Greenpeace International's Executive Director, Kumi Naidoo, recently visited the tar sands of Northern Alberta, Canada. The tar sands are one of the largest remaining deposits of oil in the world. Developing the tar sands has created the biggest industrial development project, the biggest capital investment project, and the biggest energy project in the world. It has also created a hell on earth as areas of wilderness the size of small countries are chewed up and replaced by a landscape of toxic lakes, open pit mines, refineries, and pipe lines.
The Alberta tar sands place an entire generation on the wrong side of history. At a time when the solutions to averting catastrophic climate change are all around us, Canada and multinational oil companies are recklessly promoting a dirty oil that only exacerbates the problem.
This is what drew me to Fort McMurray; I wanted to see first-hand Canada's fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions and the environmental destruction it has wrought. I wanted to speak to the people who are on the front line of the struggle to stop the reckless development and wanton destruction of Canada's magnificent Boreal Forest.
I had, of course, read about the tar sands long before my arrival. I was told it looked like the moon; that giant swaths of forest had been leveled only to be replaced with vast toxic lakes of chemicals or churning black pits of bitumen and industry. "Mordor" someone called it, in reference to the wasteland in "Lord of the Rings."[...]
I came away deeply affected, and extremely disturbed. Not only did I witness environmental devastation on a scale I had yet to encounter, I was acutely aware that I was hearing about a series of human rights violations and injustices that reminded me of my own experiences of Apartheid growing up in South Africa.
During Apartheid, the government did not act in the interests of all its citizens. Here in Canada, it appears the rights and health of First Nations peoples are also being violated and ignored. Whether it be "leasing" the surrounding environment of this community to multinational oil companies without proper consultation, or willfully turning a blind eye to the elevated rates of cancer in the community, there is a clear abandonment of responsibility on the part of the Canadian government.
As an activist, I asked myself how we can "Stop the Tar Sands." I believe the answer begins with coming to terms with our addiction to oil. Whether we see it with our own eyes or not, we must acknowledge the injustices and impacts that happen as a result of developing the tar sands. With this knowledge comes the clarity or responsibility to act with authority.