Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tar Sands - The Dirtiest Oil of All

By Garth Lenz
Conservation photographer, Canadian citizen

In case you missed it, this August 21st, the U.S. State Department approved a multibillion-dollar pipeline to bring the world's dirtiest, most carbon intensive crude oil to refineries in the United States. The Presidential Permit to Enbridge Energy is for the Alberta Clipper - a 1,000-mile/1,607-kilometer crude oil pipeline that will run between Hardisty, Alberta, and Superior, Wisconsin, bringing crude oil from the Alberta Tar Sands to the U.S. for further refining.

The U.S. approval of the Alberta Clipper pipeline is a massive investment and commitment to the status quo, locking America into a dirty energy infrastructure for years to come. At a time when the way forward, both economically and environmentally, points in the direction of renewable energy and a green economy, investment in the Alberta Tar Sands seems backward.

Not only is it investment in a fossil fuel future, but it is investment in a fossil fuel that represents the most deadly cocktail of environmental impacts of any fossil fuel and on a scale never before imagined. None of the the major energy projects in the Middle East are even close to the scale of the oilsands and the current scale will grow by five times by 2020.

Clearwater River
Located opposite Fort McMurray, this intact area is in the heart of the Tar Sands region and is an example of what the area looks like beforeTar Sands development. This area could be developed as a result of proposed expansion of the Tar Sands. The forests, wetlands, soils, etc are referred to as "overburden" and scraped off in order to replace this ecosystem with tailings ponds, tar mines and refineries.

Alberta Wetland

This wetland is just south of Fort McMurray and the developed region of the Alberta Tar Sands.
Although it is not currently threatened directly by Tar Sands development, it is representative of what the Tar Sands area looked like before development. Wetlands like this one are one of the greatest carbon sinks and best defenses against global warming.

Aspens and Spruce

This forest is relatively near but not directly within the Tar Sands region. However it is representative of the forests that existed in the region before being removed for Tar Sands development. The boreal forest of Northern Canada is perhaps the best and largest example of a largely intact forest ecosystem. It is also the greatest terrestrial carbon sink - storing an amount of carbon equal to ten times the total annual global emissions from all fossil fuel consumption.

Syncrude Operations - Alberta Tar Sands

Open pit mining operations in the Alberta Tar Sands

Machines like these work 24 hours a day.

Effluent Pump

An effluent pump dumps mine tailings into a vast tailings "lagoon" at one of Syncrude's sights in the Alberta Tar Sands. The effluent ponds of the Alberta Tar Sands are so large that they can be seen from outer space. Every barrel of oil requires 3-5 barrels of fresh water to refine.

Tailings Pond

One of many large tailings ponds in the Alberta Tar Sands. One of Syncrude's dams holding back a tailings pond is second only to China's Three Gorges Dam in size.

Another Tar Sands operation under construction

Can this possibly be what was envisioned when President Obama campaigned on a promise to cut global warming and America’s addiction to oil while investing in a clean future? Imagine the possibilities if all the scientific and technological brilliance, entrepreneurial zeal and financial resources that are being invested in the Alberta Tar Sands, were instead invested in the research, development and marketing of renewable energy. This is the true tragedy of the Tar Sands.

As long as this mammoth investment in the Alberta Tar Sands and similar projects persists, there will never be the motivation or resources to truly achieve the renewable energy alternatives which are the key to our future.

It is time for all of us to demand a positive, green and clean future for our children and tell our leaders to stop supporting investment in dirty and backward developments like the Alberta Tar Sands and start directing those resources to the green economy they have all been promising.

About the Author

Known as an outspoken advocate for the environment, Garth Lenz has been invited to show his work to The European Parliament, Canadian Senate, major corporations and business leaders. He has given numerous public presentations throughout Canada, the U.S., Europe, and Japan, on issues of wilderness and environmental protection.

In 1993 and 1994, Lenz made major tours of Europe, the U.S. and Japan, in order to build the international campaign for the conservation of British Columbia’s temperate rainforests and Clayoquot Sound. During this same time, he helped develop the markets campaign to encourage corporate responsibility as a tool for forest protection and conservation. In this role he has given presentations to The New York Times, Nippon Telephone and Telegraph in Tokyo, Major Newspapers in London, GTE in Los Angeles and many others.

Lenz’s recent images from the boreal region of Canada have helped lead to significant victories and large new protected areas in the Northwest Territories, Quebec, and Ontario. His boreal images and work from the Alberta Tar Sands received major awards at the Prix de la Photographie Paris, and International Photography Awards in 2008. In 2008, he was also awarded the Fine Print award in the Center for Fine Art Photography’s “Our Environment” exhibition for one of his Alberta Tar Sands aerial images. In 2009, he was named a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers.

Lenz makes his home in Victoria, British Columbia, with his wife and two daughters.

All images are © Garth Lenz

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A House Divided

“As we watch the sun go down, evening after evening, through the smog across the poisoned waters of our native earth, we must ask ourselves seriously whether we really wish some future universal historian on another planet to say about us: "With all their genius and with all their skill, they ran out of foresight and air and food and water and ideas," or, "They went on playing politics until their world collapsed around them." ~U Thant (Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1961 to 1971), speech, 1970.

It is the last sentence of that quote that reverberates in me like the finely tuned strings of a guitar. Day after day, month after month, year after year, I watch with increasing alarm – and shame – as the environment continues to be a pawn in a great political game of chess. As the very board we are playing on decreases in size, disintegrates with pollutants from “industry” and it’s goon, “warfare.”

I have friends on both sides of the political spectrum. Those who call themselves “liberal” and those who call themselves “conservative.” Most of my friends agree that we must conserve our natural resources, that we are stewards of the environment, that we must protect endangered species. Just like we can all agree that SOMETHING has to be about our failing health care system. But like a husband and wife who can’t agree on the best way to arrive at their destination, we end up bickering and lose sight of our mutual goal in a sick battle of “he said, she said.”

The stakes are high in this political game we are playing. As my friend is fond of saying, “Follow the money.” Unfortunately, she is only able to see the food chain on one side of the political chasm. There are special interest groups on both sides, and the sooner “we the people” realize that we are being pitted against each other in a battle from which “we the people” will emerge as losers, if we emerge at all, the sooner we will be able to set aside our petty differences and work together.

Call me a Utopian, or a Polly Anna, call me naïve or just plain stupid. I still believe firmly that we have it in ourselves - as a community, a country, a continent, a world of people – to sit down at the proverbial table and find our commonalities and work toward those goals together. As Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” But I also know that there are forces out there who stand to profit from our divisiveness. As my friend says, “Follow the money.”

Kate Dardine is the Marketing Director for Art for Conservation and Fine Print Imaging, as well as a professional artist. ( Lately she's been quoting Rodney King: "Can't we all just get along?"

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Good Day for the Dolphins

The Taiji dolphin hunt, featured in the controversial film "The Cove", was scheduled to begin on September 1, as it has every year for decades. Instead, the cove was empty on this opening day - no fishermen, no dolphins. Just lots of media and a noticeable contingent of police. And that was just fine with Ric O'Barry, Director of Save Japan Dolphins and one of the driving forces behind the efforts to bring attention to the annual slaughter of 20,000 dolphins.

He writes in his blog from Taiji that he is thrilled to see so much media present - in particular Japanese media, which until now have refused to cover the subject. Ric views this new willingness by the Japanese media to at least explore the subject as a turning point in the efforts to save the Japan Dolphins. He believes that a heightened public awareness in Japan will turn the tides in favor of the animals.

Check out the trailer for the film: take your friends, read more and Take Part.

As one of the principals in the film said, "You're either an activist or an inactivist", so it's time to
Discuss, Share and ACT.