift to renewables occurs on a large scale." I think Premier Redford wisely and prudently is interested in the long-term competitiveness of the Alberta economy, but to Marshall she must be just another foreign-backed anti-oilsands campaigner.

But what is perhaps most troubling about Marshall’s arguments against the Pembina Institute is the subtle but dangerous xenophobia that underlies her commentary. She suggests that Pembina relies on "foreign money" for our work to promote sustainable energy solutions like responsible oilsands development, and that using "foreign money" means that our work "doesn't represent Canadians."

Marshall uses the word "foreign" in a pejorative way, like it's nefarious or un-Canadian. On the contrary, I'm proud of how the Pembina Institute sources our hard-earned revenue. For example, roughly 45 per cent of our $5 million annual revenue comes from our consulting work, through which we provide advice to federal, provincial and municipal governments and companies on management practices and strategies for sustainability. Since many of our corporate clients are Fortune 500 transnational companies, listed on both Canadian and U.S. stock exchanges, does that make their money "foreign," unrepresentative of Canadians and therefore bad? Perhaps in Marshall's parochial world it does. By extension, then, should Canada be preventing foreign-owned companies from extracting Canadian oil? The same logic would seem to apply.

Equally troubling is that Marshall is not alone in her anti-globalization bias. It's been sad to see how other ultra-right wing pundits have taken to attacking the sources of funding of Canadian environmental groups along the same lines. They seem to think that if there's a nickel of money coming from outside Canada then it must be for ill-intentioned purposes. The anti-globalization left-wing movement of yester-year sure has some curious new champions of late!

By contrast I'm a believer in globalization. My parents are immigrants to this country, where they found better opportunities for themselves. My wife is Japanese, and our children hold dual Japanese-Canadian citizenship. I live in Alberta, where our third largest industry is tourism, with much of that revenue coming from outside Canada. I'm sure that Banff sees foreign money as welcome money, not bad money.

We live in a global world. Everything from business to social change movements to entertainment is now a global endeavor. Canada is home to the entire world, and when it comes to energy resource development and environmental protection, Canada’s choices also have global implications.

Global environmental challenges require global cooperation, as was again demonstrated at the UN climate talks that wrapped up in Durban, South Africa, on Saturday. Our companies, our governments and our Canadian environmental organizations should be proud of attracting foreign investments to help us solve our environmental problems and prosper. In order to maintain Canada's competitiveness in the global clean energy economy, we need an equally globalized approach — not the kind of narrow, "put up the firewalls" approach that Marshall and her kind advocate.

Ed Whittingham

Ed is the Executive Director of the Pembina Institute. He has served in an advisory capacity to companies, industry associations, government bodies and research networks on sustainable energy solutions.

DM — Jan 07, 2012 - 01:24 PM MT

I like how they are really trying to reposition the Oil/Tar Sands as Ethical.

I guess this means we need to then, redefine, 'ethical'.

Steve Johnson — Jan 04, 2012 - 09:37 PM MT

Wouldn't it be best to take the high ground, and refuse all foreign funding, rather than appear to be under the control of non-Canadian interests? You could hold your head high then.

John Stevenson — Jan 05, 2012 - 12:26 PM MT

Likewise Steve, Canada ought to stop funding efforts to stop the EU from adopting a Fuel Quality Directive which would penalize oilsands SCO. We wouldn't want them to fall under the control of Canadian interests would we now? Otherwise they couldn't hold their heads high.

Even better, why doesn't Canada just refuse all foreign funds coming in to Canada all together! Sadly, your hyper-patriotic sense of nationalism is completely at odds with the fundamental reality of our globalized economy. Do you know what a shareholder is? Do you realize how much oilsands companies benefit multinational shareholders, and that those companies serve non-Canadian interests as well?

Are "foreigners" not allowed to be concerned about the climate?

Are we allowed to tell Brazil to preserve it's rainforest, but no one is allowed to tell us to clean up our oil production?

According to the logic of your argument you would be in favor of a state owned and run Canadian oil industry, Canadian interests only, right? Then Canadians could hold their heads high. But don't worry, I know you're not in favor of that, you're just misinformed by the right wing media about the way the world actually works.

Gerry Phillips — Jan 04, 2012 - 07:26 PM MT

The Pembina Institute needs to take a close look at what they are saying and what they are promoting. My one experience with the Institute concerned a paper prepared by a colleaque on Human-Enhanced Water Evaporation. It provided extremely well-researched data regarding the increse in water in the atmosphere due to a number of human-based activities. It also explained most of what is happening world-wide regarding loss of Arctic Ice, calving of the ice sheet in the Antarctic and the perceived increase in global temperatures. Your Response? 'We don't have time to look at the report because we are to involved in proving the Global Heating Effect is caused by increases in carbon dioxide.' It's a shame you wouldn't even consider the report. Is there any wonder some of us are skeptical of you rebuttals given above?

Chip — Jan 02, 2012 - 06:21 PM MT

Canadians are fed up with elitist groups like the Pembina Institute/Foundation attacking their livelihoods with lies.

Real Canadian — Jan 04, 2012 - 04:46 PM MT

Lies from Pembina? Funny thing that sites such as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers' have disclaimers about the accuracy of the information posted on their site, but surprise surprise the research undertaken by PHD and MA holding folk at the Pembina Institute doesn't require such a thing...think about it, if you can muster the courage to see beyond your preconceptions and self interest.

Furthermore, if the oil industry is the only sector Canadians can derive a livelihood from, logically it follows that when the oil is gone your children will be left without a livelihood. This is clearly not the case, and further demonstrates the degree to which you speak out of self interest instead of empathy for others, including future generations.

Chip, you can keep pretending you care about Canadians, I myself will strive to speak for genuine Canadian interests, for present and future generations. Furthermore I will continue to applaud the work of intelligent organizations like the Pembina institute when they speak the true voice of future Canadians.

Chip — Jan 05, 2012 - 06:45 PM MT

LOL. I love it how you lefties come across thinking that they have a monopoly on compassion and sympathy. How pompous. You think that because you "care" more than others that gives you the right to trample over an industry, an economy and my lievelihood.

It also makes me laugh how you people hope beyond hope that fossil fuels will run out. You can hardly wait for this. You rub your hands with glee at the thought of all of us shivering in the dark paying ridiculous fees for bogus expensive "renewable" evergy.

You have no idea how fast technology is evolving to recover gas and oil from shales, sands and the sea. You are clueless about the potential of both shale oil and oil shale. You are in a fog about oil shale recovery.

Mention the word clathrates and you wander about in a stupor. The same for in situ coal to power generation.

The fact is that we have hundreds of years of non-conventional oil, natgas and coal reserves and as technology improves and the price maintains its current levels, these reserves will grow even more. Clathrate recovery could push this into a thousand year reserve.

And as we learn more about the role of marine sedimentary deposits in the formation of fossil fuels, we may discover that fossil fuels themselves are renewable to an extent. After all 150 years later, we are still pumping oil out of Pennsylvania and Ohio. 100 years later we are still pumping oil out of Texas. We are still pumping oil out of Los Angeles. There are over 3000 oil wells in Los Angeles. And 50 years later we are still pumping oil in Leduc, Alberta.

In the meantime, live and believe in your little fairy tale world while we leave you behind.


DM — Jan 07, 2012 - 01:22 PM MT

Mr. BUT(head)

I think it might be wise for you to do a little faq checking. Can you tell me anything about these " ridiculous, bogus, and expensive" renewable energies? Do you yourself even know what the term 'renewable' means? I suggest you look at some of the research around Bio Diesel. Especially some of the progress being made with algae.

But, do you actually have any idea of the impact the Oil Sands is, in fact, having on the environment? Have you not seen what sits in those large tailings ponds?
Can you honestly tell me that this is safe and not at all a problem? Let me ask you this, would you let your kids play in it? Or would you let your kids drink some of the water that flows on by some of these 'toxic' pools? If you are so knowledgeable, tell me a little more about what they plan to do with these ponds?

Do you yourself even know of the health and social impacts this industry might be causing on communities downstream?

Let's come clean. Do you not think (of course you don't) you might be speaking from a place of complete ignorance? Can you honestly say, that you have looked at both sides of this?

Like so many who blindly support this industry, I am not really sure you have a clue!

I don't care if you work, or worked, in the oil industry. This does not really feed you with a clear, and objective view of the actual facts now does it?

I welcome you to share any of the knowledge you seem to have. Do share!!


I'm waiting.

Chip — Jan 07, 2012 - 02:35 PM MT

You, like all leftards are incredibly misinformed.

80% of oilsands crude is now extracted in-situ.

The tailings ponds are being cleaned up. They will disappear in short order.

Renewable energy is ridiculously expensive and is nothing but a fad. Wind farms are closing dowen. Solar companies are going bust. Ethanol plants are shutting down because no one wants to subsidize these silly programs and there are not enough stupid leftits to buy this expensive energy - you hypocrites.

The Chevy Volt is a disaster and Honda is being sued for lying about the poor preformance of their hybrids.

Its over. But the fun part is watching the leftoid econutters act out in their little temper tantrums.

Go back to your cavse and whale oil lamps!

Bruce Hill — Dec 28, 2011 - 03:50 PM MT

Well said Ed. We need more of this. The conservation movement, and Pembina in particular, has nothing to hide or be ashamed of in this regard.

Adam Johnston — Dec 15, 2011 - 05:33 PM MT

Thanks for this editorial. I am a fan of the Pembina Institute and it is sad when it is attacking one of the most credible environmental think tanks in North America that promotes pro sustainable development solutions. Ms. Marshall needs to reconsider her attack

Sam Gunsch — Dec 13, 2011 - 06:14 PM MT

Effective rebuttals that need to be said a lot more.

winnie — Dec 13, 2011 - 11:43 AM MT

But of course, foreign money is no longer "foreign" for Ms Marshall if the money comes from China buying Canada's dirty tarsand oil!
Just like Canadian dirty oil is ethical for Ms Marshall because it comes from "Canada!"

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