Posts tagged ‘Stephen Harper’

Take a Stand Against…Oil Sand?

Today President Obama will meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. An event not likely to make headline news with the Kanye v. Taylor debacle dominating the interwebs. Events even less likely to make headlines are the pillar examples of radical activism undertaken by Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) that took place in light of the Obama-Stephen meeting to protest Canada’s practice of oil sand extraction.

What the hell is oil sand extraction? Put simply, it is a method of sucking crude oil out of the ground that is way worse than basic oil drilling. In fact, emissions produced from oil sand are estimated to be between 1.3 and 1.7x as much as from drilling, ground to pump. In addition, the process requires that land be strip mined, and that the oil be separated from the highly viscous sand through steaming or other solvency techniques.

In other words, it uses a damn lot of energy and resources to produce this cruder, dirtier source of oil. Canada happens to have some of the largest oil sand reserves in the world, and about 10% of oil used in the US comes from those oil sand reserves.

After combing through the blogosphere, hunting for some decent coverage of examples of activism, I came across this video of RAN hanging a 70-foot banner from the Niagara Falls observation deck highlighting this problem.

In what I can only assume was a team effort, Greenpeace also took a radical action yesterday when 25 activists broke into and shut down a Shell-owned oil sands mine in northern Alberta. According to Reuters Canada, representatives from Shell stated that they “have invited [Greenpeace] into our administrative building to sit down with management to discuss their concerns.”

This unfolding of events is an interesting case study in what makes for effective organizing and advocacy. More specifically, how knowing who your audience is and what messages and tactics will best reach them is key for making any kind of impact.

Since I’ve been involved in grassroots organizing, I have come to think of activism as being in one of two camps – “Push” or “Pull.” Pushers being the activists who start where people are and work inside the system through traditional methods (nonprofits, lobbying, petitions, etc) in order to move in a better direction, and Pullers being the activists who move ahead of where everyone is and work outside the system to bring the conversation in a new direction. Both are critical to making any kind of change happen, but while my heart is closer to the “pull” category, my logic tells me to keep on pushin.’

These events are shining examples of “pulling,” but while I laud the brave efforts of these activists and I totally agree with their cause, their message is unfortunately going to fall on deaf ears. Of course, those that are already tuned in will perk up, and they’ll tweet about it, and some people will watch the video on youtube, and maybe a few other late-night web surfers will come across an article, but the general public, the consumers of oil and the constituents of those that the activists are trying to persuade, will never hear about these brave and painstakingly-planned efforts.

And the reason is because not nearly enough people have ever heard about oil sand, and so even if they do care about climate change and sustainability, they don’t know how bad oil sand extraction is and how big a player Canada is in its expansion.

From a pusher’s perspective, I would think that in order to persuade President Obama to stop purchasing crude oil from Canada, he would need to hear an uproar from the American people. Americans care about low gas prices, but they also care about sustainability and preserving our beautiful spaces – air, land, and water. Especially in this tough economic time, more and more Americans are pushing for home-grown, clean energy because they know it will create jobs and make us more energy-independent. There is plenty of room there to message the oil sand campaign in a way that will tap into what Americans care about.

Maybe one day we’ll have more people willing to take that kind of bold action on an issue, but until then, I hope that those who are willing take the time to really think through whether their strategies are the most effective for reaching the broadest audience and influencing their targets.

Anyway, we should do our part and help RAN and Greenpeace take a stand against oil sand. You can take action here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on push v. pull strategies and whether or not the Greenpeace and RAN actions were effective. Leave a comment!

Tara

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September 16, 2009 at 8:36 am 1 comment


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