Friday, February 18, 2011

Alberta Tar Sands (Guest Blog)

Guest blog by Dr. John Blewitt

The tar sands development in Alberta, Canada, is highly controversial and clearly very destructive of the environment. Boreal forest land is being clearcut in order to apply an industrial process that will extract bitumen from oil and so make countless millions of dollars for the oil companies, offer useful tax revenue to the Canadian authorities and satisfy our relentlessly consumerist society with what it needs to sustain its unsustainable ways of living and working – oil. The social, economic and political consequences of the industrial processes being operated are clearly evident in two recent films: Dirty Oil directed by Leslie Iwerks and Petroplis directed by Peter Mettler from Greenpeace Canada. Both films have been made available on DVD by Dogwoof.

At issue in both of these excellent if disturbing films is the nature of the dominant economic system (capitalism) which requires constant growth to survive and the willingness or otherwise of governments and corporations to act in a socially and ecologically responsible manner. There are huge question marks here that are not adequately answered by the coverage the tar sands development generally gets in the mainstream media. The really big ones are about the nature of the corporate and capitalist systems remain largely unasked although a great deal of indisputable evidence about the adverse ecological, social, economic, social and health effects of the development has been presented by Greenpeace Canada and indeed in the two movies mentioned above.

In looking at these films, particularly Petropolis, it seems to me if it is possible for capitalism to be green it, and for that matter all of us, must abandon its addiction to oil. There are renewable technologies available. We dont have to produce and consume so much. It doesn’t make us happier or healthier. So why do it? Why can’t we stop? If we don’t then it is quite likely that ecological destruction, climate change and so on will, to continue the narcotics metaphor, force us to go ‘cold turkey’. Perhaps it would be better for us to go into cultural and economic rehab now before that other possibility becomes an inevitability.

About the blogger

John Blewitt is Director of Lifelong Learning at Aston University (United Kingdom). He is responsible for leading the Lifelong Learning Network Consortium in Sustainable Communities, Urban Regeneration and Environmental Technologies and is co-leader of the MSc Social Responsibility and Sustainability. He is a member of the IUCN Commission on Communication and Education. Recent books include: Understanding Sustainable Development (Earthscan, 2008), and Media, Ecology and Conservation (Green Books, 2010).