Viewing Alberta’s Tar Sands: A Canadian Catastrophe

by Andrew Loewen on March 4, 2013Comments Off

Business Insider commissioned photo journalist Robert Johnson to fly over the largest industrial mega-project on earth, Alberta’s Tar Sands, and document the process: from untrammeled boreal forest to strip mines, refineries, and tailing ponds. The results are spectacular and richly informative. A bird’s eye view of a made-in-Canada project. The scale of destruction and irrationality is staggering. Here’s part of a statement from Chief Adam (Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation) in response to the US State Dept’s new (favorable) assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands bitumen across the US to the Gulf of Mexico:

Expansion of the tar sands in my people’s homelands means a death sentence for our way of life, destruction of eco-systems vital to the continuation of our inherent treaty rights, and massive contributions to catastrophic global climate change, a fate we all share.

These Pictures May Give You Nightmares About The Canada Oil Sands

Johnson walks the viewer through the operations step by step, photo by photo. It’s a must-see antidote for the relentless industry BS about sustainability parroted by establishment media like The Edmonton Journal’s editors.

Formerly boreal forest of green spruce and springy moss:
sand

Do hit the link above to head to Business Insider and take a look. Well worth it. But if you’ll allow, here’s a few things to underline that aren’t mentioned in Johnson’s piece:

1) The people most immediately affected (and dispossessed) by Alberta’s Tar Sands are the dozens of Cree nations on whose traditional lands this devastation is wrought. Indigenous nations are also the only substantial force of opposition to this horrorshow within Alberta and Canada. Idle No More may be Canada’s last best hope. None of Canada’s establishment political parties, including the NDP, oppose continued development of the Tar Sands (or the construction of the pipelines necessary to carry the sludge away for refinement and sale).

2) The insanity and irrationality of this project — in terms of ratios of energy input to output, carbon emissions, and destruction of land and poisoning of water — is the inevitable result of a particular, historical organization of life on earth. The name for this form of organization is capitalism, its means of advancement settler colonialism.

By contrast, Karl Marx has this to say in Volume 3 of Capital:

From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and, like boni patres familias [good heads of the household], they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition.

And as John Bellamy Foster elaborates:

The only genuine, i.e. sustainable, solution to the global environmental rift requires, in Marx’s words, a society of “associated producers” who can “govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their collective control instead of being dominated by it as a blind power; accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature.” The goals of human freedom and ecological sustainability are thus inseparable and necessitate for their advancement the building of a socialism for the 21st century. “Marx and the Global Environmental Rift

How in the hell to do that is of course an epic quandary. But in Idle No More, settler Canadians have a real opportunity to unsettle their colonial relations with people and the land, confront reality, and look to a different horizon for our grandchildren than strip mines and tailing ponds, Nickelback and drought.

In the traditional lifeways of the original nations of these lands, it is common to orient decision-making not in terms of tomorrow or the next financial quarter, but seven generations ahead. Who among the settlers of Alberta, from shift workers to the venal political class of Tory and Wild Rose bullshitters, has the interests of the next seven generations in mind?