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Aerial view of the Suncor oil sands extraction facility on the banks of the Athabasca River and near the town of Fort McMurray. (MARK RALSTON)
Aerial view of the Suncor oil sands extraction facility on the banks of the Athabasca River and near the town of Fort McMurray. (MARK RALSTON)

George Monbiot

Please, Canada, clean up your act Add to ...

Dear citizens of Canada,

Like most of the world's people, I have always held your nation in high regard. Yours is one of the best-loved countries on Earth, renowned for being friendly, peaceful and responsible. Your government is now burning this goodwill.

After abandoning the commitments the previous government made under the Kyoto Protocol, ensuring that Canada will be the only signatory to wildly miss its targets, the Harper administration is now sabotaging the climate talks that will culminate in Copenhagen next month.

During the negotiations in Bangkok in October, developing nations were so dismayed by Canada's wrecking tactics that most of them walked out while your officials were speaking. In Barcelona this month, non-governmental organizations attending the talks presented Canada with their Fossil of the Week award: Yours was the country that had done the most to prevent an agreement from being reached.

The excuses made by the Canadian government for its filibustering and obstruction become more feeble by the day. As I understand his current position, your Environment Minister, Jim Prentice, will not contribute to an international treaty until his government knows what its domestic policies will be, and he will not formulate its domestic policies until there's an international treaty. He appears to be seeking to delay and weaken any international agreement, while claiming that there is no point in setting strong national targets if the rest of the world isn't pulling its weight.

Canada's tactics have caused shock and revulsion everywhere. They are dragging your good name through the mud. Stephen Harper and Jim Prentice threaten to do as much damage to your international standing as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did to that of the United States.

No one who has followed this process has any doubt about which interests the government is protecting. The Canadian oil sands are a threat hanging over the whole world. The extraction and processing of this material is so polluting that it makes crude oil look green. Canada already has almost the highest per-capita greenhouse-gas emissions in the world. The full-scale exploitation of the oil patch threatens to turn your beautiful country into the dirtiest country on Earth.

The oil-sands industry is causing damage out of all proportion to its value - not only to the world's ecosystems but also to Canada's.

Oil has a politics all of its own: To extract it, you must close your eyes and ears to the people you are harming. As the Nigerians, the Iraqis, the Russians and the Ecuadoreans can testify, this process brutalizes a nation. It creates a political class that owes its existence to a primitive and destructive industry. The industry will employ that class to trample your civilized values: social justice, human rights, environmental protection, the common decencies we owe to other human beings.

No one who has seen images of the oil-sands operations can quite believe what Canada is doing to its own land. No one can quite believe that this prosperous country is treating its aboriginal peoples like Nigeria treats the Ogoni of the Niger Delta. The oil sands are turning Canada into a harder, crueller place.

This is the oil curse that so many other countries have experienced. Some people in Canada boast that the oil sands will make you a second Saudi Arabia. This may be true in more than one sense: They could turn you into an oil-dependent state whose politics revolt the rest of the world.

Your government's behaviour in the talks is so destructive and the development of the oil sands is so damaging to global efforts to prevent climate breakdown that I have decided to break my self-imposed ban on flying to travel to Canada.

I hope to add my voice to those pleading with your government to stop wrecking the negotiations. I hope to encourage you to rise up against an industry that is attacking the prospects of all the world's people and wrecking your national image. We know that at heart you are a decent and sensible people. Please don't disappoint us.

George Monbiot is a columnist for The Guardian and bestselling author. He is taking part in tomorrow's Munk Debate on climate change, including a live video chat with globeandmail.com users.

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