Written 27 July 2010
Sixteen hundred ducks flew over the Canadian sky in the annual migration to their mating grounds, guided by genetic compasses, as they had for millennia. Instead of cool, dark forest as far as the bird’s eye view could see, smokestacks pumping out heavy black fumes and tangles of pipelines carrying modern day alchemy stretch for miles. You see, the earthmovers had discovered a way to turn tar into gold.
Where once had grown the one of the richest ecosystems on the planet, now refineries and boom towns and pit mines have taken hold like any other invasive species. That’s right, the tar sands are the Asian carp of Canada. And despite our best efforts, they show now signs of going away. Fifteen years of reckless and drunken expansion have led to the most destructive project on the face of the planet. And, you know what the world for unrestricted growth is? Cancer.
But to the ducks winging their way home, they only saw a choice between landing on pit mines and machinery or those large, still lakes that stretch for miles. Kind of a no-brainer for these birdbrains. But as they settled to rest and feed, the water began to burn their bodies, the thick oily scum on the surface gummed up their wings and eventually dragged them under. Those sixteen hundred birds never flew again.
Two years later, a judge declared that Syncrude was the culprit and the toxic tailings the instrument of this avian annihilation. The cause for celebration was that the corrupting influence of tar sands finally failed to evade environmental responsibility. But what restitution came from the case? Not to clean up the sludge lakes. Not to find a way to eliminate the waste. No, Syncrude must simply erect scarecrows and airhorns to scare ducks away.
The tragedy is that there is no one to scare the greedy earthmovers from their addiction to black gold.