06/18/2012 01:23 EDT | Updated 08/17/2012 05:12 EDT

Canada Tracks Oily Footprints All Over Rio+20

There is a postcard from Fort McMurray in my Brazilian hostel that shows a giant earth mover and excavator pulling up bitumen from Alberta's tar sands.

Hanging in the kitchen, it is a perfect allegory for something I am realizing more and more each day: no matter how far I travel, the long shadow of the tar sands doesn't seem to be far away.

Here in Rio the oily footprints are all over, from the conference centre to the hotels, and all the way to that tiny postcard.

I'm not surprised to find out that Canada is promoting the tar sands here, after all, they have a long and marked history of using these conferences to promote and defend the image of the tar sands abroad. Documents obtained by a number of journalists have shown that Canada's strategy at these events is driven by this objective, and last year Peter Kent said outright that he was heading to Durban, South Africa to "defend the oil sands". This time around, Canada's lead negotiator Keith Christie is the same foreign affairs deputy that emailed his colleagues in support of their doing "God's work" in promoting and defending this extreme extraction abroad.

It might not be surprising, but that doesn't mean it isn't wrong.

Rio+20 is a conference on sustainable development and the environment, and no matter how you slice it, sustainability means ending our planet's dependency on fossil fuels. It means transitioning to a green, clean and just economy, and that means creating a just transition out of the tar sands, just as it means getting off coal, gas and other fossil energy sources, especially unconventional and dangerous forms like tar sands, shale gas, shale oil and mountain top removal coal.

Unfortunately, Canada doesn't seem to realize this. They are standing in the way of some of the simplest and most basic commitments, like ending fossil fuel subsidies, that our planet desperately needs, again they are putting the interests of big polluters ahead of people.

Frankly I think I've stopped being angry, nowadays I'm just disappointed.

Canada could be a global leader in clean energy, and in doing so create thousands of green jobs and a dynamic green economy from coast to coast. Instead they have dug in to defend one energy source that as the rest of the world moves forward building a sustainable future will be left behind. Canada is gambling on a lose-lose situation, betting that the world will not rise to the challenge of addressing climate change.

If we continue with all our eggs in the tar sands basket and the rest of world does make that transition to a clean, just and sustainable future we'll be left with a massive, unconventional, high carbon oil reserve that no one wants to buy. Think it can't happen? It already is as places like the European Union debate eliminating fuels like tar sands. The other option is that the planet doesn't deal with climate change, and that Canada is left holding the bag when history looks to cast blame.

Neither are very good prospects for us, and I would imagine that no Members of Parliament, no matter what their party, want to be known as the government that caused them.