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Vancouver Sun's ethical oil orgy

Each month I read a hundred climate articles and the summaries of a thousand more. So I see a lot of biased climate reporting. Even so, a recent Vancouver Sun business article by Barbara Yaffe was such a one-sided oil orgy that it shocked even me.

In honour of such truly dreadful climate reporting, I’m going to first provide some balance on the blatant biases and then give it my inaugural “Oil Orgy” award. We deserve all the hell and high water we get if we allow pro-pollution, industry-spin articles like Yaffe’s to slip by unchallenged.

In a nutshell

Yaffe appears to copy talking points directly from Big Tar’s advertising and presents those as the full, balanced, did-my-homework story of oilsands pollution. She then goes on to insist we allow Big Tar to radically expand carbon pollution because the oilsands are:

  • a tiny fraction of one percent of the climate problem
  • a tiny fraction of coal-burning carbon in the U.S.
  • getting cleaner per barrel
  • unfairly tagged as a “carbon bomb”

Here’s what Yaffe doesn’t tell her readers:

  • She leaves out 85 per cent of current oilsands carbon. The full climate impact is over 280 million tonnes of CO2. That is greater than fossil-fuel burning in 162 nations and equals 8.5 tonnes per Canadian.
  • She leaves out all data on the exploding rate of carbon extraction. Yaffe never mentions that Big Tar plans to double carbon pollution this decade or to hit a billion tonnes of climate pollution within two decades. That will be double the size of all fossil-fuel-burning emissions in Canada today. Hint: that is the exploding part of the “carbon bomb”.
  • She leaves out all data on the “game over” size of the oilsands carbon bomb. Yaffe doesn’t mention the fact that there is six times more economically recoverable carbon in the oilsands than in all of Canada’s coal reserves. Or that NASA’s James Hansen puts the carbon extraction potential of oilsands as equal to all coal burning in all of human history so far. WMD.
  • She leaves out all data showing oilsands getting dirtier. While she thinks it is important to tell you that they are trying to get cleaner, she apparently decides you don’t need to know that the industry’s own data shows barrels are actually getting much dirtier.
  • She leaves out basic integrity when comparing to U.S. coal burning. Yaffe parrots the ridiculous statistic of Big Tar that oilsands emissions are only 3.5 per cent of U.S. coal-burning emissions. It is ridiculous because it compares a portion of oilsands-production emissions to the burning emissions of U.S. coal. If you flip that around, this equally absurd statement becomes true: The oilsands emissions are greater than USA coal emissions

As my article below spells out, even if you compare the oilsands to humanity’s biggest source of climate pollution of all time – U.S. coal burning – the oilsands still come out looking like an incredibly reckless and dangerous carbon bomb.

The public expects biased industry spin from Big Tar advertisements. But they expect balance and integrity in news reporting from media like the Vancouver Sun, whose reputation rests on delivering it.

The gory details

Below I delve into the details, data, charts and links for eight of Yaffe’s most tarnished assertions. At the end, I hand out my inaugural “Oil Orgy” award for truly dreadful climate reporting.

Yaffe #1: “Some facts: The oilsands account for of 0.1 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

The pretty marketing brochure from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) says: "Oil sands account for ... 0.1% (1/1000th) of global GHG emissions." I guess at the Vancouver Sun, getting all your “facts” by copying-and-pasting from advertisements is considered doing your “homework” and providing your readers with “balance”. Good to know. Not so good for their business section’s reputation though.

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