Desmond Tutu calls tar sands the product of "negligence and greed"

Tutu said oil sands were an emblem of an era that had to end, and encouraged corporations to cooperate on preserving the environment.

Bshop Desmond Tutu in Fort McMurray
Photo by Bill Weaver for the Vancouver Observer

"The oil sands are emblematic of an era that must end," said South African Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu at a conference in Fort McMurray, "As Long as the Rivers Flow", held to highlight First Nation treaty and the threat of climate change.

Archbishop Tutu had strong words for bitumen extraction from Alberta's oil sands the result of "negligence and greed".

While deeply critical of Canada's rapid oil development, Tutu stressed that he could not tell Canadians what to do, and said ultimately Canada already knew what had to be done to prevent further environmental degradation. 

Cooperation over conflict 

Despite his strong words, Tutu also emphasized cooperation over conflict, and urged large corporations to work on environmental preservation.

Prior to the speech, Tutu went on an aerial tour of the tar sands with Suncor executive vice president Mark Little. Shortly after stepping off the helicopter, he told reporters: 

“No one wants to see an end to industry. If you have industry that is responsible, they have to be commended and encouraged. It’s not as if we go around saying, ‘to hell with them, whatever. Clobber them.'”

He said cooperation is  far better and "cheaper" than opposition. Tutu stressed that every person was a member of the same global family, and that it was far better to work together than “be at loggerheads with daggers drawn.”

Little then spoke with media and said that "many environmentalists" work at Suncor and care deeply about protecting the land.  He repeatedly referred to sustainability efforts such as recycling enormous worn out tires used by mining trucks and other initiatives.  He said Suncor has never had a release of oil into the Athabasca River and pointed to natural deposits of tar.   

TransCanada defends oil 

Tutu was among 11 Nobel Prize Laureates who signed a letter urging U.S. President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline proposed by Canadian pipeline giant TransCanada. The controversial pipeline would 830,000 barrels of bitumen per day from Alberta to refineries in the Gulf Coast. 

TransCanada Corp. spokesman Davis Sheremata said in a press release that Archbishop Tutu is entitled to his opinion, but that oil also helps people in their daily lives. 

“Oil powered the jet that flew Mr. Tutu to Canada from Africa, produced the fuel for the helicopter tour he had planned of the oil sands, and helped manufacture the microphones and TV cameras for his press conference,” the release said.

Respecting First Nation treaty rights 

A significant part of the conference, which was co-sponsored by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Toronto-based law firm Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP, focused on First Nations' treaty rights. 

"The greatest sin that a man can do is to destroy Mother Earth," said Francois Paulette, a Dene Suline hereditary chief and member of the Smith’s Landing Treaty 8 First Nation. Paulette had helped launch an era of treaty claims, with his historic 1973 Supreme Court victory that ruled in favour of Aboriginal rights over land that was slated for development. 

Eriel Deranger, communications director for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, opened the second day of the conference with a talk on building coalitions. "We will not tolerate threat to our rights, lands, water and to us all and all future generations," she said, in a room packed with First Nation attendees and sprinkled with oil company lawyers and journalists.

"It is a fine balance up here.  This industry has brought huge economic benefits to all of the First Nations in this region, but we have to think about balance, and ask is this industry sustainable?

"We have to look at ways to clean up the mess that is already here and look at ways of sustaining the economy and the identity and the culture of First Nations people," Deranger said.

"The process of taking the next steps is to work on your own communities, strengthen your own communities.  If our communities aren't strong, it becomes impossible for us to show our strength to the public.  We have to teach our young ones what it means to be an Indigenous person.

"Internalized oppression is perpetuating the cycle of oppression. If we don't break that cycle, break the process of colonization and understand our strength as original inhabitants and original governments of this country, we'll never make it.  We have to teach our communities. 

"We have to break the cycle.  Truth and reconciliation is such an important thing.  We have to come back to a deep understanding of our rights and the powers we hold as Indigenous people," Deranger said.

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Tar Sands

Any organization that signs on to any part of the tar sands and or pipelines has the right to do so legally, it may not be morally correct, but to do so puts them at great risk.  I am surprised that some organizations are already profiting from the tar sands and at the same time complaining about its affecting their livelihood.  It is beyond my thinking that anyone would participate in this gross and negligent project in order to earn money.

Rev TuTu

...and then he flew away on his private jet to overlook the pipeline project, and then flew home.

Reverend Tutu's tarsands visit

As Davis Sheremata said, Reverend Tutu's plane was powered by oil, etc. True, and there is lots of evidence of the presence of products derived from fossil fuels. BUT that does NOT mean that bumping up extraction of these fuels for corporate profit ONLY should be done!!

Mr. TuTu

Just to think about it for a moment the enviroment personel who work for the tar sands projects as they are employed by the masters are limited as to what they can and cannot do.  This is for the masters to only decides what is best for all. However there is better ways to get the recovery process but it is not cheaper extraction process.  That is where the problem is and what is the real issue.  Now if it cost more for clean up now and some will say that nothing leaking out is like saying there is no H2S that is not getting into the atmosphere.  This is far from the truth and can not make the claim nothing gets into the river.   Blaming it on the current tar sands that is showing at the river banks as the excusses is not good enough.  If it was there all these thousands of years then the fish and other aquadic life would have been affected and noted long ago. The cancer rates would have claimed the natives who lived in the area hundreds of years ago would be known and can be identified by the burial remains.  Animals that die in greater numbers would be in that area in fossile found of bone and other material.   None of this was ever found before and it is when man decides to distrup the natural flow of nature that is the cause and effect that we see today.  Yes we need the fuel to power the jets and planes etc even the cars we drive but to scale back the developement to restricted processes that only refine in a better positive manner is not a bad thing to do.  The process is flaud and needs to be changed is all what they are saying.  The investor wants thier money back on the investment of the technology that was used.   Just like a bad windturbine that does not do what is promissed is shelfed so why not stand down a process that is flaud and carry on with ones that work better.   It is just like the old computer did not perform as good as the newer ones with the same amount of energy.  What do we do.. throw out the old and bring in the new.  Same rule applies here.  It is that simple.