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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.


Tar Sands: Environmental Nightmare, Ethical Quagmire

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: energy, oil, tar sands, Canada, ethics, climate change, Earth Island Journal, environment, Keith Goetzman,

Earth Island Journal Spring 2011In Canada’s tar sands, oil is extracted from the earth in a destructive, laborious, energy-sucking process that makes the end product one of the dirtiest forms of oil. It leaves behind a denuded landscape and is blamed for a host of ills, including cancer, in local people. The industry also employs many people and fills a need: Our insatiable thirst for energy.

Earth Island Journal editor Jason Mark journeys to the heart of tar sands country in Northern Alberta, wrestles with thorny ethical dilemmas, and comes away with a stark insight:

Mark reveals that we may end up destroying people like Marlene and Mike Orr, two residents of the mostly indigenous residents of Fort McKay, Alberta, who became whistleblowers when they spoke out against a dangerous mining waste disposal pond—and now fear the consequences of doing so. For as Mark points out, “There is not a person [in Fort McKay] who doesn’t understand that without the multibillion-dollar oil sands industry they would likely would have no likelihood at all.”

Marlene Orr describes to Mark some of the contradictions in play:

In his editor’s note in the same issue, “Don’t Blame Canada,” Mark takes issue with environmental groups that aim to cripple the mighty tar sands machine, and notes that there’s plenty of blame to go around, even to you and me:

Source: Earth Island Journal 

Panel image by sbamueller, licensed under Creative Commons.