I’ve been thinking a lot about the huge fire at Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Those of us who have been involved in the Keystone Pledge of Resistance are very familiar with this city, whose population exploded with the development and expansion of tar sands mining. Unfortunately, the reason we became so aware of this area was because of the terrible stories coming out of that region from Indigenous people about the destruction of the forests, pollution of the land and water, and the grotesque malformations of the fish which destroyed one of their main sources of food, and dramatic increases in the cancer rate among the people themselves.
And the smell and ugliness of the tar sands tailings ponds that hold the filthy, cancer chemical laden waste water from the tar sands mining. These chemical cesspools leak into the groundwater and poison the people in the area. The companies used various methods to try to scare the birds away, because those that land in these ponds die there.
A recent article in the New Yorker, Fort McMurray and the Fires of Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert, does an excellent job of explaining how the fire is a consequence of much higher temperatures and dry conditions, which happened because of increased greenhouse gas emissions, which mining and burning tar sands contributes to significantly. Several days ago the temperature was about 30 degrees higher than normal.
“All of this brings us to what one commentator referred to as “the black irony” of the fire that has destroyed most of Fort McMurray.
The town exists to get at the tar sands, and the tar sands produce a particularly carbon-intensive form of fuel. (The fight over the Keystone XL pipeline is, at its heart, a fight over whether the U.S. should be encouraging —or, if you prefer, profiting from—the exploitation of the tar sands.) The more carbon that goes into the atmosphere, the warmer the world will get, and the more likely we are to see devastating fires like the one now raging.
We are all consumers of oil, not to mention coal and natural gas, which means that we’ve all contributed to the latest inferno. We need to own up to our responsibility, and then we need to do something about it. The fire next time is one that we’ve been warned about, and that we’ve all had a hand in starting.”