Changing the Narrative on Alberta's Oil Sands

Imagine that a Canadian government researcher discovered a safe and inexpensive cancer vaccine. Naturally, the government of Canada would try to get it approved for use in the United States. The health and financial benefits to Americans and Canadians would be immense, which they would tout in their promotion of the discovery.

Inevitably, some would oppose the anti-cancer drug on the nonsensical grounds that all vaccines are dangerous. They would organize protests and letter-writing campaigns in an attempt to derail acceptance of the drug. They would recruit media to trumpet the dangers of the vaccine, ignoring its benefits.

If the anti-vaccine groups garnered significant support, the government of Canada would then have to decide: would they adjust their marketing efforts to properly refute the claims of loud but misinformed activists, or would they ignore the main issue driving the anti-vaccine campaign in the hopes of getting the drug approved anyways?

No responsible government would choose the second option.

They would direct their scientists to solidly refute the alarmists, arranging TV and radio interviews, writing articles, and convening open hearings with experts so that the public and media would hear how weak the evidence was on the anti-vaccine side.

The last thing the government would do is encourage the idea that vaccinations were dangerous.

Yet the government of Canada is following exactly the opposite of this commonsense approach when it comes to their promotion of the crucially important Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta's oil sands to refineries in the United States. Rather than adjust their strategy to properly address the main reason for opposition to the pipeline -- the feared impact of oil sands expansion on climate change -- the government mostly ignores the issue, choosing instead to promote the project in exactly the same way they did before President Barack Obama rejected the pipeline in 2012.

There are a number of factors that suggest another failure is likely. Although the U.S. State Department draft report on Keystone XL released last week came to generally supportive conclusions -- as did their report in 2011 --  Secretary of State John  Kerry is a well-known climate activist, and it is he who must approve the project before the file goes to Obama. In contrast to 2011 when then-Secretary Hilary Clinton came out in support of the pipeline even before her department had approved the project, Kerry has remained non-committal.

That Kerry used his first major address as secretary to make an urgent call for strong action on climate change should seriously concern XL boosters.