There is a vast hypocracy resident in most journalists. And environmentalists and Marxists. On Sunday night I was at a party where I fell into conversation with a young Turkish aethist who has chosen to complete his PhD at Simon Fraser University on the topic of the success of Marxism in France and its potential application in Turkey. He told me in hushed tones that the religious in Turkey would have girls as young as ten veiled and secluded from the society of males. He told me the Turkish religious right would have him jailed for being an aethist. He maintained that the French are correct in banning all forms of religious expression in public. And then he told me of Canadian over-exploitation of the environment.
I asked his opinion of the oil sands mines. He had never heard of them. So we opened another bottle of wine and got drunk arguing about ten thousand years of agriculture, global warming, and avoidance of another ice age.
Then today I chanced upon a photo of the oil sands by Edward Burtynsky. The photo is on display at the Surrey Art Gallery. I shall not go to see it because public transport out there is so poor, and I cannot justify burning oil and adding to global warming by driving my car out there.
I think it is a rather ordinary photo of a nice subject. The photo shows some of the works where oil sands are turned into oil. The process is pretty simple: dig up the sand that contains the oil. Take the oily sand to the plants shown in the photo and heat it up. The oil comes off leaving behind the sands. Put the sands into a tailings pond, and send the oil to the USA to go into SUVs. All the buildings in the photo attest to the actual complexity of the operation.
The hypocracy part is the comment to the photo by some young journalist, maybe a Marxist. They write “hyperdetailed images such as Alberta Oil Sands #1 show sides of Western Canada that many oil executives would prefer we didn’t see,” The actual report continues:
When he first travelled to northern Alberta to shoot the oil sands, Burtynsky says, he “met with a lot of resistance” from oil companies. “They’ve always been leery of cameras and visually how this landscape, on the scale of this operation, reads from a public-relations point of view.”
Hardly surprising, given that it reads like hell. Near Fort McMurray, hundreds of square kilometres of boreal forest and “overburden” (the 20 feet of matter resting on top of the oil sands) have been scraped off Earth’s surface, then piled up in immense, successive ridges that resemble desolate mountain ranges. Burtynsky’s oil-sands images include vast, eerie landscapes of shovelled-up earth along with aerial shots of steam plants the size of small cities, tailing ponds that resemble lakes, and pipelines running to the far horizon.
A typical comment by a young person of limited world exposure but with a definitive opinion. I bet none of them rode their bicycles up to the site, and clearly Burtynsky used a plane to fly to get his photos. Its like the young Marxist at Sunday’s party who when I asked how he could support communism given that he was living a life-style enjoyed by less than one percent of the world’s population, replied “I am a Marxist petite bourgeosie. I am not a communist.” I have to admit this is a fine distinction.
The point is that I was born and grew up on the South African Witwatersrand. For ten mile north to south and over 150 miles east to west the place looks kind of like Burtynsky’s photo. I loved riding around this maze of urban and industrial discovery and then reaching the limits of development to the north and suddenly being in the desert wildness that was the Witwatersrand before gold was discovered. I cannot understand the instincts of people who live in cities, drive cars, fly planes, go to the theater, revel in the soaring beauty of a tall building, or ride a bike of the finest, lightest metal along busy city streets and who then turn around and decry development of the oil sands. Are they truly as ideological as my young Marxist drinking partner?
As the Georgia Straight writer says:
One of Burtynsky’s gifts is to show us resource-extraction sites that we urban dwellers never otherwise see. In a sense, his work demands our accountability. Not that he excuses himself. “I’m implicated in that landscape, too,” he says. Oil is not simply what fuels our cars and passenger planes. It’s the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the computers we work at. Oil is our globalized economy. Still, Burtynsky does not want to dictate the way we read his photographs.
“I didn’t enter the work to create it as a political tool,” he says, “but there is a political aspect to it, like there is to most art.” Then he adds, “I feel it’s far more interesting to position the work as a point of departure for discussion about what these landscapes mean to us, to our daily existence.”
Indeed, and open another bottle of cheap wine. And fall to discussing the amazing sight of a Liberal Politician suddenly supporting the oil sands. In case you missed it, the Canadian Liberal Party shot itself in the foot in the last election calling for shutting down the oils sands. That was before jobs started to flit away like flies in the face of a big-tongued frog. Now that engineers are being laid off in droves in Alberta and professional people are out of work faced with nasty mortgages, the Liberals have toned down their environmental marxisms. I will always cherish this report on the day he came down from the mountain and got enlightenment:
The Alberta oilsands will allow Canada to stand up to the U.S. on everything from Arctic sovereignty to rewriting NAFTA, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said Wednesday. Ignatieff told a town hall meeting in a Gastown pub that Canadians are just starting to understand “how powerful the oilsands make us.” He told an overflow audience crammed into the pub’s tiny back room that he toured the project in August. “It is awe-inspiring,” he said, adding that the controversial project boasts enough oil to last the rest of this century. “We’ve got oil reserves there that are just staggering in size. It changes everything about our economic future. It changes everything about Canada’s importance in the world.” Ignatieff’s comments came in response to a question from a woman in the audience, who used the term “tarsands” – a description used by opponents of the project. “This is where a chill falls over the room because everybody expects me to say they’re terrible and shut them down,” said Ignatieff. “Absolutely not.”
Gastown is still reverberating from this epiphany. And the Americans are mounting a counter attack. See this link for more information on calls by respected Amerricans to invade Canada and take over its waters, metasl, minerals, linguistic quirks, and oil sands. With Ignatieff at the helm we will repulse them in the bars, on the beaches, and in Gastown’s eating houses.
Let the Americans eat their last bushel of corn as the hungry hogs howl in the cold unheated night and the SUV’s horn fades into the mists of a gassless future. Let them build their houses not of good Canadian lumber, stout and strong, but of recycled copies of the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.
Let them tear the last drop of energy from the shales of Colorado as Mr. Douglas B. Silver yells in triumph on a pile of gold coins wrought of solar energy in Nevada. But they will not conquer the Canadian whose true spirit is summed up in the photos of Burtynsky and the re-born honesty of Ignatieff, who may yet become Prime Minister.
If I offend any by this posting, be offended in good spirit. For I wrote this piece to help my daughter who called from the University of Iowa to say that her professor has set her the task of writing an essay for his class on the political and engineering issues associated with Canadian oils sands. How could I resist the opportunity to do the task for her. See this pieces as an gift of international reconciliation. A piece generated by an out-of-control father who is paying for a costly education by writing this kind of stuff.