Quill & Quire
For the better part of their history, the Alberta tar sands have been out of sight and out of mind for most Canadians. A thinly populated wilderness and (in the words of one early bitumen booster) a “relatively undesirable environment,” it is a place few people visit. Ninety-eight per cent of the current population of Fort McMurray plan on eventually retiring somewhere else. Government operates as an absentee landlord. Such blindness and indifference spring from broad-spectrum denial of the unpleasant consequences of our addiction to oil. Calgary-based journalist and Governor General’s Award-winning author Andrew Nikiforuk covers the resultant fallout in detail, from the massive and irreparable destruction of the natural environment – turning a good chunk of northern Alberta, including the world’s third-largest watershed, into a toxic moonscape – to the political transformation of Canada into a modern petrostate. What he exposes most of all, however, is the mind-boggling short-sightedness and stupidity of the entire enterprise. Nikiforuk does overdo the figurative comparisons a bit. While volume may be handily imagined in units of Olympic-size swimming pools, it’s less helpful to know that the area covered by open-pit mining could end up being three times larger than the ancient city of Angkor Wat. But this is a minor point. Overall, Tar Sands
provides an excellent guide to all of the environmental repercussions of our oil dependency. The political analysis is also good, sounding a warning about our dangerous energy “interdependence” with the declining American empire and using Thomas Friedman’s first law of petropolitics – that the price of oil and the quality of freedom invariably travel in opposite directions – to make the case for tar’s corrosive effect on democracy. Nikiforuk concludes with “Twelve Steps to Energy Sanity,” an oil-addiction recovery program. And surprisingly, many of his recommendations seem doable. We can’t avert a disaster that is already under way, but we might be able to prevent things from getting horribly worse.
"Andrew Nikiforuk reveals the true costs of America's oil addiction. Tar Sands tells an important story with passion and wit." -- Elizabeth Kolbert, author of the book Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change
"Required reading for the President [Obama] in preparation for his first foreign trip is the book Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent by Andrew Nikiforuk" -- David Sassoon, The Huffington Post