President Obama is about to make good on a bet (technically, on two bets) he lost to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper last month, when Canada beat the United States in Olympic Hockey (twice). The two bet a case of beer each on the women’s gold medal game and the men’s semi-final game; we gave up the gold both times, with the U.S. women getting silver and the U.S. men settling for 4th. Canada’s hockey teams both won gold medals for themselves – and some White House beer for their Prime Minister.

This week, Harper mentioned to a news outlet that he had yet to receive his winnings, but expected Obama to be good for it.

We do expect Obama to make good on another promise: To deny Keystone XL – the massive, proposed pipeline slated to carry Canadian tar sands through America’s heartland – if it exacerbates the problem of climate change. It does, and President Obama should say no. President Obama delivering on both promises could be a gift to Canada.

While he sips on the fresh brew, flavored with honey straight from the First Lady’s garden on Pennsylvania Avenue, a denial of Keystone XL might give Harper a reason to reflect on the direction in which Canada is heading.

What will Canada’s future be built on?

The beer economy in Canada employs more than 163,000 people, more than twice that of the tar sands industry. Flickr: Mezzoblue
The beer economy in Canada employs more than 163,000 people, more than twice that of the tar sands industry. Flickr photo by Mezzoblue.
The Canadian government has been doing an awful lot lately to prop up the tar sands industry – at the expense of the country’s natural beauty, vital wildlife habitat for caribou, migratory birds and fish, pristine drinking water, and our climate. Supposedly it’s for the economy, and of course, the jobs. In doing so, Canada has tossed out its international climate obligations and moved from climate champ to climate villain on the world scene.

But if Harper thinks that the only way forward for Canada involves relying on an industry that extracts one of the planet’s dirtiest fuels no matter the cost, he clearly hasn’t taken a minute to think about what’s right in front of him – and if he’s still enjoying his White House brew, it will be literally right in front of him: Beer!

The beer economy employs 2x more people than tar sands

What does beer have to do with Canada’s future? As it turns out, quite a lot.

It might be surprising to some, but Canada’s beer industry is one of its most important economic engines. The “beer economy” (which includes retail sales, transportation and wholesale distribution, as well as the agricultural products needed to make the beer itself) employs more than 163,000 people, or 1 out of every 100 jobs in the country. And a report out late last year suggests that 44 cents of every dollar spent on beer goes to the Canadian government in taxes ($5.8 billion). That makes buying beer in Canada practically a civic duty!

While beer is almost necessary, especially at a a hockey game, tar sands is a Canadian nightmare Canada and the world cannot afford. In addition to being one of the most carbon intensive fossil fuels – 17% more than regular oil – the industry is also tearing up some of Canada’s most precious wildlife habitat and poisoning its waters. You can’t make beer out of toxic water.

We don’t need tar sands. We can still make the choice to move to cleaner transportation fuels and sources of electricity generation, reducing demand and enacting policies to wean us off oil and keep tar sands in the ground.

We’ll see if the U.S. Olympic hockey teams can exact some revenge on the ice in 2018. And if President Obama makes the right decisions now, the only thing that might be coming over the border in 2018 will come in 12 oz bottles – not 36 inch pipes.

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