Moralizing International Politics.

(Originally posted at Transcend International)

Moralizing International Politics

BY TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 4 Dec 2017

Dr. Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra – TRANSCEND Media Service

This article makes an appeal to bridge the chasm between the practice of international politics and the universal moral principles. Violation of moral principles has emerged a norm than exception in international politics. States and global institutions have proved ineffective to checkmate violent conflicts and wanton killings as in Syria. It is not they are incapable or lack resources. The problem lies elsewhere. Ego is a major cause behind much of the hazards in international politics. The article problematizes ego and calls for a broader thinking in international politics.  

Ban Ki-moon, the former head of the United Nations, expressed the frustration of our age. He lamented: “It should shame us all…the suffering of the Syrian people continues to plumb new depths … The international community, and in particular the Security Council, cannot afford to waste any further time in ending the cycle of violence… it is time to find an exit from this madness” (The United Nations 2015). Syria provides a stark example before us how states and global institutions have proved ineffective to ensure international peace and security. Within a span of six years since the crisis erupted, more than 400,000 people lost lives and unaccountable others uprooted. The powerful states in the United Nations flexed muscles over means to realize peace. Peace remained elusive.

One of the factors that contribute to the ineffectiveness of the international community and its leaders is the technological-moral chasm. There has been rapid growth in technology, particularly the communication technology, but the thinking pattern has not witnessed parallel growth. The old primordial way of thinking has not changed. The archetypal thinking in terms of binaries – mine vs thine, us vs them, my group vs rival group – has not evolved over centuries though major changes appeared in the structure and organization of human living. This thinking has produced a paradox. In the midst of developed technology, globalization and discourses of a flat and borderless world, the states are engaged in re-bordering practices. Technology has been used to rigidify barriers – us vs them – through narrow visions of security. Both hard power and soft power are used to strengthen these binaries in thinking and practice.

Does seclusion/isolation help? Is an isolated state immune from insecurity beyond its borders? In this age of globalization, how would states ensure safety at home when there is violence outside? The global concerns such as terrorism, religious extremism and climate change transcend state borders. Isolation as a foreign policy strategy might have worked in the past, but in the contemporary world isolation implies invitation to more problems. A small happening in a small part of the globe can shape international developments. How would erecting barriers ensure security of one state while other states undergo violent crises? Does eerie calm imply peace? When minds are disturbed, security is fragile, peace is uneasy, when we have blatantly messed up with Nature, how would we ensure the survival of human race in the decades and centuries to come?

The states spend billions of dollars in building weapons, while vouching disarmament. States spent around 1686 billion US dollars on defense in 2016. Contrast this figure with another figure: from 2014 to 2016, about 795 million people in the world suffered from chronic undernourishment. Is it not a violation of human moral principle to invest billions in weapons to secure people and borders while people remain hungry?

Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo argued, like individuals, states have egos– amplified through national habits, prejudices and idiosyncrasies (Sri Aurobindo 1962). When applied to international politics, they lead to jingoism, exploitation and wars, leading to practices like colonialism and imperialism. Colonialism and imperialism, one of the worst forms of exploitation, have ended. However, they were only manifestation of an exploitative substructure. The root, the ego, is intact, and its manifestation has acquired new shapes. The Indian philosopher argued that state ego could evolve when state leaders think in terms of larger human unity and harmony. The establishment of the United Nations, after the failure of the League of Nations, was hailed as a right step in this direction. The UN was established with a promise to ensure dignity and equality to all states. Has this happened?

If the ultimate goal of human life is peace and security, then the theories of international politics have not fared well. Grand theorizing might provide a big picture and offer plausible explanations of developments, but they largely fail to account small developments at small places with big implications. Should not theories suggest ways to address state egos and its various avatars? Explaining developments in retrospect maybe useful as it offers insights for future action, but unless there is an active agenda to realize global peace, the theories would be limiting in their usefulness. Social science theories, dealing with human beings and their behaviors, stand in contrast to physical science theories, which deal with matter, mostly insentient. The post-behavioralism trend in political science that emerged in late 1960s due to ‘deep dissatisfaction in political research and teaching’ called for ‘new strategies in science’. David Easton in his presidential address at American Political Science Association in 1969 called for “the development of new norm of behavior” as the post-behavioral trend “sees policy engagement as a social responsibility of the intellectual…” He further agued, “Someday it may also require the release of the social scientist from bondage to the unique needs and objectives of his own national political system” (Easton 1969, 1061). The trend, however, petered out quickly. Now is the time to revive this trend.

Some theories suggest that the world has become a better place to live since inter-state wars have declined. Are we living in a more secure and peaceful world? What about wars within communities and states and their international ramifications? How does one define conflict in Syria – intrastate, interstate or both, or a more dangerous face of traditional rivalries? Thousands of fault lines along regions, religions, races, ethnicities have emerged. Even the threat of interstate wars with a nuclear angle cannot be undermined. The present crisis can be compared to a can of worms, with worms – multiple conflicts at various levels – continuously crawl out, in all shapes, sizes and colors and challenge individuals and states alike.

The dilemma over pleasure, happiness and peace was well depicted in the life of the Greek philosopher Diogenes. The philosopher asked the Emperor Alexander, who offered him all comforts of life, not to block sun light and that was all what he needed from him. With a lantern in his hand, Diogenes searched for an honest man. This act may defy rational understanding, but it contains a deeper message, which can help salvage humanity from the multiple crises. Pretensions, subterfuges, and other instruments meant for tangential gains bring hazards in its trail and harm the perpetrator. Gandhi’s caution rings true: “For one man cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole” (Gandhi 1969, 571).

A report titled, “Welcome to Miami, Massachusetts” claimed that if the greenhouse gas emission continues at the current rate, “… by 2100 Boston’s average summer-high temperatures will likely be more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than they are now, ‘making it feel as steamy as North Miami Beach is today’” (Annear 2014). A large iceberg of the size of Delaware broke off from an ice shelf in Antarctica in July 2017. According to a report, “global warming has pushed temperatures up to 5 degrees higher in the region since the 1950s and could increase up to 7 degrees more by the end of the century, putting more stress on the ice” (Rice 2017). Tony de Brum, the former Marshall Islands Foreign Minister, nominated for Nobel Peace Prize for his role in Paris Climate agreement, died recently at the age of 72. Brum witnessed the ‘Bravo shot,’ the thermonuclear test at Bikini Atoll when he was 9 years old. He became a champion of nuclear disarmament and environment protection. Brum, whose island home went under waters due to rising ocean, argued, “The thought of evacuation is repulsive to us…We think that the more reasonable thing to do is to seek to end this madness, this climate madness, where people think that smaller, vulnerable countries are expendable and therefore they can continue to do business as usual” (The Guardian 2017). Gandhi’s ‘Nature has for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed’ provides a powerful message. Unless the very basic thinking of states and their leaders change, it will be difficult to moralize international politics.

Plato devised a scheme of governance in which the king, the modern equivalent of president/prime minister, must be a philosopher. The king must undergo decades of education to govern the state. The king and his class must rise above the notions of mine and thine, live a communal life, eat in common kitchen, transcend boundaries of family and group, and become free to dedicate his life to state. Applying the Platonic yardstick to modern day kings, leaders of modern states, may appear farfetched, but it provides a vision how a leader should govern a state.

For moralizing international politics, one state does not have to dominate or be dominated. Morality requires collective conscience and action. The states, through their leaders, need to develop an integral moral psychology that informs social, economic and political worlds as they interact and shape each other. Powerful states may provide leadership in this direction.

References:

Annear, Steve (2014) Welcome to Miami, Massachusetts. Boston Daily, July 11, http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/blog/2014/07/11/climate-central-map-heat-boston-miami/, accessed 4 July 2017.

Easton, David (1969) The New Revolution in Political Science. The American Political Science Review; 63 (4):1051-1061.

Gandhi, Mahatma (1969) The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi Vol. 32. New Delhi: The Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.

Rice, Doyle (2017) Massive iceberg nearly the size of Delaware breaks off Antarctica. USA Today, 12 July, https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/sciencefair/2017/07/12/massive-iceberg-breaks-off-antarctica/102637874/, accessed 4 July 2017.

Sri Aurobindo (1962) Human Cycle, the Ideal of Human Unity, War and Self-Determination. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

The Guardian (2017) Tony de Brum, champion of Paris climate agreement, dies aged 72, 23 August,https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/23/tony-de-brum-champion-of-paris-climate-agreement-dies-aged-72, accessed 24 August 2017.

The United Nations (2015) Statement by the Secretary-General on the Third Anniversary of the Geneva Communique on Syria.  30 June, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/06/30/world/middleeast/ap-un-united-nations-syria.html, accessed 5 August 2017.

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Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, Director of the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Non-Violence, Human Rights and World Peace at Hindu University of America in Florida, and a Fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development, University of Massachusetts Boston. He is an Indian commentator and his areas of interest include conflict transformation and peacebuilding in South and Central Asia. His edited book Conflict and Peace in Eurasia was published by Routledge in 2013.

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 4 Dec 2017.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source,TMS: Moralizing International Politics, is included. Thank you.

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Dr. Helen Caldicott On War, Climate Crisis, Nuclear Power.

By Jerry Alatalo

mountain44Alphabet Australian physician and world-renowned, long-time peace and anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott is approaching 80 years old. In a recent interview with Regis Tremblay she described her view of the current condition on Earth: “The planet is in the intensive care unit”.

In particular, she stresses the urgency of addressing three (3) major international issues: 1) today’s profound threat of nuclear war – the need to abolish nuclear weapons, 2) climate change – the need for massive ramping up of renewable energy, and 3) stopping production of radioactive waste – shutting down all nuclear power plants on Earth.

While sharing her deep concerns over the provocative, worrisome developments between NATO member states and Russia – particularly her view that no politicians besides Russia’s Putin and Cuba’s Castro are speaking to highly dangerous nature of the situation, advising restraint and serious diplomacy – one wonders what inner resources Dr. Caldicott has turned to when dealing with such heavy-duty, spiritually and/or psychologically challenging subjects over the decades.

As she is an acknowledged expert on nuclear power and weapons, on another subject one wonders again where Helen Caldicott finds the inner strength to fight on instead of throwing in the towel, and that is Fukushima. In this interview, she confirms what every person concerned with Fukushima since the disaster occurred on 3/11/2011 considers the “worst case scenario”: three (3) total reactor meltdowns from early on, a government/industry coverup of historic proportion, pouring of 400 tons of radioactive water per day into the Pacific Ocean since the disaster, and no hope of remedy or stoppage of deadly radioactive fission emissions “…until the end of time”.

As mentioned, Helen Caldicott expresses her dismay that no politicians are addressing the current extreme, alarming situation on Earth with the triple-threat of nuclear war, climate change and nuclear power. As she stresses the point that it is politicians in the United States who need to act swiftly and decisively on these three major issues, one comes to contrast and compare her views with the four (4) remaining candidates for President to see which one’s positions/proposals correspond with hers.

It seems clear and certain that Dr. Helen Caldicott’s views and proposed solutions on these very grave matters most closely mirror those of Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein. If the world-famous peace/anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott came out and gave her strong public endorsement of Jill Stein for President, it would give a great boost to Dr. Stein’s campaign – considered a “long-shot” for winning the election.

Beginning in the late 1970’s, activist Helen Caldicott traveled, organized and spoke across the United States and, almost single-handed/alone – in a very short period, transformed the American people from pro-nuclear to anti-nuclear in their perceptions – capped off with the largest anti-nuclear rally (the largest rally, period) in history of one million people in New York City. With so many years of activism and nearing the age of 80, one couldn’t blame Dr. Caldicott for stepping off the accelerator and slowing down just a bit. It’s likely she would strongly endorse Jill Stein for President and work hard to get her elected were it twenty or thirty years ago.

While many around the world admire, respect and thank Dr. Helen Caldicott for all of her sincere efforts over the years on behalf of humanity, there is no invention for stopping the passage of time. Jill Stein would surely welcome Helen Caldicott’s support with open arms and fully understand her age-related, less hectic schedule.

At the end of the interview Dr. Caldicott spoke words both extremely disheartening and ultimately challenging. “You want to ask me the prognosis?… Like I have to tell sometimes patients that have leukemia, and their prognosis is six months? …And help them with their grief?”

“The prognosis is not good, I’m sorry to say.” 

Still… between now and Election Day November 8 is a time for great optimism – and great activism. There are 13 million or so highly energized Americans aged 45 and younger ready, willing and able to carry on the “Green” political revolution. 

(Thank you to Regis Tremblay at YouTube)

 

Bernie Sanders’ Presidential Campaign Starts In Vermont.

by Jerry Alatalo

“[Business and finance are] unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred… I should like to have it said of my first Adminstration that in it the forces of selfishness and lust for power met their match; I would like to have it said of my second administration that in it these forces met their master.” (Campaign speech, 1936; quoted by Justice Douglas)

– FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT (1882-1945) 32nd President of the Unitese States

Burlington, Vermont - USA (photo: go100percent.org)
Burlington, Vermont – USA
(photo: go100percent.org)

Alphabet The people of Vermont gathered on the waterfront in Burlington, where Bernie Sanders began his political career as mayor, to hear him deliver a speech about why he is running for President of the United States. For presidential historians, the speech most likely reminded them of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Some excerpts from Bernie Sanders’ speech:

“Today with your support, and the support of millions across our country, we begin a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally. Today we stand here and say loudly and clearly: Enough is enough. This great nation and its government belong to all of the people and not to a handful of billionaires.”

“Brothers and sisters, now is not the time for thinking small. Now is not the time for the same-old, same-old establishment politics and stale inside-the-beltway ideas; now is the time for millions of working families to come together to revitalize American democracy, to end the collapse of our middle class, and to make certain that our children and grandchildren are able to enjoy a quality of life that brings them health, prosperity, security and joy – and that once again makes the United States the leader in the world in the fight for economic and social justice, for environmental sanity, and for a world of peace.”

“My fellow Americans, this country faces more serious problems today than at any time since the Great Depression, and, if you include the planetary crisis of climate change, it may well be that the challenges we face now are more dire than at any time in the modern history of our country. And here is my promise to you for this campaign: not only will I fight to protect the working families of this country, but we are going to build a movement of millions of Americans who are prepared to stand up and fight back.”

“We are going to take this campaign directly to the people in town meetings, door-to-door conversations, on street corners and in social media. This week we’re going to be in New Hampshire, we’re going to be in Iowa, and we’re going to be in Minnesota – and that’s just the start of this national campaign.”

“Let me be clear. This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders; it’s not about Hillary Clinton; it is not about Jeb Bush, or anyone else. This campaign is about the needs of the American people and the ideas and proposals that effectively address those needs. As someone who has never run a negative political ad in my life, my campaign will not be driven by political gossip or reckless personal attacks. This is what the American people want and deserve. These are serious times – we need serious debates.”

“Politics in a democratic society should not be treated as if it were a baseball game, a game show, or a soap opera, and I hope the media understands that as well. Let me take a minute to touch on some of the issues that I will be focusing on in the coming months, and then give you a brief outline of an agenda for America. An agenda which in fact will deal with the serious problems and lead us to a better future.”

“Today we live in a nation which is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, but that reality means very little for most of us because almost all of the wealth is owned and controlled by a tiny handful of individuals. In America we have more income and wealth inequality than any other major country on Earth, and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider and wider. The issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time; it is the great economic issue of our time; it is the great political issue of our time, and we will address it.”

“Let me be very clear, and let the top 1% understand this. There is something profoundly wrong when the top one-tenth of 1% owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%, and when 99% of all new income goes to the top 1%. There is something profoundly wrong when in recent years we have seen a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires at the same time as millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages, and we have shamefully the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country.”

“There is something profoundly wrong when one family owns more wealth in this country than the bottom 130 million Americans. This grotesque level of inequality is immoral, it is bad economics, it is unsustainable. This type of rigged economy is not what America is supposed to be about. This has got to change, and as your president, together, we are going to change it.”

“My fellow Americans, let me be as blunt as I can and tell you what you already know. As a result of the disastrous Supreme Court decision Citizens United, the American political system has been totally corrupted, and the foundations of American democracy are now being undermined. What the Supreme Court said, essentially, was that it was not good enough for the billionaires to own much of the economy – they could now own the United States government as well, and that is precisely what they are trying to do.”

“Now, what I learned in school, an I think what the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our country have long-known, that American democracy is not about billionaires being able to buy candidates and buy elections. It is not about the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson and other incredibly wealthy individuals spending billions of dollars to elect candidates who will make the rich richer and everyone else poorer. According to media reports, if you can believe it, the Koch brothers in this election cycle are prepared to spend more money than either the democratic or republican parties.”

“That is not democracy – that is oligarchy. In Vermont at our town meetings we know what democracy is about, and that is ‘one person, one vote’, and that is the kind of political system we are going to fight for and are going to achieve.” 

… “If we don’t get our act together and have the United States lead the world in combating climate change there will be more drought, more famine, more rising sea level, more ocean acidification, more extreme weather disturbances. As human beings who look out over this environment, who appreciate the beauty that we have on this planet, we are not going to allow the fossil fuel industry to destroy this planet.”

“This campaign, starting today, is going to send a message to the billionaire class, and that is: ‘you can’t have it all’. You can’t get huge tax breaks while children in the country go hungry. You can’t continue sending our jobs abroad while millions are looking for work. You can’t hide your profits in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens while there are massive unmet needs on every corner of this nation. To the billionaire class, I say that your greed has got to end – you can’t take advantage of all of the benefits of America if you refuse to accept your responsibilities. And that is why we need a tax system which is fair and progressive, which tells the wealthiest individuals and the largest corporations that they are going to start paying their fair share of taxes.”

“When we talk about power, we talk about Wall Street. In my view it is time to break up the largest financial institutions in this country. Wall Street cannot continue to be an island onto itself gambling trillions in risky financial instruments while expecting the public to bail it out. If a bank is too big to fail, that bank is too big to exist..”

“…we must be focused on campaign finance reform and the need for a constitutional amendment to overturn this disastrous Citizens United decision. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I will not nominate any justice to the Supreme Court who has not made it clear that he or she will move to overturn that disastrous decision which is undermining American democracy.”

“And that is why I as president will fight to make tuition in public colleges and universities free, as well as substantially lower interest rates on student loans.”

“I am vigorously opposed to an endless, perpetual war in the Middle East.”

“And to those who say we cannot restore the dream, I say look at where we are standing today. As some of you will remember, this beautiful place was once an unsightly rail yard that served no public purpose and was an eyesore. As mayor, I worked with the people of Burlington to help turn this waterfront into the beautiful, people-oriented public space it is today. We took that fight to the courts, to the legislature, and to the people and we won. The lesson to be learned, and it is a profound political lesson, is that when people stand together, when people are prepared to fight back, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished.”

“We can live in a country where every person has health care as a right, not a privilege. We can live in a country where every parent can have quality and affordable child care and where all of our qualified young people can get a college education regardless of their income. We can live in a country where every senior can live in dignity and security, and not be forced to choose between food and medicine. We can live in a country where every veteran who has put his or her life on the line to defend this nation gets the quality health care and benefits they have earned and deserve. We can live in a country where every person no matter their race, their religion, their disability, or sexual orientation realizes the full promise of equality that is our birthright as Americans.”

“Brothers and sisters, that is the nation we can build together. And I ask you and people throughout this country to join us in this campaign to build a future that works for all of us, and not just the few people on top. Thank you again for coming out on this beautiful day. Thank you.”

What separates Senator Bernie Sanders from Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush is that he is the only one of the three who has used the term “billionaire class”. Ms. Clinton and Mr. Bush can no longer ignore wealth inequality in the United States – the highest level of inequality of any major nation on Earth, and an issue of great concern for tens of millions of Americans. If Ms. Clinton and Mr. Bush – with Senator Bernie Sanders in the race for president in 2016 – choose not to honestly address this central, serious issue, the number of voters who were leaning in their directions and voting for them who change their minds to support/vote for Bernie Sanders may become historic.

****

(Thank you to Vermont PBS at YouTube)

Petropolis: The Dark Side Of Keystone XL Pipeline Debate.

by Jerry Alatalo

XL GreenlineAlphabet The debate over Keystone XL pipeline has been all over the news after the United States Congress voted for its approval. What was disappointing about the debates in the House of Representatives and Senate was how little mention the environmental destruction occurring in Canadian tar sands fields received. If the Keystone XL legislation were to be signed/approved by Barack Obama, and he says he will veto, it would encourage and facilitate intensification of tar sands extraction in many regions of Canada.

Certainly, construction of an estimated 1,200 mile pipeline across the middle of the United States will require many workers to complete. Estimates are as low as 35 of the number of permanent employees after the pipeline became operational. But what if the land needed across those 1,200 miles, instead of a pipeline carrying one of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels, were utilized for a continuous line of solar panels and wind turbines?

Just guessing, but the number of jobs created in the manufacture and installation of 1,200 miles of solar panels and wind turbines, as compared to pipes, would be many times more. And compared to the estimated 35 permanent jobs after a pipeline was completed, one could reasonably estimate many times more permanent jobs as well.

Then, comparing construction of a 1,200 mile dirty tar sands oil/bitumen pipeline to developing a 1,200 mile renewable energy “pipeline” as each affects the economy, and factoring in the environmental consequences of each, one starts to understand how renewable green energy is easily the wiser choice. The economic benefits would be experienced by different interests/people, the negative environmental impacts of each are as far apart as is possible, however green energy advocates have a constraining factor related to their volume for making their case – they can’t buy politicians.

Residents of states along the proposed XL pipeline route have come to oppose its construction, and legal cases are both ongoing and forthcoming regarding “eminent domain” and no evidence of the United States’ absolute necessity to allow construction of the pipeline. In other words, the XL pipeline does not meet the “national security” criteria required for eminent domain to apply.

Landowners in states along the proposed route have legitimate concerns about leaving the land to their children and grandchildren in a healthy state; some have said no amount of monetary compensation from TransCanada will convince them to sell. Others convey their opposition to a pipeline by saying their land and its familial history, when considering possible oil spills, is a matter which strikes at the heart, and that they are very uncomfortable with the negative potentials. What if these same people were given the option to allow solar panels and wind turbines to become erected as an alternative to the XL pipeline?

One could guess their response to a renewable, green energy project on their land would be “no problem”.

Because renewable, green energy projects offer, indeed, no problems. Any man or woman who views the unique documentary film “Petropolis” which shows a helicopter view of a number of Canadian tar sands extraction facilities will understand fully the problems associated with the gigantic, absolutely devastating to the environment tar sands extraction process.

Petropolis was made in the year 2009 by Peter Mettler in association with Greenpeace in Canada, and it is uncertain how many more tar sands extraction facilities have become constructed and operational in the six years since 2009 like the ones in the film. However, if the Keystone XL pipeline were ever built, its presence would accelerate more environmental devastation as that which the film records.

Canadian tars sands cover an area the size of England. How much clean, green renewable energy could become produced if such a massive area became densely populated with solar panels and wind turbines?

Tar sands extraction in Canada is the world’s largest industrial, capital and energy project.

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(The following information comes from www.greenpeace.org)

Alberta oil is actually bitumen, a viscous crude comprised primarily of cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Unlike any other petroleum product, it requires extensive processing and refining to become thin enough to flow through pipes. There are no free-flowing streams of black gold in the Athabasca region — far from it.

The tar sands cover an area of land the size of England, which has been divided up and leased to the world’s biggest oil companies. These multinational organizations use mammoth machines to carve into the earth and excavate the sticky sand from the open-pit mines. The surface area that must be destroyed to get at the bitumen is called “overburden” by industry, but we call it the Boreal Forest.

The other type of extraction, called in-situ, essentially boils the earth. Massive quantities of steam and natural gas are used to melt the bitumen and pipe it back up to the surface, while fragmenting forests and destroying critical habitat.

Two tonnes of tar sand is needed to produce a single barrel of oil. Three to five times more water and energy are required per barrel than any other source known to mankind. The tar sands use more water every day than a city of two million people and consume enough natural gas to heat six million Canadian homes. Until the oil boom, the tar sands were too expensive to be economically viable. But our global addiction to oil has us scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Greenpeace activists from Canada, the US, and France and place a giant banner reading “Tar Sands: Climate Crime.” and block the giant tar sands mining operation at the Shell Albian Sands outside of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada on Tuesday, September 15, 2009 . Greenpeace believes the continued development of the tar sands and the lust for oil threatens to derail international climate action in December at the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen.

The tar sands generate 40 million tonnes of CO2 per year, more than all the cars in Canada combined. Because of the tar sands, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions have grown more since 1990 than those of any other G8 nation, according to the 2009 national inventory report that Environment Canada filed with the United Nations.

As the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, the tar sands are the main reason Canada continues to block meaningful global climate regulations. The Canadian government ignores the warnings of the scientific community by aiming for abysmal targets that will leave us at nearly double the science-based target that we need to meet to keep the increase in global temperature below 2 C and avoid catastrophic climate change.

Key waterways like the Athabasca River are being polluted to the tune of 11 million litres of toxic runoff every day. The tar sands are lacing our air with dangerous toxins, poisoning communities with rare cancers and autoimmune diseases, destroying critical animal habitats and carving up some of our most pristine countryside.

While the tar sands are often touted as Canada’s economic driver, from a social costs standpoint, Albertans are paying a hefty price. The Alberta government has been cutting essential social services from hospital beds to Aboriginal services, while oil companies rake in record profits. And while the tar sands create jobs in the short term, two out of three jobs are in construction, meaning once the initial work is completed, those jobs disappear.

Yet despite all of this, the Alberta government has approved 100 per cent of proposed tar sands projects. Greenpeace is calling for an immediate end to new approvals, and a phase-out of existing projects.

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(Thank you to Mike C at YouTube)