The Patch: The People, Pipelines and Politics of the Oil Sands

Let’s just get this out of the way. I don’t support the oil sands. I do drive a car. I am, as Chris Turner points out, complicit in an industry that is destroying our environment.

The Patch: The People, Pipelines and Politics of the Oil Sands was a hard book for me to read. Partially, because I find heavy industry super dull, and partly because I was forced to consider my personal role in the ongoing devastation of the Canadian boreal forest and the environment. And I agree: I’m not really helping the situation.

The thing is, I truly I want better options. I want systematic, world-wide, government and business lead initiatives that force us to do better and give us the options to do better. Not a single person can do enough on their own. (Everyone can do something). I hate the fear mongering that people spit out when anyone begins to hint that maybe the Patch isn’t good for Canada. The rhetoric goes: the country will go bankrupt, good people will be out of jobs and families will starve and everything will be TERRIBLE. I’m not a social scientist, but I bet there are major cost savings and financial opportunities in retraining and redirecting the Patch workforce.

The world is not going to end if the Patch does. It will end, however, if we don’t get a grip on climate change, to which the Patch is a major contributor.

To get back to Turner’s book: he avoids pointing fingers, but he does seem more sympathetic to a world without oil. But he says: when people say they need jobs and the Patch provides them, they’re not wrong. That’s always been the problem: an argument for both sides, for and against, as far as the Patch goes. People pick one side or the other and dig their heels in. I’m okay with no Patch. My sister, an entrenched Albertan, thinks I’m an idiot. She drives a Hummer. I am inches away from abandoning a car entirely. We cannot, and do not, agree on this subject.

Canada can be more than oil and resources but Canada hasn’t been good at it. We’re stuck in our ways.

Writes Turner: “The idea of nature as a storehouse to feed human needs and a treasure trove to feed human ambitions was a pillar of Western civilization. If not for fur and fish and logs, gold and wheat and nickel and uranium and oil—if not for commodities, why would anyone have established a colony or founded a nation here?”

This is a hard mentality to shake. I’m look at you baby boomers. But it’s time to shake it off. Maybe if we do, we’ll then move on to not treating people like commodities too. Turner argues that Canada has tried to be both custodial and exploitative about its resources.

“Canada has always tried to have it both ways. The tension between the two understandings—the presumption of balance—snapped under the pressure of the Patch’s long boom.”

It’s not a flattering picture.

Chris Turner was at Events 2 (Never Too Late … Is It?) and 11 (The Oil Patch Conundrum) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.

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