desmogblog: open letter to oprah winfrey on so-called ethical oil and women's rights

Unlike many of my peers, I truly do respect and in many ways admire Oprah Winfrey. She's used her massive popularity and celebrity to raise awareness of difficult issues, not just feel-good reunions or uncontroversial medical research, but issues of equality and justice, especially for women and girls. Sure, her show is thickly padded with celebrity fluff and nonsense tearjerkers, but if it wasn't, she wouldn't reach half as many eyes and ears.

Speaking to mainstream audiences about subjects they'd rather not face, while giving people hope and optimism about their ability to create change, is a worthwhile enterprise. Throw in a nationally televised reading group, and there's a lot for me to like.

That's why when I read that Oprah was running ads on her network for the astroturf tar sands shills EthicalOil.org - and that the ads conflated tar sands oil with global women's rights - I felt so disappointed.

I tried to write a post that conveyed just how wrongheaded and hypocritical Oprah's tar-sands support is. While struggling with it, I found this post by Emma Pullman at DeSmogBlog. I stopped writing, because Pullman says it all. Please read.
Dear Oprah,

I just don't know where to begin.

I can't find my words because I respect you so much. You're a woman pioneer who has done much to advance the status of women globally. You've donated millions of dollars to various organizations, and have used your talk show to raise the profile of women's issues. Your philanthropy has funded projects like The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, and Women for Women International. You've also used your celebrity to raise awareness of environmental causes, notably the efforts to rebuild the Gulf.

That's why I'm so stumped right now by your choice to feature ads from EthicalOil.org on your television network.

I'm all about the work that you do, but the logic of promoting tar sands oil by appealing to our desire for women's liberation, our desire to help protect women in despotic regimes like Saudi Arabia, is deeply flawed and misguided.

The ad [below], which is airing exclusively on your network in Canada, claims that strict rules in Saudi Arabia prevent women from driving, from leaving their homes or working without their male guardian's permission. With those sad facts firmly established, the ads powerfully appeal to our deep emotions about women's rights, human rights and fundamental political freedoms by implying that by buying "conflict oil", we are supporting oppression.

The ad presents Canada's tar sands as an "ethical oil" alternative to "conflict oil". At the end of the ad the viewer is told "It's a choice we have to make".

So, to be clear, the argument being put forward on your network is that expanding tar sands production will help liberate women from oppressive petrocracies like Saudi Arabia. It also appears to imply that we must support the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would massively expand tar sands production, because it will decrease our reliance on conflict oil.

Let's unpack this argument a little further.

I agree with you that Saudi Arabia abuses women's rights. But let's be perfectly clear: the link that this ad campaign tries to make — that expanding tar sands production will somehow liberate Saudi Arabian women — doesn't hold up to scrutiny.
Read it here: Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey.

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You can sign a petition calling on Oprah to renounce this ad. If you don't live in the US, use five zeros for a zip code. Petition here.

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