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Earlier this month, one of Canada’s leading environmental experts, David Suzuki, stepped off the board of directors of the David Suzuki Foundation.

He explained his action in an open letter: “I have reached a point in my life where I would like to consider myself an elder. I want to speak freely without fear that my words will be deemed too political, and harm the organization of which I am so proud. I am keenly aware that some governments, industries and special interest groups are working hard to silence us. They use threats to the Foundation’s charitable status in attempts to mute its powerful voice on issues that matter deeply. This bullying demonstrates how important it is to speak out.”

Not one to mince words, Suzuki wasted no time standing up to the Canadian federal government, which publicly supports a controversial pipe line from Alberta’s oil sands to the west coast.

In a Globe and Mail interview, Suzuki says, "The oil sands, really, they are tar. It’s thick, gooey stuff. In order to get that to flow, you’ve got to melt it. And the way they melt it is by heating it with steam, so it takes a lot of energy to boil water, create the steam, pump it in the ground and literally melt it until it can be pumped out. Pretty crude way to get it, up to half a barrel of oil of energy is needed to get one barrel out of the ground. That strikes me as a pretty expensive way to get the oil.

“And then, of course, once you get it flowing, you have to dilute it with more chemicals that allow it to be transportable through a pipe line that is a very abrasive combination of the thick bitumen and sand and gunk. There are bound to be leaks that develop as you’re transporting that over long distances.

“The consequences are you have these giant holding ponds, which are lethal, that undoubtedly are sinking into the ground water and will eventually leak out into the Athabasca River. Consequences downstream, medical doctors tell us that there are levels of cancer where the native community lives that are way above normal. So, the ecological, the social, the economic costs of the tar sands are immense.”

A few days later, Suzuki was critical of the Canadian government’s overhaul of environmental review processes that would speed up environmental assessments and could put them in the hands of the provinces – an obvious conflict of interest and deeply concerning considering the pipeline just mentioned.

In a CBC interview, Suzuki said, "We saw what happened in British Columbia. The British Columbia government approved a mining development that would poison all of Fish Lake in the interior. [The Minister of the Environment] assessed it and said, ‘No, I just don’t think we can do that,’ and turned it down. We need that kind of perspective that comes from the federal level.

“It’s all driven by a corporate agenda to develop the hell out of everything in Canada. The First Nations along the coast of British Columbia are telling us that there are things more important than money. Their culture, their history will be at risk if there are spills in the ocean.

“The concerns being raised, either by First Nations or by environmentalists, are seen [by the Canadian government] as obstructionists; we’re seen as extremists. The reality is the fossil fuel industry is very, very powerful, and they want to get on with it.”

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