Future Landscapes


Exercising my rage gland.

Today's topic: Stupid comments left like brain-droppings all over the comment pages of newspaper (and other) websites.

Do you know what I'm talking about?

Do you know this feeling, this feeling of wanting to scrape all the skin off your own face with uncut fingernails, all because of a series of ill-considered and bone shakingly STUPID comments? 

Do you ever have the sensation of wanting to pitch yourself into a vat of acid, rather than have to endure reading one more know-it-all comment by CleverPants McGee?

When you think that--perhaps--your secondary purpose in life COULD BE to uplift and encourage those around you; and when you think about how much you would like to contribute to the well-being and positive advancement of humanity... do you ever stumble upon these comments and feel it all slipping away?

Case 1: George Poitras of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, implores British companies to stop funding the Alberta Tar Sands.

Having lived in Fort McMurray (where the tar sands are actually located, south of Fort Chip) for near on 9 years total, I like to keep up to date on what's actually going on there. My dad has been, and still is, a man whose career has been ultimately dependant on the mining, drilling, refinement, and production of oil and gas products. I have worked in the oil sands myself, first as administrative help, later as a contract administrator, and finally as a planner, helping the trades understand in exactly what order things need to happen to go along smoothly in order for a refinery to get built (harhar. Smoothly...).

I grew up in Fort Mac. It's a boomtown that hardly has an identity--for most--outside of the oil and gas world. The flow of traffic and money and people are all dependant on one thing: Oil. Namely, the getting of oil from unlikely sources in a variety of environmentally precipitous ways. 

It used to be that no one outside of Fort Mac actually KNEW about Fort Mac. When dad first announced our move up there, it was met by our Edmonton friends with a collective 'huh?' followed by... 'Is that like, in BC?'

That was back in the days when things were booming at a slower pace. 

Then, at some point, Fort Mac bounced onto the collective Alberta consciousness. 

First it was the engineers. They graduated from U of A and U of C, and, while oil headquarters were 'technically' in Calgary, a slow trickle of brain power (if that's the right term for engineers *cough*) were stationed up North. 

Then it was the young guys who heard about high wages for inexperienced trades people. Actually, I think most of these guys were carpenters and electricians who were given an 'extended' contract working on housing for the oil workers, who were slowly moving their families up as they realized that the work wasn't going to be completed (as previously suggested) in 6 months. 

Those guys told their friends that there was so much opportunity for employment and high wages (there had to be SOME incentive to relocate  to this subarctic, 500km north of anywhere, barely serviced oil town...) that the town became known for its population of migrant, temporary workers, mostly unattached men, there to make money and get out. A large portion of these being Newfies, Quebecers, and moochers from Ontario, but that's a different story.

The point is, once it became known for its potentially high wages, people from all over Alberta suddenly had all sorts of opinions on what went on up there, heard from buddies of buddies (everyone knows someone who has worked or is working up there). 

But enough about the city. 

In the collective conscious, I think that somehow everyone knew that something dirty went on up there. Whether it had to do with thousands of men living in awful camps on site, the drug stories which are all pretty much true, the attraction to this dark way of making loads of cash in a very short time, but having nothing really to show for it, or elsewise... people hate Fort Mac. 

But people also love Fort Mac.

Fort Mac is the place that has something to do with almost everyone in Alberta. Cause if Fort Mac shuts down, so does a lot of the growth (economic or otherwise) of the rest of the province. As is always the case, the 'primary industry' of oil is only the tip of the iceberg. There's also the deforestation industry which has to clear out the boreal forest. There's the overburden removal, that is, the stripping of muskeg and topsoil, up to 30 meters down, before business can actually begin. There's the gravel mines, the construction suppliers, the multitudinous secondary industries that accompany any sort of large scale industrial effort.... not to mention the constant demand of housing for new, permanent (ish) workers and the families they were slowly deciding to bring. 

And then there's the administration of all this construction, happening from field offices and warehouses in Edmonton. There's the constant flow of transportation of goods, the relocation of people from other provinces en masse to Alberta. There's the headquarters in Calgary, and everyone is making money. Big money.

Minimum wage, although I think it's something like $9.00/hr 'technically', is often times more like $12 or $14/hr. McDonald's in the Mac has offered up to $25/hr for semi-managerial positions. Waitresses are making $400 in tips on Thursday night. You hardly have to do anything and people are throwing money at you.

Alberta turns out to be a great place to go to university, with comparatively low tuition and high paying part-time jobs in abundance. It has three extremely well rated universities, if you listen to McLeans (which most self-respecting students don't, but you don't become a self-respecting student until you actually GO to university...). There's also 2 well-funded technical colleges.

With all this money around, there's enlargements and expansions of programs and facilities, giving Alberta some pretty competitive campuses. Don't forget about the bursaries and scholarships offered by dad's company.... Syncrude and Suncor have often times paid for people to go to school in programs designed by the industry, so people can be groomed for precisely the work that needs to be done. But the companies also offer lots of scholarships for the dependants of their employees, just to increase loyalty that little bit more.

What I'm trying to establish here is that, no matter where you go in Alberta, and no matter who you work for... or what you study... it is in some way tied to the industry that is driving the economy of the entire province. 

So it's not a small thing to be demanding the closure of this industry.

After all, when Ralph sent out the prosperity cheques, did I send mine back with a 'thanks but no thanks' note on it? Did I complain when sales tax went DOWN a percentage point (the first and only time that has ever happened anywhere in Canada)?

Do I fool myself into thinking that if it wasn't oil, it would have been something else? Do I try to convince myself that the reason I was able to save so much money, and pay for school without student loans for so long, was because of something other than oil?

No. I don't do those things. And I don't regret them.

But at a certain point (and I realize how vague that sounds), when we become aware of a world outside ourselves, and our awareness makes us look at the point we've gotten to and how we got there, and it turns out that all this financial success was riding on a giant wave of oil sand tailings that drives wildlife out of habitat, depletes entire ecosystems, pollutes with proven morphologically toxic chemicals, and has contributed to increased cancer rates.... 

When we finally get that, then do we plug our ears and continue the cash grab cause it's not our problem?

Cause we don't have the ability to do anything about it?

Cause my dad did it, and so did his dad, and I'm gonna do it, and so is my son?

Cause it enables me to have a 62" tru hi def obsolete once off the shelf piece of technology, 3 trucks and 4 homes and allows me to send my kids through however many years of university and exchange programs they feel like doing before settling down in exactly the same job I'm doing with no previous education?

Cause it's good for the economy of the rest of Canada as well and gosh darn, don't we need some pick-me-up in this time of financial crisis?

Cause it would be detrimental to our province's entire way of life and ability to support itself if we didn't have the oil sands?

I'm not making conclusions here, or claiming to have the right answer. It's a complex situation, and demands a complex and thoughtful solution. Obviously I don't want my dad to lose his job, and I don't want my hometown to become a ghost town, and I would love for Alberta to continue giving me the Northern Alberta Student Supplement because I'm pretty poor.

But I would also like for residents to take responsibility for the development and future of the province, and not trust to the government the distribution of licences to exploit wherever they see fit. I would like people to take an interest in what's happening environmentally, and to force companies that have done irretrievable damage to reform their methods and come up with viable rehabilitation plans after their land is mined out. I would like them to take notice of the harmful pollution in the air and water around Fort Mac, even if they live 800km away in Calgary, and I would like them to demand on behalf of their fellow Albertans and the nature they are so 'proud' of, that humans are treated with respect and dignity (hint, this happens when the environment is treated with respect...)

I would like for people to be taken seriously when they question the motives and methods of the current developers of the oil sands, and I think it's important to hold the government responsible when it with-holds information or prevents the public from properly understanding situations that are seriously harmful.

Most of all, I want people to act with decency and humanity, and neither of those things requires lengthy education or mental effort. 

So my question, people. My question is this:

Why is it that so many people find it SO EASY to be the precise opposite of decent? Why is it that people criticize all the wrong things, and are quick to find conspiracies where, at the heart of the matter, they privately perceive there may be personal inconveniences? When something requires the smallest bit of integrity and diplomacy, why do people insist on boorishness and coarseness?

Many of the commentators on the article posted resort to typical rhetorical fallacies in their weak and unconvincing assault on what seems to be ANYTHING but the matter at hand. They can't take an article that, at its heart, is asking people to please re-examine something they have probably never thought twice about, because they perceive it as a personal attack and genuinely feel that something foul is afoot if they are being criticized in any way.

What particularly gets me is this one:

I hope you didn't travel here by any method that involved fossil fuels.

Oh my god, you clever bastard. Case closed. You are so smart by saying that--wow. Really, because none of us are aware that the only way to travel across the ocean is either by tanker or airplane. By implying that George Poitras had to use the very fossil fuel whose production he is trying to stop, you are just so ironic it hurts! Let's not let a little thing like the welfare of diminishing plant and animal life, and the increase in cancer rates, get in the way of these knee-slapping tidbits. Ever. 

To be honest, I didn't expect Case 1 to go on this long, and I was next planning a verbose epic finale on the whole matter of 'if you don't like [x], why don't you just [shut up/leave/get lost/go home/stop looking/go die]' But I'll put that on the list of lengthy topics to be disserted upon next time I'm in the ranty mood.