Tar Sands, by Andrew Nikiforuk

I had been looking at this book in the store for a couple of years before buying it. Flipping through it in the aisle, I got the impression that the author felt so strongly about his subject that he was willing to break that cardinal rule of all writing: show, don’t tell. I understand that it’s tough to retain a godlike objectivity in the face of criminal absurdity on an epic, global scale, but I figure that’s what editors are for.

The first two chapters confirmed my fears. They’re a bit ranty, jumping from topic to topic before finally settling down in the third chapter to become worthy of the distinguished awards the book has garnered.

OK, that’s out of the way. Who should read this book? Every Albertan should receive forty lashes for not reading it, every Canadian, thirty and every American, sixty. (Hey, you’re buying the oil.) Oh, and while we’re doling out punishments, all the premiers of Alberta since Lougheed and all the prime ministers since Chrétien should be tried for the environmental equivalent of war crimes. Yes, they should be tried for general crimes against the environment, but I think several life sentences should be assigned entirely for their active participation in the development of the tar sands.

OK, Mr. Nikiforuk, I see why you couldn’t control yourself in the first couple of chapters. First stone retracted, bandaid applied.

As a native Albertan, after reading this book, I am ashamed and astonished at the depth of my ignorance about the tar sands. There are two types of people in Alberta. Those who are kept in ignorance about the horror that is going on in the North, and those who work in the North and know what is going on, but whose pay-cheques ensure silence. The list of tar sands crimes is long, and both industry and government are spending tens of millions in propaganda to paint themselves innocent. Do yourself a favor, read this book. I understand that no one wants to lose their job, that there are mouths to feed and that if Canada hadn’t already started to exploit the tar sands, there would be immeasurable pressure from the U.S. and China to do so. But we have not had the testicular will to even attempt to resist. And there is nothing more honorable about a rich eunuch, he’s still a eunuch.

Read this book. The BP oil spill is on a nanoscale compared to the toxic tailings ponds around Fort McMurray. The permanent destruction of massive stretches of the boreal forest and its wetlands is unconscionable. The perpetuation of the use of these extraordinarily dirty fossil fuels in the face of our now obvious need to switch to clean energy is nothing short of criminal. We know people will die from rising oceans, stronger hurricanes, more tornadoes. There is no longer an excuse. And yet, the campaign to get the world to invest in Alberta and buy more dirty oil is raging ahead with a small army of government and industry suits behind it.

OK, I’ll shut up now. Read this book.