Shock in Canada: Alberta not worst on environment

In Canada, calling Alberta green—even brownish green—can cause a ruckus.

Bob Tippee

In Canada, calling Alberta green—even brownish green—can cause a ruckus.

As home to the huge and important oil sands industry, Alberta faces big environmental problems: requirements for water and energy, emissions of air pollution and greenhouse gases, surface disturbance, and the need to handle wastewater and other byproducts, to name a few.

Alberta also is Canada's third largest provincial economy and its leader in revenue per person. It thus contributes mightily to a Canadian program for interprovincial wealth-sharing.

As production of bitumen from Alberta's oil sands has grown, so has criticism—mostly from other provinces—about the environmental consequences. Many Albertans find the scorn ungrateful.

Into this bubbling stew on Apr. 22 plopped a report ranking Alberta well above bottom in provincial greenitude.

Corporate Knights, a quarterly magazine published in Toronto, assigned Alberta sixth position among 13 provinces and territories in an environmental assessment. British Columbia came in first, followed by Ontario and sparsely populated Northwest Territories, Yukon Territory, and Nunavut.

A Globe and Mail (Toronto) article about the report drew contentious online response.

"Pure malarky [sic]," declared one of 154 comments posted as of Apr. 24. Another: "Ontario would definitely have come in first had it not been polluted by the presence of Corporate Knights."

Albertans had their say, too. "So Alberta isn't so bad after all," wrote one. "Time for all you bigots to apologize. While you're at it, you can also thank Alberta for all the transfer payments that pay your welfare checks."

Corporate Knights came in for grave suspicion for daring to suggest Alberta isn't Canada's worst environmental nightmare. The magazine in fact claims as part of its mission "to humanize the marketplace" and as a goal "to jumpstart Canada to become the world leader in responsible commerce."

That doesn't sound sympathetic to whatever impulses may lurk in Canadian industry to bulldoze first and ask why later.

Indeed, if the Globe and Mail comments accurately reflect the Canadian mood, a stronger proclivity where Alberta is concerned may be to bite the hand that not only feeds but also invents solutions to environmental problems.

(Online Apr. 24, 2009; author's e-mail:

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