Jim Letourneau's Blog

Retired Life

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Avatars and Oilsands - James Cameron Visits Alberta

James Cameron vists OilsandsJames Cameron, one of the world's most influential celebrities, paid a visit to Alberta's oilsands this week. The media attention shone a big spotlight on the pros and cons of oilsands development. The world waited with baited breath to hear Mr. Cameron's opinion. At least Albertans did... because regular season hockey doesn't start for another 9 long days.

The relative merits of Alberta oilsands mining, Appalachian mountaintop coal mining, the closely spaced pumpjacks of Bakersfield, the giant hole known as the Bingham Canyon Open Pit Copper Mine,  the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm, massive water diversion from the Colorado River watershed, or the clearing of the Amazonian rain forest are open to debate. All of these projects were meant to fulfill human needs. I have lived in northern Alberta and suspect that restoring the natural ecosystem of Fort McMurray won't be as difficult as it would be for some of these other projects. Especially the bugs, but I digress. I do love driving a car and using electricity. It is easy to forget that the fantastic lifestyle we enjoy is because of these large scale resource extraction projects. If we spend too much time thinking about it, we wont have time to escape our guilt and watch Avatar on the new blu ray.

People are happy to read the labels on their morning cereal but  most don't have a clue of where the "stuff" of their comfortable lifestyle comes from. When they do see an example they are usually shocked. This leads to an immediate outcry to halt the environmental degradation. Rarely are workable alternatives are offered. If you are against oilsands development, you have to be against coal as well. Its not too hard to be against offshore drilling after the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It will take several decades to clean up that big oily mess right? Certainly shale gas has to be totally off limits. The people of the Dallas/Fort Worth must have destroyed their entire fresh water supply by now. All that gas produced from the Barnett Shale has now been earmarked to to run water purification plants, right?

Canadian environmentalist, David Suziki, likes to point out that as humans have moved from farms and villages into major urban metropolises  they lost touch with nature. Before filming Avatar, James Cameron took his actors on hikes into Hawaiian rain forest to learn how to build fires and cook fish. According to IMDB.com, the cast and crew spent their nights at a Four Seasons hotel. That is how most of us want to experience nature, in controlled small doses. We want an energy and metals intensive North American lifestyle delivered to us with no environmental impact. Renewable energy leaves a footprint as well. Does anyone know where neodymium comes from?

Few would argue that the 84% of the world's population living in developing economies should be deprived a higher standard of living (the kind that uses more energy and metals). The only way to preserve our current lifestyle and preserve nature is to start drilling and mining projects on other planets.

Metaphorically long Suncor Energy (TSX:SU), Candian Oil Sands Trust (TSX:COS.UN), Nexen (TSX:NXY)