Every day it seems as if we see another energy company trying to convince us of new ways to keep us tied to oil and coal. Yet these fuels always turn out to be dirtier and more expensive, especially when their environmental costs are considered.
Liquid coal is one of these same old fossil fuels the industry touts as the next best thing for American energy, but the latest culprit in this pattern of dirty fuels purported to be the U.S. energy savior is "oil sands," a thick, black dirt derived from the soil under the great forests of Canada.
Use of these polluting oil sands is particularly ironic right now, as we approach what may be a near snowless Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Many have found it strange to read the reports of snow being shipped into Vancouver from hundreds of miles away; sadly, due to the effects of global warming, future winter Olympic Games may never be the same.
Yes, the East Coast was just blasted with record snowfall in the past week, but long-term trends show less snowpack at higher altitudes, and what is there is melting earlier - making it not only a harder time for the winter sports industry, but also having catastrophic consequences for the western wildfire seasons as droughts increase.
Right now, unfortunately, Canada is pursuing an energy policy that could have a huge impact on winter sports by accelerating global warming – and the U.S. is following suit.
The Canadian province of Alberta is home to a form of oil that's considered the dirtiest on earth. It's called the oil sands, also known as tar sands, and each barrel creates three times the global warming pollution as conventional oil. In fact, oil sands are now the fastest growing source of global warming pollution in Canada. They are also one of the most expensive forms of gasoline on the planet.
Now the Canadian government and the oil industry want to open up the U.S. gasoline market through a vast network of pipelines crossing through Montana, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Texas.
And oil sands don't only represent a threat of climate change bringing less snow or of paying more for Canadian gasoline. Producing this dirty oil also requires clear-cutting giant swaths of ancient forest and, excessive water usage, which creates lakes of toxic waste so large they can be seen from space (sounds like Canada's own version of mountaintop removal coal mining!).
If we allow this massive project to creep across our border, it will lock America into dependence on yet another foreign source of oil, just as our local, homegrown clean energy industry is beginning to thrive. It would threaten the good-paying, lasting American jobs that wind and solar and efficiency projects create - the kind of jobs that can't be outsourced.
Continued widespread usage of oil makes America reliant on foreign dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. We cannot seriously combat global warming and protect American independence without changing our insatiable need for oil. And the way toward breaking an addiction cannot be to double down on that addiction by finding ever dirtier and more expensive sources. The way to get off oil is to get off oil.
Instead of sending U.S. dollars to Canada, we need to invest in alternatives to oil at home. Fortunately, the best investments also clean up the local environment, combat global warming, and create home-grown jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Relying on yet another dirty fuel it could put an end to the winters we know. Unless we act now to combat climate change, future Winter Olympics could be dramatically different than the games we love today – whether through using artificial snow or forcing outdoor events to compete indoors.
Thankfully there are already some businesses choosing to take a stand against oil sands, including Whole Foods and Bed, Bath and Beyond, who announced last week that they would not use suppliers who use oil sands as source fuel. Last week even saw a group of BP shareholders introducing a resolution that called for a review of the risks of the company's oil sands project.
Americans have a chance to turn things around. Right now, we are poised to become a leader in the global clean energy economy. One of the most important things we can do to demonstrate that leadership is say no to Canada's oil sands.