As a blogger I reserve the right to be wrong. I reserve the right to attack folly and verbal excess. I reserve the right to criticise the National Geographic and First Nations. I reserve the right to defend dead ducks, dead ptarmigans, the oil sands, and Fort McMurray.
One winter night when Jim Boucher was a young boy, around the time the oil sands industry came into the forest, he was returning alone by dogsled to his grandparents’ cabin from an errand in Fort McKay. It was a journey of 20 miles or so, and the temperature was minus 4 degrees F. In the moonlight Boucher spotted a flock of ptarmigans, white birds in the snow. He killed around 50 of them, loaded them on his dogsled, and brought them home…… he remembers the pride on his grandmother’s face that night. “That was a different spiritual world.” Boucher says. “i saw the world continuing forever.”
If the point of this story is that it is a spiritual thing to kill 50 birds because you are young and on a dogsled, then I am baffeled. Why is it a good spiritual thing to kill 50 bird just to raise a smile of pride on a grandmother’s face? Ten young men and ten grandmothers soon equals 500 dead birds.
Jim Boucher and his grandkids may not today have the ability to kill 500 ptarmigans, but they have other things that make for the survival of grandkids. Consider this description of things when Boucher brags about killing 50 birds:
Fort McKay was a small fur trading post. It had no gas, no electricity, telephone, or running water.
Now unemployment is less than 5 percent and the “First Nation is thinking of opening its own mine for they own 8,200 acres of prime oil sands land. “
Jim Boucher eats smoked whitefish at a conference table. The fish is delivered by a staff member and Boucher could not even care where the fish come from.
I submit that there is nothing romantic about a First Nations leader killing birds, eating fish delivered by servants, and bemoaning the presence of electricity, telephones, hospitals, and good food. That is a picture of a pathetic soul who is turning emotion to his own advantage.
There is nothing clever about writing articles in the National Geographic painting pretty pictures of primitive people who love the current good life, yet blather on about golden times that involved killing 50 birds for the mere fun of it.
Yet when I read the article on the oil sands in the March issue of National Geographic, I am not so sure the author is not subtly criticising Jim Boucher and the First Nations. I wonder if instead, the author is defending the oil sands. For example, consider these quotes:
The U.S. imports more oil from Canada than from any other nations, around 19 percent of its total foreign supply.
The oil sands are still a tiny part of the world’s carbon problem–they account for less than one tenth of one percent of global CO2 emissions.
Most of the carbon emissions from such fuels come from the tailpipes of the cars that burn them; on a “wells-to-wheels” basis, the oil sands are only 15 to 40 percent dirtier than conventional oil.
The e-media is awash in stories of the “ugly” pictures in the National Geographic. Personally, I cannot see the ugliness. The cars on Thickwood Boulevard are no more packed than on the 405 any time in Los Angeles. The green sod going down in front of a new house could be American-anywhere. The town from the air photo is small by comparison with new developments in the United States from Virginia to Arizona. The homeless are the universal homeless one sees in every city…just like the folk in Denver where I was earlier this week. And the lady in her over-decorated trailer could be Iowa where my daughter lives. As for the upgrader, have you ever flown by night into one of those towns were there are oil refineries? I always like the one just south of LAX as it reminds me I am almost home.
At the very worst, the National Geographic article is another of those silly stories that tries to glorify primitive man living a short, sharp, and nasty life in an unforgiving environment, while ignoring the benefits of civilization.
At the very best, the National Geographic article is a defence of the need that the U.S. and Canada have to keep their economies going and their people prospering as they always have: by exploiting natural resources for the benefit of mankind.
Sure we all need the idea of wilderness to sustain our spirits. Sure most of us do not like the idea of 50 dead ptarmigans or 500 dead ducks. But we recognize that but for mines, we would probably be long dead ourselves. We would be victims of the cold, of rotting teeth, skin cancer, malnutrition, and the multiple horrors that beset primitive people in harsh environments.
So we celebrate the oil sands and metal mines and cut-down forests. We know they can be replanted and reclaimed. We know they must be replanted and reclaimed, and we work hard to help Suncor and Syncrude achieve the dual objectives of supply and reforestation. Pond 1 at Suncor will soon be reclaimed as we learnt in November at a conference in Edmonton. The National Geographic is simply out of date before it even went to press.
These histronic articles are out of date. The emotional responses are out of date. Let us sit back and discuss the real issues calmly, and eschew the sensational and untrue. We cannot go on forever counting dead ptarmigans, ducks, and cancer patients. We need the energy to survive and raise our kids so they can fold origami ptarmigans rather than kill them.