Amelia’s Magazine | Dirty Oil: Marina Pepper reviews the new film about the horror of the Canadian Tar Sands

Illustration by Daniel Almeroth.
Illustration by Daniel Almeroth.

Back in the days when climate change was a vague notion – something for the 22nd century, order a problematical J curve for academics to ponder over – I thought nothing of hopping on a short haul from LA to Las Vegas, online hiring a chevvy and heading out towards Monument Valley, decease cool desert and home of the Navaho. On the way I  would pass the Grand Canyon, a journey that forced me to redefine my concept of size. For this thing, this hole in the ground was absolutely gi-fucking-normous. It just kept on going.  No matter how long you drove, you came round a bend and there it was. Still. So huge was this new huge I even had to redefine my sense of how big infinite space might actually be. At the time is was as mind blowing as taking acid. It changed me forever.

Now I’m not saying the film Dirty Oil has changed me forever. But it has affected my mood. For now I discover a bigger huge. Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada. It is – or was – the biggest unspoilt forest in the world.  But just underground it’s the second biggest oil reserve in the world after Saudi Arabia. It’s bigger than Florida. Bigger than England. And it is the single biggest emitter of climate change gases in the world. If the oil industry gets the $379 billion investment it’s demanding we’ll get a rise of between 9 and 15 billion parts per million of C02 in the atmosphere. And you know what that means? It means the tipping point of runaway climate change. It can do this all on its own without any help from us leaving lights on or driving short journeys to Tesco.

Illustration by Daniel Almeroth.
Illustration by Daniel Almeroth.

This film though isn’t content to be another film about climate change. It brings you the human story of the Beaver Lake Kree – who are having their ancestral lands torn up, their rivers and lakes polluted and their health destroyed. Thanks to the arsenic in their fishstocks, the Kree are 30 % more likely to get cancer, including rare ones,  than other populations. And why are they subjected to this? So that America gets cheap oil without having to bully – er bother –  the Arabs for a decade. That’s it. A decade of cheapish growth. I could weep – except the film left me emotionally stunned. The problem here is capitalism. An unadulterated free market economy where the bottom line profit – the false prophet indeed – over rides all other considerations, including the survival of life on this planet itself, spews  unchecked in Alberta. It’s not just a local pollution issue, it’s a global one. The Co-op, which hosted this week’s screenings across the UK, wants us all to petition companies like RBS and BP through our pension plans. But is that enough? Is it even worth having a pension when the future is governed by this ginormous scrag-heap of crap? “It’s time to start blowing things up,” says a comrade as we leave the cinema a little stunned. “How big?” I jest.

But there is a minute sliver of hope here. They don’t raise this in the film, but it was the Cree Indians who predicted that a time would come when we discovered that we can’t eat our money. I think we’re getting there. And a Cree woman called Eyes of Fire fortold: “A time when trees fall, the rivers are black, fish die in the rivers and birds fall from the sky…

“And when it does a tribe will gather from all the cultures ?of the World who believe in deed and not words. ?They will work to heal it…  they will be known as the “Warriors of the Rainbow.”
Cree Indian Proverb

I assume that’s us. For anyone calling themselves an activist – if we don’t get together and stop Tar Sands, while forcefully overcoming ignorance to promote alternative ways of running economies and energy supplies, we’re doomed. And doomed is just too huge a deal to imagine.

You can read our preview here and find out where to see the film over the next few weeks here.

Categories ,Alberta, ,BP, ,canada, ,coal, ,Cree Indian Proverb, ,Daniel Almeroth, ,Grand Canyon, ,Indian Proverb, ,Las Vegas, ,Los Angeles, ,Monument Valley, ,oil, ,Oil Sands, ,RBS, ,Tar Sands

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