Friday, September 23, 2011

New Tar Sands book

Well-timed with the emergence of the mucoid Alykhan Velshi and his monstrous bedfellows with their apparently female-friendly 'ethical oil' narrative, comes a new book on the Tar Sands. In the provocatively titled "Challenging Legitimacy at the Precipice of Energy Calamity," Debra Davidson and Mike Gismondi engage in a deep and rigorous unpacking of discourses that have allowed the Tar Sands come to be, remain, and what this might mean for our future.* From the abstract:

Two intersecting moments of the Twenty-first Century define our politics, economies, and future prospects for civilization: the mounting evidence for global climate change, now unequivocally attributed to socio-economic activities, and its de-stabilizing effects on our biosphere, combined with the end of easy oil and the easy wealth it generates. On the energy question, non-conventional fossil fuels have been promoted by political elites as the next most attractive development option. The development of nonconventional fuels, however, does nothing to alleviate either climate change or the falling rate of energy supply, and generates multiple social and environmental consequences. The largest endeavour marking this historic nexus—indeed the largest industrial project in history, is the extraction and processing of the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta, Canada. The social, environmental, and most importantly political outcomes of this grand experiment will reverberate throughout the global polity, and either encourage or caution against increasing our dependence on such non-conventional fuels and assuming the multiple costs such dependence will entail. Planning for reflexive societal change requires that we first ask how such giga-projects are legitimated, and who is challenging this legitimacy? In this book we trace how language and visual representations are used to reinforce or challenge the legitimacy of development of the Athabasca tar sands, and draw on our insights to contemplate likely energy and climate futures.

I have not yet had time to give it a thorough going-over, but I can tell you that this a new book. It is departure from the hard science about monitoring and downstream effects and popular journalistic non-fiction aimed at making the Fort Mac problem accessible to lay audience. It is certainly not published hackery by the odiously bankrupt Levant or Kenney. These items have fuelled much of the public conversation on the Athabasca project.

No, this is a very readable academic text that takes a step back, situating the Tar Sands in the larger context of the end of oil, and looking at how we talk about it and represent it across scales of time and space. Do not, however, think the authors are unbiased. They have a very clear position regarding the utter toxicity of the tar-sands to planet and people. Their discourse analysis is meant to understand what might need to happen to move us to a different, better, energy future.

Unfortunately Springer is an ivory tower press with prices to match at $129 a copy. If you're lucky enough to have access to a university library, you can probably get a .pdf copy for free, or paper at a discounted academic rate of about $25. This is shame because kicking the conversation up a level, especially when the oil gluttons are doing their best to drag it into the gutter, is desperately needed. Limiting public access to solid material is not the way to save the world.  

* Davidson, Debra and Mike Gismondi. 2011. "Challenging Legitimacy at the Precipice of Energy Calamity." Springer. XV, 232 p., 80 illus. (47 in colour). ISBN 978-1-4614-0286-2 DOI:10.1007/978-1-4614-0287-9


Grant G said...

Thank you for giving the book some press, oh, and thanks for caring..

Good Day

sunsin said...

I hope the whole book isn't written in the style of the part you quoted, which was pure Academic Glop, a dialect that I read and write but that is totally alien to most of the country. In its utter disregard for easy communicability, it reminds me of a feminist manifesto from twenty years ago, five pages of fine print and not a single word under three syllables. I usually found I agreed with most of the sentiments in those manifestos after I painfully worked my way to the end of their linguistic jungle, but then I spoke the language. Outsiders would be stunned, uncomprehending, and finally dismissive. That will be the case here, too -- unfortunately.