How do you promote development of dirty oil from Canada’s tar sands, an energy/water intensive strip mining process that would be a major contributor to global heating? Or, as NASA climatologist Dr. James Hanson famously warned, if tar sands are fully exploited “it is game over for Earth’s climate.”

ethical oilThe good folks of Canada’s Ethical Oil Institute have come up with a clever PR angle for the tar sands: bash Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. As the New York Times reported Sept 26, the Saudis have gone berserk over an ad from EOI about “conflict oil” from the Kingdom.

The 30-second spot says North America buys more than 400M barrels of oil from a country that oppresses its women. “Why are we paying their bill and funding their oppression,” asks the spot. Good point! The ad pitches Canada’s ethical oil (e.g., tar sands) as an alternative and a way to pressure the Kingdom for reform.

EOI gleefully claims the Saudis launched a ham-fisted legal threat to squelch the spot. That, of course, only drew more attention to the ad, leading to pieces in top-shelf publications such as the Times. Bonehead PR.

This week Saudi Arabia did improve its human rights report card score from “F- to F+,” according to David Keyes, executive director of Advancing Human Rights. He cited King Abdullah’s decision to let women vote in municipal elections in 2015. That shred of decency occurred two days before a Saudi court sentenced a women to 10 lashes for the horrendous crime of driving a car.

Saudi Arabia is planning a big push for a seat on the United Nation’s Security Council. During the next two years, it plans to highlight its participation at the world body and its national accomplishments. Keyes believes “it’s unconscionable that in the 21st century a woman cannot drive herself to work, a restaurant or just for the fun of it.”

King Abdullah should skip U.N. PR push. If he wants to a seat at the Security Council table, the King should earn it by granting equal rights for women. That would make the Saudi seat a shoo-in.