National Geographic exposes tar sands and government bias

If you have not seen the March edition of National Geographic, make an effort to do so.

The latest issue of the magazine includes an excellent 24-page spread on the tar sands that includes the typical first class photography for which National Geographic is renowned. Also, check out the web site for a short video that includes interviews and images not seen in the magazine.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice is quoted today as calling the exposé “just one article,” adding “it’s difficult to see the North American marketplace developing in an orderly way for energy without the oil sands being part of the equation.” In contrast to Prentice, the government of Alberta called the article “fair.”

Here is what is wrong with Minister Prentice’s statement. Last time I checked, the market place was not developing in an “orderly way.” I have heard economists use words like “collapse,” “convulse,” and of course “severe recession,” so I am not sure what shade the Minister Prentice’s reading glasses are, but they certainly are distorting his view of reality.

In general, economies dependent upon commodities are anything but orderly. They follow a boom and bust cycle. Most people understand that, but to hang our hats on a commodity that is causing our world to heat up, that will eventually run out, and which could contribute to our own demise as a species is ludicrous. Should we not be turning the present economic crisis into an opportunity to transform our economy into one based on ecological sustainability, rather than propping up the old Trojan horses that contributed to the environmental and ecological mess we are in?

I guess this is a rhetorical question because, in the view of our governments, we can not turn back from our addiction to oil, and our subjugation to the powers that control it.

The blind faith of politicians in carbon capture and storage frightens me. The blind faith that technology will solve everything frightens me. Obama himself said that “technology” is the solution on his recent visit to Canada, in reference to carbon capture and storage. Yet, this technology is far from being proven as either viable or safe, though it is talked about by politicians as a “fait accompli” as the solution that will allow us to continue our addiction to oil.

Coming back to the article in National Geographic, it does not take sides, but does not hide the truth either. On the web site, the author of the article ends his video by calling the tar sands “a desecration.” That is perhaps the best word to describe what it really is from an ecological perspective. Anyone who has experienced the boreal forest first hand, touched its mosses, drank its waters or been swallowed up in its greenness, knows that the landscapes that result from tar sands operations, where once lay the boreal forest, truly are a desecration.

Perhaps the tar sands were developed at a time when we knew less or cared less about ecology, when climate change was not understood, and when hundreds of square kilometres of boreal forest were consider “empty”, “monotonous” or even “nothing” except to the First Nations families living on the land. Now we know better, don’t we? We cannot blame the companies for operating there, but we must have pause to take stock of where we are, and what the end game is before it is too late. This is why a moratorium on tar sands expansion should occur now.