Oil sands development and its associated impacts are complex topics, which generate lots of discussion. Much of this is thoughtful and good-intentioned, however it can sometimes get ugly for participants.
The first involved a television ad, focused on oil sands tailing technologies. The second was a series of CAPP print ads featuring real oil sands employees. These employees were asked to be in the ads because of their efforts and successes. In one TV ad, environmental groups took exception to the use of the term “like yogurt” to describe tailings in plain language. This is no small feat, considering there are few common examples comparable to the consistency of fine clays produced through the oil sands extraction process.
Through a complaint to the Advertising Standards Canada, some argued the use of the word “yogurt” implied the tailings were benign.
It seemed obvious that the reference was never meant to refer to colour, taste or use of tailings, but rather to consistency, touch and feel. The complaint was rejected, but CAPP removed the yogurt reference to ensure that there was no confusion about the message – that Suncor had made a game-changing technological advance in tailings reclamation and, indeed, the complainants about the original ad did not take issue with the story of successful environmental technologies. Check out the ad here.
“Jamming” or mocking of the CAPP ads by environmental groups went beyond semantics, and in the views of some, into the category of personal attacks and innuendo. Judge for yourself in this important piece from the National Post.
Out of pride for their oil sands organizations and the work they do, employees readily provided their voices and images for the ads. These words and images were manipulated in a spoof campaign and contest. In one case, the suggestion was made that an employee would “die of cancer” due to her line of work and that her family would receive “hush money” to cover it up. No matter what your feelings are about oil sands, this is surely neither funny nor appropriate. We feel badly for the employees involved, who might not have participated, had they known that their images would be fodder for mud-slinging.
In the end, what both examples illustrate is how distracted we can become from the real issues of solving the world’s energy and environmental challenges. Semantic debates and personal attacks do little to address the real issues at hand. As Rick George often comments, “what we need is an adult conversation.”
Let’s hope that next year brings more informed, civil discourse, which moves us closer to what we all want: a healthy environment, robust economy, and stable/secure energy future.