Toxic Tar Sands Cooking Our Planet

On February 24, 2018, the mercury at the Cape Morris Jesup weather station, northern Greenland, soared to 43 degrees (F), 70 degrees above normal – unprecedented. During that month, temperatures in northern Greenland were above freezing for 61 hours, three times the number of hours in any previous year. Terrifying. Our planetary life support systems are rapidly overheating, deteriorating, dying, and dead.

Emaciated Polar Bear
Photo credit: photographer Kerstin Langenberger
As the Arctic melts, the incidence of starving polars will escalate quickly. How much longer will people turn a blind eye to the death of animals and plants as Earth’s rising temperature accelerates from burning fossil fuels?

The Arctic is warming twice as quickly as any other region on the globe. For example, the Arctic has just experienced its warmest winter on record. February Arctic sea ice cover was 521,000 square miles (almost twice the area of Texas) below its normal – the lowest monthly record ever witnessed. At the South Pole, the summer Antarctic sea ice cover reached its minimum extent, the second lowest since the inception of satellite data.

The missing Arctic sea ice and the heat escaping from the Arctic Ocean into the atmosphere is unhinging the polar jet stream. It’s linked to record-breaking flooding, firestorms, heatwaves, droughts, torrential rains, blizzards and even China’s airpocalypse.

Burning fossil fuels has infused over 300 zettajoules of heat into the oceans. The oceans drive Earth’s climate. The more fossil fuels burned, the faster our only home cooks to death. Already, some ancient forests on all continents are dead from this heat. The Amazon jungle and other tropical rainforests now contribute more CO2 (from dead decomposing trees) than they are absorbing. Unprecedented. We need those ancient trees alive, absorbing and storing CO2 and providing us with more than one of every three breathes of oxygen. No trees, no humans.

Instead of the G-20 nations leading the charge to reduce fossil fuel emissions, they are seismic blasting the oceans, drilling, refining, pumping, hauling and combusting more climate-damaging greenhouse gases, which in turn, is thawing the Arctic and its soils and releasing mega amounts of nitrous oxide (300 times more effective at trapping heat than CO2).

From outer space, one of the most conspicuous human-created scars on our planet is Alberta, Canada’s tar sands. In order to process its gooey bitumen it has generated 340 billion gallons (or 514,816 Olympic swimming pools) of cancer-causing toxicity stored in hundreds of man-made lakes. Each day, at least 2.9 million gallons (or 4.4 Olympic swimming pools) of heinous poisons seep into the MacKenzie River (the second largest river basin in North America) contaminating 4.2 percent of Earth’s freshwater, which drains into the Arctic Ocean. It is a crime against every child’s birthright – potable freshwater, the lifeblood of our planet.

Alberta Tar Pits
Photo credit:
Every second day, open tar sand mines in northern Alberta handle enough dirt to fill the Dallas Cowboy Stadium

In 2012, climatologist Dr James Hansen, of Columbia University, warned that:

refining and burning the tar sands oil deposit along with the other fossil fuel reserves will, leave our children a climate system that is out of their control.

Already, ferocious hurricanes (2017) in America, hellacious Christmas firestorms in California, starvation across east Africa, a gripping drought imperiling every denizen of Cape Town, South Africa and coral bleaching again in northern Australia are becoming more frequent and more severe. Incidentally, 2017 was a record year for insurance payouts from extreme climate catastrophes: $135 billion.

Instead of reducing the tar sands output, Canada’s naïve Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently signed off on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline. If constructed it will enable 895,000 barrels of Alberta tar sands oil to flow daily into the port of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Thirty-four oil supertankers a month will enter and exit. The noise alone from these humungous supertanker propellers’ will drown-out the remaining critically endangered Southern Resident orca pods, driving them to extinction. At this very moment, intrepid warriors are protesting that pipeline and the legality of its construction.

Trans Mountain Pipeline Protest
Photo credit:
Last weekend, 19 citizens were arrested in Vancouver, British Columbia, for impeding planet-killers from destroying the ancient forests to make room for the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

In the meantime, since the price of oil per barrel has surpassed $60, oil is pouring forth from the tar sands as Canada exports 3.3 million barrels daily south into the U.S., mostly via pipelines. Canada’s rail-lines are moving at least 150,000 barrels a day and are forecasted to carry 390,000 daily barrels by 2019. In the event that the Trans Mountain Pipeline is scrapped, those rail-lines could move up to 1.2 million barrels a day.

Business as usual, extracting, refining and burning more tar sands bitumen and other fossil fuel reserves in the face of all the scientific studies and thousands of scientists urging society to reduce fossil fuel emissions immediately, is utter madness!

We have a zero-combustion blueprint for at least 139 countries and soon for every nation. The cost of defraying this global World War III-like industrial mobilization could easily be defrayed by redirecting the $5.3 trillion fossil fuel subsidies, annually, into this life-saving planetary intervention.

There are vast areas on land and under the sea that are dead from heatwaves. We must protect the remaining living pockets of Nature and our life support systems by forging forward, embracing technology, reducing consumption and a zero-combustion global economy as soon as possible.


Dr Reese Halter is a treehugger, storyteller, award-winning broadcaster, distinguished conservation biologist and author.

Dr Reese Halter’s latest book is
Save Nature Now  

Tweet @RelentlessReese

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