As an unabashed lifelong environmentalist, Avatar easily goes down as one of my favorite movies of all time. While following
developments in the catas
trophic wildfires raging through the oil sands region of Canada, many times I’ve found myself thinking about the element in the Avatar storyline in which the planet, Pandora, stands up to defend itself, sending its many different fierce species into battle to beat back the rapacious invaders.
The fire began on Sunday May 1st near the tar sands town of Fort McMurray. It rapidly grew in size and intensity, forcing the entire town (over 80,000 people) to flee for safety while it consumed 2,400 structures including 1,600 homes. The fire has since spread, scorching nearly 2,000 square miles and spreading into Saskatchewan.
Although there hasn’t been a definitive answer to how the fire started, it does appear that the tinderbox conditions created by climate change are contributing to the massive scale, intensity and voracity of the blaze.
And here’s the insane irony: both the process to extract oil and the type of oil from the tar sands is among the dirtiest in the world when it comes to climate change pollution. These products are directly contributing to the conditions that are burning down the communities in the very region where they are being extracted.
And this may be where Earth is taking a cue from Avatar’s Pandora. These fires have now forced shut downs and/or evacuations at 19 oil facilities. Recently nearly 10,000 workers were evacuated from the Suncor and Syncrude oil sands sites, two of Canada’s largest oil operations.
The Conference Board of Canada estimates that the fire in northeastern Alberta resulted in a loss of 1.2 million barrels of oil per day for two weeks, translating into $985 million in lost gross domestic product. That was before the fire resurged and spread. Since the evacuations, Canada’s oil output has been reduced by nearly a million barrels per day.
Although the fire itself will result in carbon pollution, experts suggest this will be small compared to the emissions that will not happen while the fire causes shutdowns and reductions in oil sands operations.
My heart does go out to the people living in these communities, who are losing so much as their homes and belongings are destroyed. However, I cannot help feeling a glimmer of hope in the tar sands operations burning themselves down. After all, the real Pandora’s Box is what we are loosing on our planet and therefore ourselves if we do not get serious about reducing the overall catastrophic potential of unchecked global climate change.
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