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Environmental groups join appeals for people to assist Fort Mac fire victims

OTTAWA — At least two Canadian environmental groups who aggressively lobby against oilsands development are imploring their supporters to send aid to the people of Fort McMurray, Alta.

Greenpeace Canada and the Sierra Club of Canada have each issued appeals for donations to the Red Cross and other aid agencies in the face of the mass evacuation and destruction of homes and property in the northern Alberta oilsands hub.

After imploring its followers to help Fort McMurray, the Sierra Club cautiously broached the subject of global warming.

"We can all be a part of ensuring a disaster like this doesn't consume another community," said the appeal.

"We need to work together as fellow Canadians to take action to reduce the life-altering risks of climate change in a hotter, drier world. We need to work together to protect each other from this harm."

Raising climate change in the context of Alberta's wildfires has proven to be treacherous political territory this week amid inflamed sensitivities over the beleaguered city of 88,000.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May felt compelled to issue a clarification after she flatly asserted at a news conference that a warming global climate contributed to the conditions that made the Fort McMurray fire so dangerous.

Social media has proved to be an unforgiving battleground for anyone who dared suggest Fort McMurray was somehow responsible for its fate.

So it should not come as a surprise that in a country that is rallying behind the people of northern Alberta, some environmental groups are using their reach to help galvanize support.

Conrad Sauve of the Canadian Red Cross said Friday that some $30 million has already been raised and donations are coming from every corner of Canada.

Mark Meisner, the Canadian executive director of the International Environmental Communications Association, said in an interview from Syracuse, N.Y., that there is nothing incongruous about environmental groups championing a move away from carbon intensive energy while supporting people who work in the industry. The environmental movement is concerned with the well being of everyone, he said.

"It's sort of like being against the war while supporting the troops," said Meisner.

That's been a difficult message to get across in the polarized public opinion battles between the oil and gas industry and environmentalists.

"I don't think it helps us to be thinking in terms of good guys and bad guys," said Louise Comeau, who recently left the Climate Action Network to work for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

"Through our day-to-day activities, most people are unknowingly contributing to the (climate) problem. We are all part of the problem and we are all part of the solution."

Resource workers are often the first people affected by environmental disasters, Josh Brandon of the Canadian Environmental Network said in an interview from Winnipeg.

"A lot of grassroots environmental organizations really see this as an opportunity to build some of those bridges."

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