Biased, One-sided and Some Pro-Capitalists May Even Call It Ignorant
By Jordano Aguzzi
Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent
Revised and Updated Edition
Andrew Nikiforuk's Tar Sands is a plea as much as it is a non-fiction tale of greed, environmental woes, and bitumen. It tells the dirty history and progression of Alberta's bituminous tar sands and the reluctance of its crude and expensive megaproject. Nikiforuk writes in a factual tone for an open audience, though has an obvious anti-corporate bias. At times, it feels like Nikiforuk isn't telling a story as much as he is spewing paragraph after paragraph of facts. Thankfully, these facts are worth knowing about, and shed light on the thesis of Tar Sands: bitumen extraction is not only and acceptation of capital gain over human health, but it is also morally contemptible and must be changed today.
Nikiforuk is a journalist with background in economics and the environment. Throughout The Tar Sands, he sends his message across by explaining where the heart of the problem lies. Right from the prelude, the intent is clear: he has an axe to grind. Early on in the book, he explains how the tar sands are only being developed at this point because of the pure desperation for oil in North America. For the past century, they have been overwhelmingly ignored. This strange shift is explained in chapter 2, "It Ain't Oil." Nikiforuk discusses the great risks of extracting bitumen in relation to the extraction of natural oil. As he states, bitumen is "a damned expensive substitute for light oil" (12) and is like "burning Picasso for heat" (16).
Later on, major issues discussed and originating from the Alberta tar sands are those of excess water, health and the environment. The emphasis placed on pure capital gain undermines one of Canada's richest resources, water, at the stake of health of Albertans. Obviously, the cancer and diseases of Albertans are an extremely dangerous consequence that is hidden in the shadows. The later chapters of the book deal more with the economic side of "petropolitics" and he finally concludes The Tar Sands on a note of negativity, proclaiming the "tar age" ahead, and Canada being at the helm of its power.
Nikiforuk doesn't tell a story as much as he spews biased
facts and anti-oil adjective-laden ("corrupt" "immoral") statements about the
bitumen problem in Canada. He doesn't offer both sides of the story. The tone
is obvious, but oblivious to pacing. Every paragraph repeats the same intent.
Not that the intent is wrong. Bitumen, of course, is dirty and capitalized
immorally. Where Nikiforuk spends time on anti-corporate facts, he does not spend
enough time assessing the desperate situation of the economy, and therefore the
book can be seen as biased, one-sided and some pro-capitalists may even call it
Rather than taking it as a universal work, what ensues is a call to action to the readers who would be interested in the environment. Because of his leftist and anti-corporate position, and the less apparent publication of the book by the "David Suzuki Foundation," The Tar Sands' intended audience can range from the environmentally conscious reader to the average individual. Elizabeth Kolbert, author of climate change related books such as Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change, sees the positive of the book: "Andrew Nikiforuk reveals the true costs of America's oil addiction. Tar Sands tells an important story with passion and wit." Her review can be seen as a case in point, the people who will be interested in this book will be those who already have an interest in the environment.
Unfortunately, though the topic of Nikiforuk's book is obviously compelling, he does not write it in a compelling way. He takes too much for granted as an anti-corporate, pro-green bias, and does not assess both sides of the story. That being said, for those who already agree with Nikiforuk's point of view and do not need any more convincing, The Tar Sands acts as a powerful call to action for those who need it. The book proves that the claim to change the way people see environmental politics is a difficult one, and needs a more coherent "plot" for the lack of a better term.