We're at the edge of a cliff here in Copenhagen. An overnight conference is taking place on the last day of the climate summit in Denmark and everything is up in the air. We could easily take two giant steps backwards or one small step forward. It's literally that stark.
There is two scenarios in the final day of negotiations: the overnight talks could be the serious kind of steps needed to finalize the climate talks. On the other hand, more talk and no action could lead to disarray.
As it stands now, the second scenario is looking the most likely, for commitments by politicians are low in the 11th hour. The future is looking very grey and disappointment stifles the air amongst the tens of thousands here to make a difference.
The thread is being pulled on the climate talks here in Copenhagen. The whole show is beginning to unravel, revealing what is really happening -- a climate tyranny not an international negotiation.
Since last week, the heat has been turned up between the Developing world and the Industrialized, with divisions exploding today in a walkout by the G77 and a suspension of the negotiations. Poorer nations say they are being sidelined in the climate-talks, as their demands for survival (as opposed to the weak "suicidal" deal on the table) and safeguarding the Kyoto Protocol (the only legally binding climate treaty we have) are being ignored.
Today the journey to the tar sands comes to an end. I spent this day asking a new question: what can we do about the tar sands? I wanted to get past the usual answer for this: 'education and get involved.' As important as these are, we've all heard this a million times and quite frankly, the world hasn't changed enough with this advice.
So what's next? To answer this question, I met with Randall Benson who is a former tar sands worker. Randall left working for the tar sands that he found destructive to create his own solar and wind power company. It's a small business in Alberta, but he invited me to help install some solar panels on a huge building in the outskirts of Edmonton.
We left Fort McMurray in the morning and headed back to Edmonton. I had a lot of time to think in the five-hour drive and I thought about truth. In this journey to the tar sands I wanted to find the truth behind Canada's big oil project. What I came to find surprised me.
I came into Alberta starting with a bias, I thought it was a simple black and white issue -- bad vs. good -- the tar sands being the bad. But what I have come to realize is the truth is far more complex than I had ever imagined. If anything, the reality of the tar sands is colorful, not black and white.
Today I went further north than many other individuals in Canada have gone. I went past Fort McMurray and the oil sands project itself by plane. I went past forests and sand dunes all the way to a place that is so remote it can only be reached by plane or a six-hour boat ride. I went to Fort Chipewyan, a settlement and community that as far removed as it is, has been gravely impacted by the tar sands.
Fort Chipewyan (also called Fort Chip) is plotted downstream of the dirty oil development. As the Athabasca River (the third largest water-shed in the world) runs straight through the tar sands and is right next to numerous toxic tailing ponds. This river runs north and feeds into the Athabasca Lake, the same lake that is home to the Fort Chip community.
Today is the day I witnessed the oil sands project for myself. The first thing we did in the morning was drive up north past For McMurray, past the forest, to see the oil sands. I began feeling sick as we drove up there, I think because I was stressed of what I was going to see. When we got there, I didn't feel a thing as I was filming with a camera and not present in the moment. But once I put the camera down and looked at it for myself, I broke down completely. The tears and emotions poured like a typhoon. It was as if I was starring at my best friend raped and ravaged. I felt helpless and broken staring.
Today we headed to Fort McMurray, ground zero of the tar sands project. It was a five-hour drive on a highway many call "Highway to Hell," as there is an accident every week on the highway like clockwork -- numerous are fatal. But what I came to find on the highway, like much of Fort McMurray itself, was that there were more myths surrounding it than facts.
The highway was no riskier than driving on my local highway, the 401 in Toronto. As for Fort McMurray, many complain about high drug abuse levels, prostitution, violence and low civic engagement as just some of the social fabric falling apart in this town due to the tar sands rapid development. But when we arrived in Fort McMurray, the social ills seemed no different than cities in the States and Canada.
Today, in my journey to the tar sands, I talked with people from the other side of the debate, pro-tar sands. I met with representatives from the Alberta Environment Ministry who defended the project for more than just economic reasons.
First I spoke with a water expert, who perspired during the interview when questioned on toxic tailing ponds leaking into the Athabasca River. He also told me that companies in the oil sands "have bad days" and "they do get away with some things." He even admitted that there is some leakage but the water is monitored and any thing they have found in the water is "natural."
Day three of my journey to the tar sands I devoted to talking with eco-activists in Edmonton. Environmentalists who believe change can happen and happen for the better with the oil problem in Alberta. This was a different tune than yesterday where I heard a lot of pessimism, myths and downplaying of the tar sands.
I first spoke with Mike Hudema, Greenpeace's Tar Sands Campaigner. Not your typical 'granola eating tree-hugger,' Mike enjoys his steak and went to law school. Just before he passed the bar, he left it all behind to be apart of 'creating something different' for his home province of Alberta.
Today I hit Calgary in my journey to the tar sands, the oil headquarters of Alberta. All the oil giants rest in this part of Albertan land -- Esso, Shell, Petro Canada -- who all have their hands in the tar sands. Here I spoke with the united face of the oil companies, CAPP (the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers). I tried to confront them in oil pains to the planet. But there answer was more of the same, that the tar sands is more or less 'sustainable.' But is this true?