Posted tagged ‘tar sands’

Stop the Destruction, Start the Healing

13 July 2013

Alberta Tar Sands
It is hard to take in the scope of destruction that has occurred in the tar sands. The mind can’t connect this toxic wasteland to the boreal forest that used to be alive here.

My mind did not make that connection until nearly a week after the Healing Walk when I wrote that line and had to stop writing for a while. This was, I think, what a friend was looking for when she looked at me shortly after the walk and asked “So?”   I didn’t have much to say at the time.

You can look at the tar sands if you don’t think too much. The tailings lakes look like water. The white sand around them looks like nice beach. The floating orange scare-crows are kind of amusing. The boom of propane cannons is familiar from Fraser Valley farms. Don’t think about the smell and what you might be breathing that a dust mask does not filter. Be thankful for the rain that keeps the dust down.

Think about statistics. Like in 2010 per day;

1,460,000 barrels of tar sands oil produced

465,753,000 litres of water used

241,370 tonnes of greenhouse gases

Per day. Those are big numbers. Nearly half a billion litres of water per day contaminated and dumped into these deadly tailings lakes. Nearly a quarter million tonnes, that’s nearly a quarter billion kilograms, of greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere per day. I can look at numbers like that and discuss how the atmosphere surpassed 400ppm CO2 recently or how river flows are declining in Alberta as the glaciers recede and climate change brings us the new boom and bust water cycle that smacked down Calgary and Toronto recently. I can talk about these things and then go have supper and enjoy the drumming in the Healing Walk camp and look forward to a swim in a real lake the next morning.

Just don’t think of life and the fact that this grey, stinking devastation used to be a living place with soil and plants and trees, animals and birds and people. Don’t think of complicity in the loss of life, the utter disregard for life that has occurred here. Don’t think of the radius of harm that reaches out with the weather and the water flowing past this place, taking cancer to the fish and the animals and the people who live many kilometres down river. Don’t think of how federal and provincial authorities continue to promote this foul death as the future for Canada while practising denial and obfuscation in the face of growing proof that this development is killing people in places like Fort Chipewyan. Don’t think about how this is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, contributing to species loss occurring now at a rate unprecedented even by the mass extinction that ended the age of dinosaurs. Don’t think about how this devastation is spreading back to our home towns, pushing pipelines and oil trains close to our schools, our local businesses and our home waters.

Tailings Lake
To think of those things — to really connect the disgusting landscape of the tar sands to the life that was once there, to feel that life and to know the threat to life the tar sands pose — is to wrestle with rage and despair that wastes time and saps energy.

Stop the Destruction - Start the Healing
Instead have faith in the ceremony performed by the elders to the four directions as we walked the 14 km loop of Highway 63 in the heart of the tar sands. Think of the rain that cleanses the earth. Think of the capacity of nature to restore itself if given half a chance. Think of the positive energy and the sharing of stories, culture and knowledge among the hundreds who came to witness the tar sands first hand and to raise the call to “Stop the Destruction. Start the Healing”.

Dene Nation Banner
Think most of all of the baby born in the camp at midnight on the fourth of July, on the eve of the fourth annual Healing Walk, in a teepee on a buffalo robe.

Some said it was the fulfilment of a prophesy. I don’t know, it was not my prophesy to look for fulfilment of. I do know that this baby, born at that place at that time, represented to me renewal and the resilience of life. This baby represented the obligation that all of us share to find better ways of being and to make a better place for him and all the babies of today and for generations to come.

Healing Camp Baby
This baby will never know me. But I will remember him and how his birth made my heart glad even in that awful place. I will remember him and my obligation to stop the destruction and start the healing so that one day the Athabasca River will run clean again. Stop the destruction and start the healing so that one day … maybe in this baby’s lifetime … people will be able to eat the fish again without fear. Stop the destruction and start the healing so that the wealth that was in these waters and sustained people in this part of the world for millennia, now stolen to pad the accounts of global corporations already wealthier than nations, can be restored to sustain people again. Stop the destruction and start the healing so that this baby -and all of our children- don’t have to.

All our children

Stop the Destruction – Start the Healing

Economic Engine of a Sinking Ship

25 November 2012

Oilsands are stealing the headlines” and “Economics mean we must move pipeline plans forward – properly” (Vancouver Sun, 20 November) refer to IEA and Deloitte reports to say we must rely on oil-sands for our future.

For balance they might also have referred to reports this month from the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Bank, the U.S. National Research Council, the Society of Actuaries, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

One sounds like a sky-is-falling nut when summarizing the costs these reports portray; displacement of populations, epidemics, pandemics, crop failures, ocean food chain risks, storms, droughts, floods, fires, etc. Yet these are not ravings of extremists and hiding our heads in the tar-sand won’t make these problems go away.

The Copenhagen Accord recognizes that global temperature increase should be below 2 degrees Celsius. PricewaterhouseCoopers states that “To give ourselves a more than 50% chance of avoiding 2 degrees will require a six-fold improvement in our rate of decarbonisation.” They warn that “Sectors dependent on food, water, energy or ecosystem services need to scrutinise the resilience and viability of their supply chains.

When todays children are adults in the world we have made for them, simply saying “I’m sorry” won’t be good enough.


Note to me: Page 9, Society of Actuaries report

Note that the distribution of insured losses would be slightly different from that of economic losses. According to Swiss Re 1, weather related events have a huge impact on the global economy, and that cost is growing steadily. Over the last 40 years global insured losses from climate-related disasters have jumped from an annual USD 5 billion to approximately USD 60 billion in 2011.

There. Now I’ll be able to find that figure and it’s source when I need it.

Harper’s Canada very happy with Rio+20

22 June 2012

rio+20Twenty years ago the World Scientists Warning to Humanity said;

If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.

In the same year the original Rio Summit attempted to chart a course to combat global warming and a range of other environmental harms and to protect biodiversity and the basic rights of people to such necessities as water.

Science has continued to warn and governments have continued to talk.

This year the United Nations released it’s Geo-5 Global Environmental Outlook and The Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner warned

If current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and ‘decoupled,’ then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation,

And the world watched while the Rio+20 Summit failed, resulting in a vision statement that does not impose any responsibility to combat the threats we face.

Harper’s environment minister Peter Kent says he is “very happy, very satisfied” with the outcome of Rio+20. He says that his critics “are out of touch with reality”.

Mr Kent’s “reality”, the “reality” of Harper’s Conservatives, consists of the economy. An economy fueled by Tar Sands bitumen and where the ‘natural’ order of things requires perpetual and accelerating industrial growth. Their reality is a construct of society.

My reality consists of natural systems. Seasons, weather, the water cycle, food chains. Systems such as that whereby salmon leave rivers, grow large and strong on the energy of the seas, and return to the rivers of their birth to spawn a new generation and to fertilize the land and feed the creatures that live on it with the energy they bring in their flesh from the sea. Within my reality exist societies and those societies have economies.

Harper’s Conservatives’ reality is causing the destruction of my reality. My reality’s seasons are changing. It’s weather is getting increasingly extreme. Droughts, floods and fires take a growing toll as noted by the insurance industry. The sun becomes dangerous because of depletion of the ozone layer (again). Disease patterns change. Populations of living things are affected in differing ways, as noted by our forestry industry. Food chains are threatened. The oceans warm and become dangerously acidic. The chemistry of the atmosphere is threatened as ocean conditions bring about decline of phytoplankton. Phytoplankton that produce about half of the world’s oxygen. The salmon decline.

I work, such as I am able, to stop the harm that the Conservatives reality is doing to my reality. I believe that if my reality is harmed too much (which may already be the case), their reality will no longer have a place to exist.

For this work they call me an enemy. If I were really an enemy, I would stand aside and watch them proceed.

Canada’s Ethical Oil?

6 November 2011

The argument rolls around that Canada’s tar sands oil is ethical oil and therefore preferable to conventional oil from countries such as Saudi Arabia. Proponents of our ethical oil point to such things as the Saudi record on women’s rights.

Setting aside the fact that residents along the Athabasca River may have a very different view than most Canadians of human rights in Canada, let’s consider Saudi women.

Saudi women can not drive or vote. However, the king has said that in 2015 women will be able to vote and run in local elections, and be on the king’s advisory council. Saudi women require permission of a male guardian for many things, though the requirement of such permission to seek employment was dropped in 2008 (and some Saudi women argue that this guardianship is a right of women). From a western viewpoint, work needs to be done and is being done in the area of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

Against that is weighed the higher greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts of Canadian tar sands oil, where work is also being done to improve but benefits are far outweighed by growth in volume of production. Our numbers with respect to tar sands greenhouse gases are so embarrassing that the Canadian government left tar sands data out of our 2009 National Inventory Report to the U.N.

In the area of climate change, Canada is seen as obstructionist. We as a nation are climate change deniers, pushing ahead with tar sands, fracking, pipelines and increased tanker traffic.

Global CO2 levels are already high. In a best case scenario people will be feeling the effects of climate change for many decades to come. That best case scenario is not going to happen.

Globally our greenhouse gas emissions have increased more than the worst case predictions of only four years ago. We are on course for much more damaging climate change. Effects will include;

  • sea level rise, and with it not just flooding of coastal cities, but salination of fresh water and coastal agricultural soil
  • More and stronger extreme weather events, bringing direct loss of life, economic impacts and agricultural losses
  • Rapid ecosystem changes with resultant loss of species and potential disruption of entire food chains as evidenced by the approximately 40% loss of phytoplankton in the northern hemisphere since 1950.
  • Changes in disease patterns such as the appearance of West Nile virus in Canada

Phytoplankton by the way are not only at the base of the ocean food chain, but are also critical to the world’s carbon cycle and produce about half of the world’s oxygen. Rather important to Saudi women and everyone else who breaths air.

The list of possible climate change effects goes on and on. No one really knows what may ultimately happen if we don’t stop increasing CO2 levels. We do know it will be bad.

Climate change will impact Saudi women just as it will impact people around the world. To avoid a world where the struggle just to meet our basic needs takes up a growing proportion of human capital, Canada must stop promoting CO2 increases.

Canada should be leading the charge to a post-carbon future where greater proportions of people have the quality of life that allows time and energy to pursue education and to further human rights. To do otherwise, to do as we have been with the global implications that it carries, is a worse violation of human rights than any violation within any one nation or culture.

There is nothing ethical about tar sands oil.

Peak Oil Postponed. Opportunity Lost.

26 October 2011

There used to be a fear that peak oil was going to be massively disruptive.


The real danger is that it is not.

Shale fields, tar sands and deep water drilling are ramping up to produce hundreds of billions of barrels of fossil fuels in coming decades. This will keep downward pressure on fossil fuel prices and provide a disincentive to alternate energy research and marketing relative to a peak oil scenario.

“The fossil fuel age will be extended for decades,” said Ivan Sandrea, president of the Energy Intelligence Group, a research publisher. “Unconventional oil and gas are at the beginning of a technological cycle that can last 60 years. They are really in their infancy.” (1)

If governments world-wide do not recognize the threat that this represents and put a stop to it, our technological civilization may well have run it’s course. As our carbon emissions continue to rise we will reach the point of facing a choice to geo-engineer the climate and bio-engineer a food chain, or collapse and like the many species we share this planet with face a real risk of extinction.

Geo-engineering the climate may be within the realm of possibility.

It would be a long shot given our limited understanding of climate. We’d more than likely just make things differently bad, or make things worse. (2) Maybe we would get it right enough to keep the planet habitable though, with some mass migrations and adaptations to adjust for rising oceans, droughts, floods … the kinds of things we’ve been seeing beginnings of in recent years and will face some consequences of, even if we stopped our carbon emissions now.

Bio-engineering a food chain seems less possible.

On land, unconventional fossil fuel reserves can provide inputs for growing (while further impacting climate) and we could probably manufacture artificial pollinators. Change from farming outdoors to farming indoors on a large scale. Take your pick of energy sources for artificial lighting and temperature control. Build to avoid or withstand hurricanes and tornadoes.

If the ocean food chain breaks down though, do we have some capacity to replace the approximately 85.3 billion kg of fish we currently take from the ocean each year? (3) Don’t say “farmed fish” because we feed our farmed fish wild fish. (Is that why farmed fish have higher levels of persistent organic pollutants? (4)) How do we replace 85.3 billion kg of fish? I’m stumped there.

Maybe we should just wean ourselves off fossil fuels now, eat less meat and hope our oceans can recover. (5) For that to happen, you and I need to make it happen. Do all those little things like switch to LED lightbulbs and use cloth bags at the grocery store. Then do all those bigger things like write to government representatives, drive less, give donations, volunteer, participate in the Occupy movement, and vote.

We can still make peak oil happen. But we need to make it happen.




(4) Hites, RA, JA Foran, DO Carpenter, MC Hamilton, B Knuth, and SJ Schwager 2004. Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon. Science 2004: 226-229.