What do you get when your country breaks the Kyoto agreement and embarks on the most carbon-intensive process in the world?
You get loads of meetings and "gentle encouragement" from Britain's energy ministers. Plus a few magic words to make the dangers disappear.
The climate campers in Blackheath this week are keen to highlight Canada's tar sands. With rising oil prices, the Canadians want to make oil from these huge deposits of sticky grit.
But extracting the oil is a bit like trying to make lollies from beach deposits left by distracted children - you need to go through a lot of sand and a lot of energy before you can reform the spill from those dropped ices into a proper suckable Fab or Skyray or Mivvi. And you need to use an enormous amount of carbon to turn Alberta's oily dirt into petrol. If your priorities are profit and oil, fine, but if you have any concern for global warming, it is a nightmare.
The climate camp campaigners know that Britain is already heavily involved in the oil sands through banks like RBS and companies like BP. Papers I got under Freedom of Information show our ministers are also gently encouraging the ecological nightmare.
Mel Knight, the energy minister from Alberta, the Canadian province where the tar sands are dug, squeezed and steamed, likes visiting our Energy Minister Mike O'Brien. Knight came to Britain last October and in January. Previous energy minister Malcolm Wicks also visited the oil sands.
The papers show that British diplomats know how close the Canadian tar sand merchants are to the British. They wrote that "Albertan ministers have developed strong relationships with previous UK ministers (most notably Malcolm Wicks and Ian Pearson.) I was in Alberta last week and their ministers are keen to initiate a similarly strong relationship with new ministers. They are likely to see anything else as a snub."
So sensitive Canadians feel snubbed unless they get the full glad-handing treatment from our government.
The notes for O'Brien's meetings show that Britain is very attracted to the oily project. "Alberta's oil sands projects are of global significance. They represent one of the world's largest hydrocarbon reserves."
But they also know there is a problem. Unfortunately, "oil sands are also one of the most carbon-intensive processes taking place anywhere on the planet."
The Canadian answer is simple - the oil sands mean it is difficult to meet the international Kyoto targets on global warming. So stuff Kyoto.
The minister's brief warns: "Since 2006, Canada has publicly declared she will renege on her Kyoto commitments."
So the correct answer, when Kyoto-breaking, carbon-intensive Canadian ministers come knocking is 1) Shout at them 2) Slap them 3) Run out the room screaming, or 4) Refuse to talk until they sign Kyoto?
No, it is "be gentle." Because "gentle encouragement by explaining what the UK is doing and sharing current thinking has proved far more effective in the past."
Break rules on claiming benefit and it's off to jail. Break an international treaty about saving the planet and it is gentle encouragement.
The British government simply accepts that the tar sands will be developed. The brief says: "Recognise that, as an industrial hub, and with the rapid development of the oil sands, the Alberta government faces a number of challenges on how to balance this economic growth against managing its environmental aspects."
And how do we balance rapidly developing the oil sands with the environment? Again, British diplomats think the Canadians can square the circle.
The top diplomat said: "My initial impression is that they [Albertans] are doing a lot to try and tackle the carbon emissions issues surrounding the oil sands but have been a bit slow to win the PR battle. But they have a good story to tell and Energy Minister Knight is a key player and someone we should be working with and not against."
So, the advisers want O'Brien to help Knight win the PR battle, to get across the idea that "Alberta is working hard to improve how it balances its rapidly developing energy sector gains against its environmental impacts."
So how do you make reneging on Kyoto look like working hard on the environment?
Three magic words - carbon capture and storage, or CCS. Yes, the process creates lots of carbon, but we will stop it leaking into the atmosphere.
CCS makes the tar sands OK. According to the notes, the fact that Canada has "established a CCS development council" means the problem is solved.
Instead of complaining about Kyoto, the minister can "understand that Alberta government has committed CA$2billion to carbon capture and storage projects. Welcome this initiative. Interested to hear more about it."
Instead of being enraged about the threat of the tar sands, the "Secretary of State agreed a statement on collaboration on CCS with Canadian Energy Minister Lisa Raitt" which means the "UK remains keen to continue working with Alberta Province."
Instead of putting pressure on Canada, the Brits and Albertans can get together and be "interested in exploring a memorandum of understanding on CCS with the Alberta government. Happy for my officials to work with yours on the detail."
There is a problem with all this happy understanding. CCS does not exist. There is an idea about capturing carbon, but it hasn't been done yet on an industrial scale. It might be too expensive. It might be the equivalent of sweeping the dust bunnies under the bed instead of hoovering them up. It might be that the captured carbon escapes years later - we might pump it all into disused oil wells only for it to belch out in an enormous fart of global warming gases in the future.
Every time the government says CCS is the answer, it is really just chanting abracadabra and hoping that it works.
Of course, that doesn't mean CCS is not worth exploring or researching. It may in the long term be useful for coal power generation. Unfortunately, even Canada's scientific experts don't believe CCS will ever work for the tar sands.
Really, as the diplomats say, it is part of the PR battle. And in that battle our ministers are on the wrong side.
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