Tar Sands

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on the recent State of the Oceans report. I had planned to write another, after doing some research and combing the news, with tips and links on who to contact…all dependent on government reaction. I began to wait for statements and proclamation of action….from our President…heck, from anybody’s president.

Except there has been no response. Like someone just broke into the White House living room and pulled the pin on a grenade, while those in charge continued to eat cheetos and stare, glassy eyed, at a re-run of “Everybody Love Raymond”, it’s pretty obvious that government isn’t listening.

Deafness and inertia from our leaders is not exactly new, which is the short explanation for this picture:

That’s 350.org leader, Bill McKibben getting arrested in front of the White House on Sunday, Aug. 21.

McKibben is part of a several week long, non-violent, sit-in demonstration in protest of the proposed Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline.

Ok wait, wait, don’t run out of the room. Yes, I am about to tell you of something else that’s really terrible. Although I am still treading the waters of despair of my recent “We Are So Effed” realization, I’m not going to lay that on you today. I’m telling you because 1. It’s really important that you know because the Tar Sands Pipeline is being ushered in under your nose, and it will spell death for the planet and 2. Because there are some ways you can take action and I want to tell you about the teeny tiny action I am taking.

First of all, what are the Tar Sands? The long explanation can be found through a quick google search. Here it is in short: Oil found mixed in the soil of Alberta’s boreal forest will be extracted by Transcanada through a process that creates twice as much pollution as regular oil extraction, leaves the largest pools of toxic waste on Earth (visible from space), and will be piped down through the U.S. to refineries in Oklahoma, Illinois and the Gulf, with possibilities for major spills along the whole way. It will also destroy the Athabascan forest, one of the largest carbon sinks left on Earth…all that carbon that the forest is holding will go directly into our atmosphere. NASA scientist James Hansen says if the pipeline goes through, it is basically “game over” for the Climate Change fight.

Deep breath.

Athabasca River and forest.

Tar Sands extraction.

Given how INSANE this all sounds, you would think that something so ludicrous wouldn’t stand a chance of happening. Except there is a very good chance it will happen. You know the story…Blah blah blah it will create 20,000 jobs blah blah it will get us off foreign oil blah blah.

Yes, we need jobs. Yes, we need to get off foreign oil. But not by increasing our dependence on it by extracting it from our own soil in a process that spells disaster. And those jobs? What about Obama’s vision of a green economy? Someone pointed out that if that same stretch of land the pipeline will go over was converted into collecting alternative energy….like wind or solar….that it would certainly go a long way to energy independence, be renewable and produce far more than the tar sands. That’s an oversimplification, but my point is this….”WHAT ABOUT JOBS?!” is one of those inarguable points that if stood up to makes one sound like a heartless babykiller. “Well gee, how CAN I say no to jobs? Times are tough.”.

Times are tough, and the pipeline will only insure that times will get tougher. Short term gain and profit for oil companies is an inflatable raft with a hole in it, thrown overboard the capsizing of our nation. The only solution to our dependence on Fossil Fuels is to get off them. Alternatives exist and the only thing stopping their implementation are corporations. The Transcanada pipeline is not a charitable project done by corporate execs who really care about unemployed Americans. They’re just trying to make a buck and they’re capitalizing on our fear.

What you can do:

1. Have a conversation with a loved one, friend, family member etc. Folks need to know what is going on.

2. Get involved with Tar Sands Action, the group Bill McKibben is working with.  Read their invitation to the two weeks of demonstration happening NOW at the White House. Sign the petition to President Obama, asking him to stop approval of the Pipeline. And if you can make the time….join them at the White House.

If getting arrested seems scary, here’s Bill McKibben after release yesterday:

Besides, Mark Ruffalo will be there. I wouldn’t mind being locked in a jail cell with this fella. (Just kidding, Jeff! a-hem…)

3. Contact your Reps and also Hilary Clinton and President Obama.

I wish that I could go to the protests. To be honest, I am struggling with a feeling of shame that I’m not going. I have good reasons…my daughter is young and I don’t want to jeopardize my contact with her. I don’t have the money for it either, but it seems that part could be figured out. Whatever my excuse, the bottom line is, I’m not going to the demonstration and while the letter writing option feels practically ineffective, it is what I have chosen to do.

In fact, I am writing President Obama every day. I realize he will probably never get my emails, that some assistant will check off the box to delete them, or they will go directly into a spam folder. But on the off chance that my voice will make a difference, that my voice may make the difference between “just a few” to “many”…I am going to write. I will post my letters, so that you can read them (or steal them if you want! Just copy and paste!) in the page “Letters to President Obama”.

And as for the State of the Oceans? One thing is clear…waiting for response from our leaders may mean waiting forever. While the Tar Sands is seemingly a separate issue, the carbon it will put in the air will tip our oceans over into death. The seas can’t absorb anymore carbon, that much we know. Sometimes paying attention to all these issues feels like running around and putting out fires, just to have another one spring up at your feet. I am keeping my focus on the broader picture…that of the absolute necessity of creating a sustainable future…and also picking my battles. In the next two weeks, I stand in solidarity with the demonstrators in Washington.

More Info:

NY Times Editorial from August 22, 2011.

Article by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders

A climate scientist puts his butt on the line.


28 thoughts on “Tar Sands

  1. I have to admit, I’m a little scared. Okay. A lot scared. Oh my gosh, this cannot happen. I’ll be writing and passing this on, Mary.

    Why aren’t people with sense in charge…?

  2. the newest issue of the sun has an interview, the first article you know is always an interview, with this guy who is talking on climate change. and boy is he practical and fucking scary with his numbers, like it’s all over in 30 years. olive will be my age! i feel i could die. help somebody. aliens?? seriously. underground magic?? i tried to link to it, but i guess it’s not available on line yet. you would like it. i think. buy it if you see it. i can’t remember the guy’s name now. maybe i’ll mail it to you.

  3. I’m sure you don’t mean it this way, but the title of your post is really offputting to me. ‘Tar baby’ is a pretty racist slur in some places (not sure about the USA, but in NZ and sometimes in Aus).

    1. It’s considered a racist statement here in the US as well, however, given the context of what Mary has written it could be a simple forgotten comma after the first word that gives you that impression. There is another possibility. The title could put the anti-racist crowd in a frenzy and if the main stream news media were to pick up on it and broadcast her post it would cause people to come here and read it broadening her reader base and informing more people of what is actually going on vs what they’re being fed by said news media. Sometimes slip-ups CAN do a great deal of good.

    2. Nix and Walter, I am aware that “tar baby” is sometimes used as a derogatory term in america towards african americans, but i have actually never heard it used that way…i live in a racially mixed neighborhood, and i have heard all kinds of slurs, but “tar baby” is not one of them. (nix, i realize it is more common in NZ in reference to maoris?) i am referencing the mythology of brer rabbit, and his encounter with the tar baby…rabbit is initially fooled, thinking that the tar baby could be a friend…the more he makes contact with it, the more problematic it becomes. random house’s first definition of tar baby is “tar baby” refers to any “sticky situation” that is only aggravated by additional contact.”. both my understanding, and the traditional definition, speaks to this specific issue…on the surface, a seemingly good solution to dependence on foreign oil. but just touch it, and it doesn’t take long for the real nature of the problem to be understood, it’s consequences ensnaring. for this reason, plus its connection to american cultural history and for the play on words, i have chosen it as the title.

      in the interest of not being a butt-hole, i’ll put in the comma as walter suggests.

      1. and actually, after second thought, i have decided just to change the title. this issue is important and i don’t want to distract from it with a problematic title.

      2. thanks for the further information/clarification – i had only ever heard ‘tar baby’ used as a slur, so it’s interesting to get a bit more background. i can see where you’re coming from. thanks for changing the title, though – i think you’re right that it distracts from the issue you’re discussing (at least for me).

      3. FYI, this was just discussed on Countdown with Keith Olbermann tonight on Current TV. Bill McKibben was interviewed by Keith and gave a powerful message to the cause. It will repeat tomorrow at 9AM and 12PM if you want to see Keith’s take on this issue. You can go the Current TV’s website to find the channel it’s on, (107 if you have Comcast like I do) , in SF.

  4. Eaarth, by Bill McKibben is a depressing, but also educating read about the other things we can do to decrease our dependancy on oil. Grassroots, baby! It’s worth a peek. He is a great voice for our time…even if a lot of people aren’t listening.

    I am from Canada (Ontario) and I find the governments lack of concern about the oil sands disgusting. It’s devastating that they consider this method of extraction legit. Especially when we have the knowledge and resources to make great changes.

    National Geographic did a pretty good job of exposing it for what it is here,


    And just a little while ago a huge leak happened in Alberta on one of the pipelines and it was barely, barely reported on.


    It’s a sad situation. *sigh*

  5. Everytime I come here, you catch me with something. Hubby and I have been sporadically following coverage on two big environmental topics, one of which is the Proposed Pebble Mine and the other the Tar Sands. Ever since reading about the extraction practises at the Tar Sands in Mother Jones a few years ago, I’ve been thoroughly appalled by the Canadian government and when NG ran an article on the proposed pipeline a few months ago, I swear I damn near fainted. I mean, how short-sighted can we, the human animal really be?

    Just like you, I’ve been going trough a paradigm shift in the last year, and though somewhat pessimistic about the continued existence of our way of life as we know it, or even our planet as we know it, I believe it’s absolutely important to what you’ve done, to speak up, spread the word, do the right thing. This pertains, in mind especially to things that have a massive impact on the biosphere, because no matter how hopeless I feel about our race I think that it is of utmost importance that we focus on maintaining as much of the current diversity and remaining pristine nature as we can.

    I feel so grateful to be part of this loose, mycelial network of folk coming to the same realizations and wanting to fight, however gently for what we have. Far from being a anxiety-ridden guilt-trip, these posts are actually very empowering. Thank you.

    1. milla, you summed up my feelings so succinctly, that i don’t have much to add. what i CAN say is that also like you, it is connection to others who also FEEL and CARE and want to fight, want to support, want to raise their voices that keeps me going. rather than feeling more despondent, joining with others not only feels empowering, but it’s also FUN. in a world where so many of us feel disconnected and yearn for deeper relationships, the secret that maybe the environmental movement should capitalize on is that rather than being a sacrifice, activism can fulfill us in a way we could never dream. thank you for your encouragement, your willingness to hear what i have to say and your presence. your loving light always brightens my day. xo

    1. is brand the one interviewed in the sun?

      he’s a very interesting guy, a very smart guy. but i definitely don’t agree with him, and he contradicts himself a lot….seems to be very intellectual…in his head. he lost me at “there’s no rational basis for the fear” that nuclear power can kill us all. the more i research it, the more rational i get, and my own concern re: nuclear is that the waste it produces, that it already HAS produced, is what is going to really fuck us over. but his point of view is refreshing. honestly, i do hope that he’s right and i’m wrong!

      1. yes. i just finished his article in the sun this morning. i want you to read it. so so against the mainstream of common liberal thinking, but very appealing in ways, you know? he is optimistic and smart, and making me question a lot i never thought to question before.

  6. I’ve been a long time follower of your blog, and this post has finally inspired me to climb out of lurker mode, and comment. I lived most of my life in Alberta, and I have actually been to the Athabasca Tar Sands, and everyone, everywhere should vehemently protest this environmental rape.

    As one drives north of Fort McMurray, it isn’t long before you come upon the wasteland that is the Tar Sands operation (google map Fort McMurray in satellite view, and then scroll north until you see Tar Island and Mildred Lake). It is like being on the moon. There is just nothing wild or natural left. I was appalled and sickened when I drove through there 15 years ago, and I am even more appalled and sickened now.

    We need to be working toward weaning ourselves off our dependence on fossil fuels, not raping the earth in one last ditch attempt to hold on to a society and way of life entirely too dependent on a swiftly depleting energy source.

    1. samantha! i am SO happy that you have come out of the lurker closet! your post is such a treat. thank you so much for adding this first hand vision of the reality on the ground. reading your account, i am sickened as well. i agree with you completely about getting off FF, with the tar sands being such a pathetic junkie maneuver…like an addict combing the rug for crystals. i do hope you’ll continue to comment…your voice and perspective is so important in this conversation. xo

  7. Oh my . This is shaking me down for sure. I am not able to watch the videos until I go home. But until then, I will share on my FB and blog. My hearth hurts. I want to cry..to late, I already am…Thank you again..Kerry theequinebovine.blogspot.com

  8. What frightened me the most was James Hansen’s comment, if this goes through, we’re done, we’ve lost. I immediately jumped on the website and signed the petition, in the hopes that they notice it isn’t just Americans that don’t want this to happen, it’s everyone! Thank you for bringing this to my attention (it hasn’t been covered at all in Australia that I’ve seen)

  9. Mary,
    To be honest, after the “we’re all effed.” post I had to a little break from reading. I think the enormity of what you were saying took my breath away. Not because you were the first to say it, or the thought hasn’t crossed my mind before, but facing anew this truth is like a sledgehammer to the gut. More so now that I have a child. But, I’m back and want to thank you for jarring me out of my apathetic fog to act on the part of the planet, it’s creatures and especially our children. I have been following tar sands and getting the word out and feeling good when I see mainstream press showing some interest. (I thought Bill McKibben did a fine job on the PBS New Hour.)
    Because I know you’d appreciate this (if you haven’t seen,heard or read her before), here is a link to a podcast I think you’ll enjoy. http://ttbook.org/book/diana-beresford-kroeger-power-trees
    and this cool link to someone who has mapped amazing trees around SF
    Keep it up!!!


    1. veronica, i’m so glad you came back to continue reading. i have struggled with the fear of alienating myself by saying those things that are hard to hear, that make others turn away. i shut that part of myself off for years. i just can’t anymore, and, in the case of you and the other dear hearts that visit my little corner of the world, i am so grateful that you are here, listening and sharing. the link to diana kroeger is phenomenal. i really needed something like her today, as i am near to breaking with despair. she is at once uplifting, and also proof why the forests in alberta (and the rest of the world) must not be cut. and i’m excited to start tracking down some of those sf trees! i’ll report back. xo

  10. Mary,
    Glad you enjoyed her. I started reading The Global Forest and it is wonderful. We will go looking for the Black Walnut across from the corner of Oak and Clayton this weekend and see if there’s any green fruit to forage and leaves to rub on my arms :). Might make some nice foraging for food in the coming season too!

    Here’s another I think you will like on enchantment and the like. I’m on a TTBOOK kick this week.

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