A Women’s Look At The Alberta Oil Sands: It Ain’t Pretty

Photo: Nobel Women’s Initiative
From October 9 – 16, the Nobel Women’s Initiative is visiting Canada’s oil sands to get women’s perspectives on the impacts of this huge oil extraction project to the local communities, women and children. This creative initiative is called Breaking Ground: Women, Oil & Climate Change and you can read more about what northern women are telling them on their blog – here.
While I’m typing this I’m listening to Andrew Nikiforuk, an award-winning Calgary-based journalist being interviewed about his new book, The Energy of Slaves, on CBC Radio’s The Current. I haven’t read this book yet, although I have read his hard-hitting Tar Sands: Dirty Oil And The Future Of A Continent. In the interview (and I’m assuming his new book) Nikiforuk makes a strong case for our addiction to cheap oil being so embedded in the fabric of  industrialized society that we are not even aware of it, like the ancient Romans taking for granted the cheap energy they got from their slaves. While we aren’t personally doing horrible things to other people (although the indigenous people of northern Alberta might disagree), we are doing horrific things to our water, our air, our oceans, and the biodiversity of the planet. Collectively, we are faced with a moral dilemma that we’re not even aware of, like Romans didn’t consider slave-holding a moral dilemma.
Biologist, author, and cancer survivor Sandra Steingraber makes a similar case about our oil addiction and the need for a new abolitionist movement. Steingraber focuses her call particularly at parents, saying that it’s time for all parents to become fossil fuel abolitionists, in the same way that abolitionists called for the end to slavery during 19th Century America. Although fossil fuels drive our economy in much the same way that slavery drove the economy at that time, it’s time for parents to actively fight for the greater good of society. Steingraber makes it clear that our children are part of the ecosystem of the planet, and if we continue down the path of fossil fuel addiction, their well-being will be sacrificed on the altar of the economy.  No responsible parent would willingly choose to put the profits of the oil, coal, and gas companies ahead of their children’s future – and yet that is exactly what we collectively are choosing to do right now if we continue with business as usual.

I’ve posted a link to the Nikiforuk interview below. If you prefer video, here are Andrew Nikiforuk and economist Jeff Rubin speaking in 2010 about the oil economy and the future of oil:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZntCQ_Me_o&feature=related]
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More links:

Wrecking This Place Down: How Do We Protect Our Children In An Age of Environmental Crisis?

Sandra Steingraber is a mother, a biologist, a cancer-survivor, and the author of several books on the dangers we are facing from the environmental toxins that surround us. Her most recent book, “Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in An Age Of Environmental Crisis” is a call to action – Steingraber says it’s time for parents to protect our children from harm and to plan for their future.

When the air, food and water surrounding my kids is filled with toxic chemicals and I can’t prevent them from entering the bodies of my kids, I’m really not their protector anymore. And when climate change threatens to destabilize the planetary ecology on which my children’s future depends, I can’t plan for their future.”

Steingraber puts out a call for parents to become fossil fuel abolitionists, in the same way that abolitionists called for the end to slavery during 19th Century America. Although fossil fuels drive our economy in much the same way that slavery drove the economy at that time, it’s time for parents to actively fight for the greater good of society. Our children are part of the ecosystem of the planet, and if we continue down the path of fossil fuel addiction, their well-being will be sacrificed on the altar of the economy.  No responsible parent would willingly choose to put the profits of the oil, coal, and gas companies ahead of their children’s future.

Psychologists have identified “Well-Informed Futility Syndrome”, when people are presented with the facts of a large, multi-faceted problem like climate change and rather than being moved to action they feel intolerable guilt and fear that cause either a paralysis of action or a denial of the problem. The way out of Well-Informed Futility Syndrome, it turns out, is not to ask people to make small inconsequential changes, but to present a solution that is as big as the problem.  In terms of the climate crisis, this requires admission of the fact that “business as usual” can’t continue, and we need a whole new redesign of the way we as a society do things. Steingraber says it’s time to call on parents to be heroes, starting with forceful engagement in the climate debate. She deliberately doesn’t provide a blueprint for how to respond because everyone’s skill set and temperament are different. Instead, she poses the question to each parent out there: “What response to this crisis do your temperament and skill set provide?” It is time to for each of us to speak out of identities that we already have.

My experience, two years after being moved to action on this issue precisely for the reasons that Steingraber identifies – to protect my children from harm and plan for their future – is that action is so much more fulfilling and life-giving than sitting on the sidelines with overwhelming fear and guilt. And, as Steingraber points out, it is parents responding to a threat that gives children hope, even if the threat is large.

One of the ways I’ve responded to the climate crisis is by becoming involved in Citizens Climate Lobby, whose purpose is to create the political will for a stable climate and to empower individuals to have breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power. To learn more about CCL, feel free to contact me at 350orbust@gmail.com, or check out these links:

Citizens Climate Lobby

Citizens Climate Lobby (Canada)

To listen to a half hour interview with Ms. Steingraber on CBC Radio’s The Current last Friday, click here.

Here is a trailer for a documentary based on a previous book of Steingraber’s, Living Downstream:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2UsmBqYpwo]

More links:

Living Downstream

Sandra Steingraber.com