Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent

I count myself lucky to have managed to get my hands on this book already. This may be the most important non-fiction book written in Canada this year. Andrew Nikiforuk has shown once again that he is not afraid of the truth, and will report it. Canada's Greg Palast, if you will. He's already won the Governor General’s Award for his writing, and deserves it again.
Andrew Nikiforuk breaks his book down into a history of the oil sands and their development--a history of which we are all too ignorant. In each chapter he details an aspect of the oil sands history and how the exploitation of the sands has proceeded. The book begins with the "Declaration of a Political Emergency"--note, a political emergency, not an environmental one. That the Tar Sands is an environmental emergency is beyond question: alone, the sands account for why the federal government has spent upwards of six billion dollars on trying to reduce the Canadian carbon footprint and has achieved less than nothing (having actually fallen further behind its stated targets each year). But the most important chapter in Tar Sands is Chapter 12: The First Law of Petropolitics. Simply stated, it is this: as the price per barrel of oil rises, the freedoms, transparency, and democratic nature of a society falls. To quote from the book:
Ross examined a number of social and political measurements, such as taxes and military spending, from 113 different sates between 1971 and 1997 and found that a "single standard deviation rise" in oil wealth directly corresponded with a 0.72 drop on a democracy scale.
You don't have to belive any of this. All you have to do is read the suggestions put forward and then look at the Alberta provincial government and (particularly since the election of the Harper Conservatives) progressively the federal government to see the overwhelming linkages between the First Law of Petropolitics and the evidence of our own country's fall into Third World petrostate status. We are already corrupted.
You can see a preview of the book at Google books, and Andrew Nikiforuk's website contains a wealth of supplementary information. This doesn't do justice to the importance and readability of this major book. Go get it. Read it. Get really angry. And then DO SOMETHING.

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