Toronto 350 Environmentalists Disrupt Tar Sands Conference


By: Zach Morgenstern

On October 9th, Toronto 350 activists silently disrupted a FOCOS (future of Canada’s oil sands) conference on sustainable oil sands development at the MaRS Discovery Centre, holding signs that read “Canadians for a Fossil Free World”. Toronto 350 is a chapter of, the NGO behind The People’s Climate March as well as numerous campaigns for fossil fuel divestment, including one that is being considered by U of T. The message of the protesters, who were kicked out after 10 minutes, was essentially that sustainable tar sands development is an oxymoron.


The activists staged the disruption during a speech by Bob Mitchell, a Senior Director with ConocoPhillips Canada. Ben DW, a Toronto 350 activist, an executive at U of T’s LGBTout club and one of the disruptors,  explained “[Mitchell] worked in Alberta’s Climate Change Agency and for a pipeline company. He is so deeply invested in the Tar Sands we question if he can understand that the world needs them shut down.”


Toronto 350 described the event as greenwashing, a term coined in 1986 by activist-biologist Jay Westervelt which refers to misleading cloaking processes and practices with green language. The targeted speaker, Bob Mitchell, was recently featured in a video that could meet this definition, as he is seen gently talking about tar sands while in a green field, with bright violins playing the background.


Ben DW said that Toronto 350 criticized the event for not including first nations’ voices, being based around the assumption that tar sands extraction is an economic necessity. He argued that, especially in Ontario, investments in the renewable energy industry would create more jobs than expanding the tar sands project. “[FOCOS] presume[s] the tar sands existence,” Ben DW proclaimed. “Anyone who reads and understands climate science cannot.” This claim is elaborated on in Toronto 350’s U of T divestment brief, which cites a 2012 International Energy Agency claim that “no more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2°C [warming limit] goal.”




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