Fires in Canada, Drought in India Inspire Fight for Environmental Justice
by Franklin Dmitryev, News & Letters
Throughout May, a wildfire raged in Alberta, Canada, spreading to Saskatchewan. On May 3 it swept through the city of Fort McMurray, forcing the evacuation of all 88,000 people, some of whom are still unable to return. At press time, it is still burning, having covered about 1.5 million acres. Most of that is forest, producing emissions of greenhouse gases equivalent to 100 million tons. That is just a rough estimate, but it compares to the yearly emissions of about 40 of the poorest countries, or six times what is emitted by 20 island nations at risk of losing much or all of their land to rising seas
The Fort McMurray area had been the permanent or temporary home for many workers in the Athabasca Tar Sands, where the world's biggest industrial operation extracts bitumen to produce heavy crude oil. Some of it is piped into the US to refineries such as the BP plant on the Indiana shore of Lake Michigan. Dozens of people were arrested in May protesting that plant's expansion to handle more tar sands oil. Some of that bitumen spilled near Battle Creek, Mich., in 2010 and may never be fully cleaned up, turning some of the neighbors into self-described "accidental activists." The extraction and refining processes are so energy-intensive that, combined with the vast size of the tar sands deposit, leading climatologist James Hansen called it "game over for the climate" if the tar sands get fully exploited.