James Cameron's visit to the Alberta oilsands several weeks ago brought closure to a particularly embarrassing side of Alberta. Not the oilsands, mind you -- but Alberta's media.
If you have tuned into any local news as of late, you'll know that Cameron's visit came hot-on-the-heels of intense scrutiny surrounding the environmental impact of Alberta's oilsands, or to use Cameron's phrase, "the black eye" of Alberta. The scrutiny was so intense, in fact, that our provincial government has been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for ads defending the oilsands, primarily in Alberta and Manitoba newspapers because of a meeting of premiers in Winnipeg. Why they ran so many ads in Canada is beyond me: Canadian editorial boards have been doing a pretty good job free of charge.
The fiasco spanned several months, beginning with an anti-oil sands campaign in America called Rethink Alberta by the Corporate Ethics International, to which the press, in general, retorted with figures of America's own carbon dioxide emissions.
"Handle your own backyard first" was the resounding response from Alberta -- though checking our backyard was a notion that never seemed to come up.
Next, Greenpeace staged a remarkably acrobatic stunt -- a banner reading "Separate Oil and State" adorned the Calgary Tower as activists on the ground blocked downtown traffic. Again, Alberta's press trotted out the same arguments about hypocrisy. An Aug. 10 Calgary Herald opinions article suggested that Greenpeace was being hypocritical by using a plane to get here. The suggested alternative, in John Carpay's words, called for "an environmentally friendly sailboat to get from Antwerp to Montreal, and then hitchhik[ing] from Montreal to Calgary."
Apparently it didn't occur to the Albertan press that the emissions caused by a single plane ride are dwarfed by the emissions that could be prevented by such activism. And apparently it also didn't occur to the Albertan press that, even if Greenpeace was being hypocritical, they weren't necessarily wrong on their primary point that the oilsands are bad for the environment.
So when James Cameron, dedicated environmentalist of Avatar fame, decided to view the oilsands for himself, it should have come as no surprise that columnists and politicians couldn't resist labelling him as a hypocrite. Danielle Smith of the Wildrose Alliance, for example, even challenged Cameron to make a movie without emitting any carbon dioxide. An insipid suggestion, considering that would entail Cameron holding his breath for all eighteen months of production.
But for all the cries of hypocrisy, the fact remains that it doesn't matter whether Cameron is a hypocrite or not. Attacking the man's environmental record and not his point is to resort to mere ad hominem. Thus to rely upon such fallacies is an embarrassment to Albertan media, and more importantly, its citizens. The press is an important voice, meant to ask tough questions. Yet in this case, it became the bulwark of corporate environmental mistreatment.
I'm unsure why it is egotistical for a Canadian citizen like Cameron to meet with Ed Stelmach about a matter that concerns them both -- especially when Stelmach was the one invited to meet with Cameron. And I'm unsure why Cameron can't make a point about the oilsands without being shouted down amidst cries of hypocrisy.
What is for sure, however, is that Cameron's visit concludes a deluge of environmentalism that has highlighted a particularly embarrassing side of Alberta -- and it wasn't the oil sands.