Greenpeace To Canada: Clean Energy, Eh?

While Alberta bombards Times Square with 10-seconds ads promoting the province’s controversial tar sands industry, Greenpeace is answering with what it calls a comprehensive report on how Canada can flourish by ditching fossil fuels and embracing renewables.

“Canada can break its addiction to dirty tar sands oil, coal and gas and save consumers $5.3 billion a year by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency,” Greenpeace’s Keith Stewart said in a press release announcing publication of the report, prepared with the European Renewable Energy Council, a Brussels-based trade group representing a range of renewable-energy industries.

image via U.S. Bureau of Land Management

Canada is the only country in the world with a large-scale tar sands (also known as oil sands) industry, and it now accounts for some 40 percent of the country’s oil production. The complex, energy-intensive process requires open-pit mining for oil-rich bitumen, then heavily processing and upgrading the extracts. Assessing the practice, the U.S. government cites “a variety of environmental impacts, such as global warming and greenhouse gas emissions, disturbance of mined land, (and) impacts on wildlife and air and water quality.”

Tar sands defenders say the industry—and the coal, natural gas and traditional oil industries—are vital to Canada’s energy independence and as economic drivers. In its report, Greenpeace countered that conservation and efficiency could trim energy demand by half, and that renewables could meet 74 percent of the country’s energy needs by 2050. To make that happen, the report said, Canada “cannot wait for the free market.”

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.