Lord of the Tar Sands

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In The Lord of the Rings, it's the hobbits - quiet, unassuming, unambitious people who love all things green and want nothing from the outside world but to be left in peace to cultivate their gardens and enjoy each others' company over a basket of mushrooms and a pint or five at the local pub - who carry the One Ring into the heart of the dark, stony, volcanic, lifeless kingdom of Mordor and bring about the downfall of Sauron, the essence of evil.


The Lord of the Rings movies feature the environmental theme very prominently, as cast member Dominic Monaghan points out in the special features of The Two Towers. The evildoers have no regard for the land. Saruman, the corrupted wizard, wantonly rips down forests to fuel his pseudo-industrial works and feed his lust for power. He's defeated by the Ents - an army of walking trees, roused to action by the malicious destruction of greenery.


A picture comparing Mordor to the Alberta tar sands has been circulating the Facebook-o-sphere. Rumors that the tar sands were being considered for location filming as Mordor for the upcoming movies of The Hobbit have turned out to be part of a hoax put on by Toronto activists. But in 2008 the UN water advisor did indeed likened the tar sands to Mordor.

mordor and the tar sands


Canadians are like hobbits: peaceful, outdoorsy, modest, never starting wars, not wanting anything from the world but to be left in peace to enjoy each others' company over a box of Tim-bits and a can Stephen Harper with a kittenof beer or five while the game's on.


Canadians have elected and now reelected a conservative prime minister who hails from the province of the tar sands, and is determined to maximize their development. He's trying to sell the oil to China and plans to run a pipeline through BC forests and coast, now that Obama has kiboshed the SauronKeystone pipeline. He told the press his meetings with Chinese officals were "very successful." His mild smile and dead shark eyes reveal as much humanity as Sauron's helmet.


Oh come on. It's just oil. What's the worst that could happen?


How about this: oblivion.


NASA's chief scientist James Hanson said that if the tar sands continue to be developed at the rate they are, it's game over for the planet. That's a direct quote: game over. He was willing to be arrested, protesting the Keystone pipeline in front of the Whitehouse.


alberta tar sandsSo in the fictional world, hobbits save Middle Earth from the tyranny of Mordor. In the real world, hobbits have created Mordor, and are actively fuelling its expansion and planetary impact.


And even if an intrepid band of adventurers from various nations sets off on a quest to throw some symbolically powerful object - one of Gretzky's Stanley Cup rings, perhaps - into a roiling pit of bubbling oil in the heart of Northern Alberta, it may be too late already.


And so ends this age, thanks to the most unlikely people imaginable. For the time shall soon come when Canadians will shape the fortunes of all…

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  • Comment Link David MacLeod Tuesday, 14 February 2012 19:53 posted by David MacLeod

    Thanks for this piece TJ!

    Once again the Keystone pipeline is rearing its head, and environmental advocacy groups are sending out urgent emails, such as the following from 350.org.

    "This is urgently important.

    Canada is being destroyed --it looks like Tolkein's Mordor-- by the tar sands oil project. Natives are dying from toxic runoff, endangered species are dying, and a chunk of pristine forest the size of florida has been leveled and strip mined. Oh, and it takes 2/3 of a barrel of oil and 200 gallons of fresh water to make one barrel of tar sand oil.

    The US Senate is expected to vote on this issue, which Obama has blocked, very soon. PLEASE SIGN AND PASS THIS ON!"


  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Tuesday, 14 February 2012 22:03 posted by TJ Dawe

    I agree, the Keystone pipeline must be stopped. And if signing a petition will help, we should all take fifteen seconds and get typing.

    I had a friend post notice of this on my Facebook wall this morning, and I've signed the petition, and tweeted it and shared it. Thanks for spreading the word here, David. The forces of evil (justifying their actions with profits, jobs and slick PR) will spread black choking death to the world if good people stand by and do nothing.

  • Comment Link Ned Wednesday, 15 February 2012 21:59 posted by Ned

    Is the solution to throw the ring of invisibility into the volcano?

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Thursday, 16 February 2012 05:01 posted by TJ Dawe

    I would love it if the solution was that symbolic and simple and direct. Legislative action, participatory citizenship, voting, educating oneself and others about the issues, building infrastructure for sustainable energy practices - none of these are the stuff of epic literature and film, nor are the slow gains they achieve. But that's the world we actually live in.

  • Comment Link John Thursday, 16 February 2012 05:16 posted by John

    What is interesting about this drama (of the death-saturated kingdom of Mordor) is that many of the supporters of business as usual, ratcheted up for forever and a day, are right-wing Christians who otherwise wax lyrical about the work and vision of Tolkien.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Thursday, 16 February 2012 05:25 posted by TJ Dawe

    very interesting point. a brilliant illustration of how people can be selectively blinded when their livelihood is at stake.

    Also an illustration of developmental psychology. At a certain stage, the interpretation is that God gave man the earth to do with it as we pleased. As Ann Coulter put it:

    "The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man's dominion over the Earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet — it's yours. That's our job: drilling, mining and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-Biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars — that's the Biblical view."

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Monday, 12 March 2012 18:14 posted by Amy Jean Cousins


    No-Tanker Rally in Vancouver
    March 26th

    More info from Sierra Club on Tar Sands, and Vancouver oil traffic.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Sunday, 18 March 2012 03:55 posted by David MacLeod

    Putting the Tar Sands in context...here's an excellent article by Michael Klare on The "Tough Oil" Era we have now entered.

    "The simple truth of the matter is this: most of the world’s easy reserves have already been depleted -- except for those in war-torn countries like Iraq. Virtually all of the oil that’s left is contained in harder-to-reach, tougher reserves. These include deep-offshore oil, Arctic oil, and shale oil, along with Canadian “oil sands” -- which are not composed of oil at all, but of mud, sand, and tar-like bitumen. So-called unconventional reserves of these types can be exploited, but often at a staggering price, not just in dollars but also in damage to the environment.

    ...And don’t forget the final cost: If all these barrels of oil and oil-like substances are truly produced from the least inviting of places on this planet, then for decades to come we will continue to massively burn fossil fuels, creating ever more greenhouse gases as if there were no tomorrow. And here’s the sad truth: if we proceed down the tough-oil path instead of investing as massively in alternative energies, we may foreclose any hope of averting the most catastrophic consequences of a hotter and more turbulent planet.

    So yes, there is oil out there. But no, it won’t get cheaper, no matter how much there is. And yes, the oil companies can get it, but looked at realistically, who would want it?"

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