Deck Chair Rearranging on the Titanic

alberta-tar-sands Resized.jpg

The headline refers to the futility of taking meaningless steps in the face of an impending catastrophe. Much of what goes for "greening" could be described in this way. But this one takes the cake.

"Fort McMurray launches plastic bag ban" is the headline of an article in the Edmonton (CANADA) Journal. Sounds great? Yes, this is a good idea, but it pales when one realizes that Fort McMurray is the center of the Alberta tar sands project. The ban is but a minuscule effort that will reduce damage to the environment by virtually zero compared to the effects of the oil project, one that has been called the most destructive project on earth. Perhaps some exaggeration here as the appellation was given by the Canadian environmental advocacy organization, Environmental Defence, but the point still holds.

Perhaps some might argue that the ban is a symbolic act signaling local opposition to the project. The background given in the news about the ban indicates it was primarily designed to assist Fort McMurray to meet a previously set landfill waste reduction goal for 2012. For me and many others, it is a symbolic act, conveying the failure to understand the Earth system and the denial that economic promises produce. The project is a boon to a formerly relative poor part of Canada. The economic value of the project is huge says an article I found on the web, but whose source is obscure, obviously a supporter.

The Alberta tar sands, more formally known as the Athabasca tar sands, are an invaluable resource to the Canadian people are must be free of environmental restriction. These tar sands are processed for oil, which is sold, traded, used and bought from people all around the earth. These tar sands have transformed a have-not province, to one of the richest in the country, provided hundreds of thousands of jobs, made immense profits and should be allowed to continue without environmental restrictions.

This is just one of many similar situations when an action to do something "good" for the Earth and its inhabitants comes in the midst of a much larger set of problems and needs for action that are out of sight and out of the mind of the actors. Most of business greening efforts fall into this category. Green consumers almost universally fall into this bin. The actions are always touted as doing something positive, but the benefits are not large enough to offset the ultimate damage wreaked by ignoring the real cause. The Titanic did sink after all.

A tip of the hat to Anders Hayden, who pointed out the newspaper article. Anders in a member of SCORAI, a network of researchers, advocates, and academics in North America, working under the rubric of sustainable consumption

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3 Comments

Troy said:

That is my article I wrote two years ago you quoted. Interesting, never thought anyone would read it

Nora said:

I am an industrial ecology masters student (NL) and had a similar reaction to what you write here when I found out that the (tar sand) industrial complex called Alberta's Industrial Heartland is "using an eco-industrial philosophy, reflecting the interests of the community, industry, and environment." [from homepage, welcome]

I stumbled across this while looking for a case study for an assignment concerning eco-industrial parks (EIPs) and IE, as Alberta's Heartland has been mentioned in a couple of IE publications (as an example of an EIP development, without noting that the overall 'sustainability' of the project is unlikely to really be affected). I was surprised (and sad) to see that probably the largest scale application of IE principles could be on such a project. They do seem to 'market' themselves as an EIP, and therefore it could result in some not-so-nice reputation for IE, as well as the design principles themselves contributing to the financial profitability of the complex (as opposed to sustainability).

Few links can be found on the EIPwiki that was built as part of this course (knock out criteria -> (details) -> show):
http://ie.tudelft.nl/ie/index.php/Alberta%27s_Industrial_Hearland
Complex homepage: http://www.industrialheartland.com/

I would really be interested in your reaction to this.

John Ehrenfeld Author Profile Page said:

Credit for the article goes to Troy Stubbs.