Thursday, September 25, 2008

Silence in the Face of Horror: No War of Words

The New World War
The Silence Is A Lie

In an article for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes the 'great silence' over the annual British party conferences as politicians and their club of commentators say nothing about a war provoked and waged across the world the responsibility for which lies close at hand.

By John Pilger

25/09/08 "ICH" -- - Britain's political conference season of 2008 will be remembered as The Great Silence. Politicians have come and gone and their mouths have moved in front of large images of themselves, and they often wave at someone. There has been lots of news about each other. Adam Boulton, the political editor of Sky News, and billed as "the husband of Blair aide Anji Hunter", has published a book of gossip derived from his "unrivalled access to No 10". His revelation is that Tony Blair's mouthpiece told lies. The war criminal himself has been absent, but the former mouthpiece has been signing his own book of gossip, and waving. The club is celebrating itself, including all those, Labour and Tory, who gave the war criminal a standing ovation on his last day in parliament and who have yet to vote on, let alone condemn, Britain's part in the wanton human, social and physical destruction of an entire nation. Instead, there are happy debates such as, "Can hope win?" and, my favourite, "Can foreign policy be a Labour strength?" As Harold Pinter said of unmentionable crimes: "Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening, it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest."

The Guardian's economics editor, Larry Elliott, has written that the Prime Minister "resembles a tragic hero in a Hardy novel: an essentially good man brought down by one error of judgement". What is this one error of judgement? The bank- rolling of two murderous colonial adventures? No. The unprecedented growth of the British arms industry and the sale of weapons to the poorest countries? No. The replacement of manufacturing and public service by an arcane cult serving the ultra-rich? No. The Prime Minister's "folly" is "postponing the election last year". This is the March Hare Factor.

Reality can be detected, however, by applying the Orwell Rule and inverting public pronouncements and headlines, such as "Aggressor Russia facing pariah status, US warns", thereby identifying the correct pariah; or by crossing the invisible boundaries that fix the boundaries of political and media discussion. "When truth is replaced by silence," said the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko, "the silence is a lie."

Understanding this silence is critical in a society in which news has become noise. Silence covers the truth that Britain's political parties have converged and now follow the single-ideology model of the United States. This is different from the political consensus of half a century ago that produced what was known as social democracy. Today's political union has no principled social democratic premises. Debate has become just another weasel word and principle, like the language of Chaucer, is bygone. That the poor and the state fund the rich is a given, along with the theft of public services, known as privatisation. This was spelt out by Margaret Thatcher but, more importantly, by new Labour's engineers. In The Blair Revolution: Can New Labour Deliver? Peter Mandelson and Roger Liddle declared Britain's new "economic strengths" to be its transnational corporations, the "aerospace" industry (weapons) and "the pre-eminence of the City of London". The rest was to be asset-stripped, including the peculiar British pursuit of selfless public service. Overlaying this was a new social authoritarianism guided by a hypocrisy based on "values". Mandelson and Liddle demanded "a tough discipline" and a "hardworking majority" and the "proper bringing-up [sic] of children". And in formally launching his Murdochracy, Blair used "moral" and "morality" 18 times in a speech he gave in Australia as a guest of Rupert Murdoch, who had recently found God.

A "think tank" called Demos exemplified this new order. A founder of Demos, Geoff Mulgan, himself rewarded with a job in one of Blair's "policy units", wrote a book called Connexity. "In much of the world today," he offered, "the most pressing problems on the public agenda are not poverty or material shortage . . . but rather the disorders of freedom: the troubles that result from having too many freedoms that are abused rather than constructively used." As if celebrating life in another solar system, he wrote: "For the first time ever, most of the world's most powerful nations do not want to conquer territory."

That reads, now as it ought to have read then, as dark parody in a world where more than 24,000 children die every day from the effects of poverty and at least a million people lie dead in just one territory conquered by the most powerful nations. However, it serves to remind us of the political "culture" that has so successfully fused traditional liberalism with the lunar branch of western political life and allowed our "too many freedoms" to be taken away as ruthlessly and anonymously as wedding parties in Afghanistan have been obliterated by our bombs.

The product of these organised delusions is rarely acknowledged. The current economic crisis, with its threat to jobs and savings and public services, is the direct consequence of a rampant militarism comparable, in large part, with that of the first half of the last century, when Europe's most advanced and cultured nation committed genocide. Since the 1990s, America's military budget has doubled. Like the national debt, it is currently the largest ever. The true figure is not known, because up to 40 per cent is classified "black" – it is hidden. Britain, with a weapons industry second only to the US, has also been militarised. The Iraq invasion has cost $5trn, at least. The 4,500 British troops in Basra almost never leave their base. They are there because the Americans demand it. On 19 September, Robert Gates, the American defence secretary, was in London demanding $20bn from allies like Britain so that the US invasion force in Afghanistan could be increased to 44,000. He said the British force would be increased. It was an order.

In the meantime, an American invasion of Pakistan is under way, secretly authorised by President Bush. The "change" candidate for president, Barack Obama, had already called for an invasion and more aircraft and bombs. The ironies are searing. A Pakistani religious school attacked by American drone missiles, killing 23 people, was set up in the 1980s with CIA backing. It was part of Operation Cyclone, in which the US armed and funded mujahedin groups that became al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The aim was to bring down the Soviet Union. This was achieved; it also brought down the Twin Towers.

On 20 September the inevitable response to the latest invasion came with the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. For me, it is reminiscent of President Nixon's invasion of Cambodia in 1970, which was planned as a diversion from the coming defeat in Vietnam. The result was the rise to power of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. Today, with Taliban guerrillas closing on Kabul and Nato refusing to conduct serious negotiations, defeat in Afghanistan is also coming.

It is a war of the world. In Latin America, the Bush administration is fomenting incipient military coups in Venezuela, Bolivia, and possibly Paraguay, democracies whose governments have opposed Washington's historic rapacious intervention in its "backyard". Washington's "Plan Colombia" is the model for a mostly unreported assault on Mexico. This is the Merida Initiative, which will allow the United States to fund "the war on drugs and organised crime" in Mexico – a cover, as in Colombia, for militarising its closest neighbour and ensuring its "business stability".
Britain is tied to all these adventures – a British "School of the Americas" is to be built in Wales, where British soldiers will train killers from all corners of the American empire in the name of "global security".

None of this is as potentially dangerous, or more distorted in permitted public discussion, than the war on Russia. Two years ago, Stephen Cohen, professor of Russian Studies at New York University, wrote a landmark essay in the Nation which has now been reprinted in Britain.* He warns of "the gravest threats [posed] by the undeclared Cold War Washington has waged, under both parties, against post-communist Russia during the past 15 years". He describes a catastrophic "relentless winner-take-all of Russia's post-1991 weakness", with two-thirds of the population forced into poverty and life expectancy barely at 59. With most of us in the West unaware, Russia is being encircled by US and Nato bases and missiles in violation of a pledge by the United States not to expand Nato "one inch to the east". The result, writes Cohen, "is a US-built reverse iron curtain [and] a US denial that Russia has any legitimate national interests outside its own territory, even in ethnically akin former republics such as Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. [There is even] a presumption that Russia does not have fully sovereignty within its own borders, as expressed by constant US interventions in Moscow's internal affairs since 1992 . . . the United States is attempting to acquire the nuclear responsibility it could not achieve during the Soviet era."

This danger has grown rapidly as the American media again presents US-Russian relations as "a duel to the death – perhaps literally". The liberal Washington Post, says Cohen, "reads like a bygone Pravda on the Potomac". The same is true in Britain, with the regurgitation of propaganda that Russia was wholly responsible for the war in the Caucasus and must therefore be a "pariah". Sarah Palin, who may end up US president, says she is ready to attack Russia. The steady beat of this drum has seen Moscow return to its old nuclear alerts. Remember the 1980s, writes Cohen, "when the world faced exceedingly grave Cold War perils, and Mikhail Gorbachev unexpectedly emerged to offer a heretical way out. Is there an American leader today ready to retrieve that missed opportunity?" It is an urgent question that must be asked all over the world by those of us still unafraid to break the lethal silence.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Big Talk

The Big Talk

How to tell a six year old where all the birds and bees have gone

by Sandra Steingraber

Published in the September/October 2008 issue of Orion magazine

I WAS GOOGLING MYSELF recently (in an attempt, if you must know, to locate an essay that I had published somewhere), and I managed to misspell my own name. So I was directed to the one source that had mangled my name in the same way. And that is how I was confronted, in an obscure blog, with the question, “Why isn’t Sandra Steingraber [with dyslexic spelling] talking about climate change?”

It was unsettling. As the days went by, I began an imaginary argument.

Look, I first wrote about receding glaciers in 1988. I was assigning Al Gore to college students in 1992. Not long ago, I made climate instability the centerpiece of a commencement address I gave at a rural college in coal-is-king Pennsylvania. And if you think all the trustees were pleased with that theme, I invite you to give it a try. So the question is not “Why is S.S. not talking about climate change?” The question is “Why is S.S. not talking about it AT HOME?”

Okay. Why don’t you talk about it at home?

Because I have young children and because I believe that frightening problems need to be solved by adults who should just shut up and get to work.

So, how long are you going to keep hiding the truth from your kids?

That’s as far as I got before three other notable things happened. First, Elijah asked to be a polar bear for Halloween. As I pinned the chenille fabric, it occurred to me that his costume might well outlast the species. I decided not to tell him that.

A month later, Elijah asked his sister for a weather report. Faith walked out onto the porch, spread out her arms in the manner of Saint Francis, and came back in. “It’s global warmingish,” she said and went back to her cereal. No comment from me.

And then I overheard a conversation on the playground. One child said, “I know why it’s hot. Do you?”

Another said, “It’s because the Earth is sick.” They all nodded. I said nothing.

IT’S TIME TO SIT DOWN with my kids and have the Global Warming Talk. I carried off the Sex Talk­and its many sequels­with grace and good biology. Surely, I can rise to this new occasion.

On the surface, procreation and climate change seem opposite narratives. Sex knits molecules of air, food, and water into living organisms. Climate change unravels all that. The ending of the sex story is the birth of a family. The climate change story ends with what biologist E. O. Wilson calls the Eremozoic Era­the Era of Loneliness.

But then I realized that the two stories share a common epistemological challenge. Both are counterintuitive. In the former case, you have to accept that your ordinary existence began with an extraordinary, unthinkable act (namely, your parents having intercourse). In the latter case, you have to accept that the collective acts of ordinary objects­cars, planes, dishwashers, iPods­are ushering in things extraordinary and unthinkable (dissolving coral reefs, daffodils in January). So, I reasoned, perhaps the same pedagogical lessons apply: during the Big Talk, keep it simple, leave the door open for further conversation, offer reading material as follow-up.

Of which there is no shortage. In fact, a veritable cottage industry of children’s books on climate change has sprung up almost overnight. These range from the primer, Why Are the Ice Caps Melting? (Let’s Read and Find Out!), in which lessons on the ravaging of ecosystems also offer plenty of opportunities to practice silent e, to the ultra-sophisticated How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming, by foremost environmental author Lynne Cherry, in which middle school readers are cast as coprincipal investigators. This new literary subgenre is impressive. Reading its various offerings, I found myself admiring the respectful tones and clear explanations. These books describe global warming as a reality that no longer lingers in the realm of debate. And yet, they are not, for the most part, scary. Indeed, the first sentence in the inside flap of How We Know What We Know is “This is not a scary book.”

And here is where the pediatric versions of the climate change story depart from their adult counterparts. The recent crop of books on global warming intended for grown-ups focuses on the surreal disconnect between the evidence for rapidly approaching, irreversible planetary tipping points (overwhelming) and the political response to that evidence (mostly zilch). The children’s books profile heroic individuals fighting to save the planet­in ways that kids can get involved in. To read the children’s literature is to see the world’s people working ardently and in concert with each other to solve a big problem . . . and enjoying a grand adventure while they’re at it.

Is this the fiction we all should be laboring under? I don’t know. I do know that a fatalistic mindset, which afflicts many adults but almost no children, is a big part of what’s preventing us from derailing the global warming train that has now left the station. On this, I wholly agree with sociologist Eileen Crist, who argues that fatalism, masquerading as realism, is a form of capitulation that strengthens the very trends that generate it. I do know that we grown-ups need visions of effective challenges and radical actions that can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.

I also know that I needed something to say to my six year old when we walked home from the library in April­no leaves to offer shade, the bank’s LED sign reading eighty-four degrees­and he turned his ingenuous face to mine to ask, “Mama, is it supposed to be so hot?”

So I am working on my talk. For inspiration, I have arranged on my desk three documents. One is an essay that Rachel Carson published in Popular Science in 1951­eight years before my birth. It’s entitled “Why Our Winters Are Getting Warmer,” and it includes a drawing of Manhattan deluged by seawater. Another is Carson’s essay “Help Your Child to Wonder,” published five years later. The third is a book by poet Audre Lorde that includes the sentence: Your silence will not protect you.

My talk features a story about a boat in which we all live­people, butterflies, polar bears. A storm starts to rock the boat. The waves are chemical pollution, habitat destruction, industrial fishing, and warfare. Now along comes a really big wave. Global warming. The already-rocking boat is in danger of flipping over.

Then what happens? I don’t know. For the first time in my life, I have writer’s block. Somebody help me out here.

Start a Conversation about this article.

Sandra Steingraber is a scholar in residence at Ithaca College.

Olympic 'Spirit Train' Protests

Departure of Olympic 'Spirit Train' met with protesters in B.C.
1 hour, 9 minutes ago
By The Canadian Press

PORT MOODY, B.C. - The departure of a cross-country rail trip designed
to boost enthusiasm for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics is being
overshadowed by noisy protesters.

About three dozen protesters attempted to drown out a ceremony in Port
Moody, B.C., held to mark the departure of the Canadian Pacific (TSX:CP)
Spirit Train.

There were scuffles with police as officers tried to hold the protesters
back, and one man was arrested and carried away by his arms and legs.

With several hundred people attending the event, the group - a mix of
First Nations and non-First Nations protesters - yelled slogans about
stolen native land and housing.

The train is staging a 10-city tour, and anti-Olympic activists have
pledged to meet the train at every stop.

A group calling itself the Olympic Resistance Network says the Olympics
will displace Vancouver's homeless population, hurt the environment and
perpetuate the "theft of indigenous land."

The federal government has worked hard to counter such criticism,
signing agreements worth billions of dollars with the four bands whose
traditional territories are home to the Games.

The Spirit Train is scheduled to stop in Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon,
Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Mississauga and Smith Falls, Ont.,
before ending its journey in Montreal on Oct. 18.

The train will make a repeat journey in the fall of next year and
potentially after the Games as a tour for medallists.

CP Rail paid somewhere between $3 million and $15 million to be the
official rail freight services supplier to the 2010 Olympics.

Methane Time Bomb

The Methane Time Bomb
Tuesday 23 September 2008


by: Steve Conner, The Independent UK

In the past few days, researchers believe that the sub-sea layer of permafrost has melted away to allow methane to rise from underground deposits formed before the last ice age. (Photo: Getty Images)

Arctic scientists discover new global warming threat as melting permafrost releases millions of tons of a gas 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

The first evidence that millions of tons of a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere from beneath the Arctic seabed has been discovered by scientists.

The Independent has been passed details of preliminary findings suggesting that massive deposits of sub-sea methane are bubbling to the surface as the Arctic region becomes warmer and its ice retreats.

Underground stores of methane are important because scientists believe their sudden release has in the past been responsible for rapid increases in global temperatures, dramatic changes to the climate, and even the mass extinction of species. Scientists aboard a research ship that has sailed the entire length of Russia's northern coast have discovered intense concentrations of methane - sometimes at up to 100 times background levels - over several areas covering thousands of square miles of the Siberian continental shelf.

In the past few days, the researchers have seen areas of sea foaming with gas bubbling up through "methane chimneys" rising from the sea floor. They believe that the sub-sea layer of permafrost, which has acted like a "lid" to prevent the gas from escaping, has melted away to allow methane to rise from underground deposits formed before the last ice age.

They have warned that this is likely to be linked with the rapid warming that the region has experienced in recent years.

Methane is about 20 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and many scientists fear that its release could accelerate global warming in a giant positive feedback where more atmospheric methane causes higher temperatures, leading to further permafrost melting and the release of yet more methane.

The amount of methane stored beneath the Arctic is calculated to be greater than the total amount of carbon locked up in global coal reserves so there is intense interest in the stability of these deposits as the region warms at a faster rate than other places on earth.

Orjan Gustafsson of Stockholm University in Sweden, one of the leaders of the expedition, described the scale of the methane emissions in an email exchange sent from the Russian research ship Jacob Smirnitskyi.

"We had a hectic finishing of the sampling programme yesterday and this past night," said Dr Gustafsson. "An extensive area of intense methane release was found. At earlier sites we had found elevated levels of dissolved methane. Yesterday, for the first time, we documented a field where the release was so intense that the methane did not have time to dissolve into the seawater but was rising as methane bubbles to the sea surface. These 'methane chimneys' were documented on echo sounder and with seismic [instruments]."

At some locations, methane concentrations reached 100 times background levels. These anomalies have been seen in the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev Sea, covering several tens of thousands of square kilometres, amounting to millions of tons of methane, said Dr Gustafsson. "This may be of the same magnitude as presently estimated from the global ocean," he said. "Nobody knows how many more such areas exist on the extensive East Siberian continental shelves.

"The conventional thought has been that the permafrost 'lid' on the sub-sea sediments on the Siberian shelf should cap and hold the massive reservoirs of shallow methane deposits in place. The growing evidence for release of methane in this inaccessible region may suggest that the permafrost lid is starting to get perforated and thus leak methane... The permafrost now has small holes. We have found elevated levels of methane above the water surface and even more in the water just below. It is obvious that the source is the seabed."

The preliminary findings of the International Siberian Shelf Study 2008, being prepared for publication by the American Geophysical Union, are being overseen by Igor Semiletov of the Far-Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Since 1994, he has led about 10 expeditions in the Laptev Sea but during the 1990s he did not detect any elevated levels of methane. However, since 2003 he reported a rising number of methane "hotspots", which have now been confirmed using more sensitive instruments on board the Jacob Smirnitskyi.

Dr Semiletov has suggested several possible reasons why methane is now being released from the Arctic, including the rising volume of relatively warmer water being discharged from Siberia's rivers due to the melting of the permafrost on the land.

The Arctic region as a whole has seen a 4C rise in average temperatures over recent decades and a dramatic decline in the area of the Arctic Ocean covered by summer sea ice. Many scientists fear that the loss of sea ice could accelerate the warming trend because open ocean soaks up more heat from the sun than the reflective surface of an ice-covered sea.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Gorilla Radio for Sept. 22, 2008

This week, It's said, "Truth is stranger than fiction;" but when fiction is more strangely true than truth, you know you're in Mickey Z.'s world.Astoria-based author Mickey Z. and CPR for Dummies; Jon Elmer and Israel changing the guard. Yesterday, Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister resigned his office. Olmert's Kadima party primary delivered a clear leadership vote for Foreign minister Tzipi Livni.

Chris Cook hosts Gorilla Radio, airing live every Monday, 5-6pm Pacific Time. In Victoria at 101.9FM, 104.3 cable, and on the internet at: He also serves as a contributing editor to the web news site, Check out the GR blog at:

It's said, "Truth is stranger than fiction;" but when fiction is more strangely true than truth, you know you're in Mickey Z.'s world. Long-time friend of GR and author of, among other books, '50 American Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know,' 'The Seven Deadly Spins,' 'The Murdering of My Years,' and 'Saving Private Power,' Mickey Z.'s cross-genre writing is available at his website, and now, his first novel, 'CPR for Dummies' is out. The Zed back in the house with the view from Astoria in the first segment.

And; Yesterday, Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister resigned his office. Olmert's Kadima party primary delivered a clear leadership vote for Foreign minister Tzipi Livni. Livni comes from a storied Israeli family, one that fought the British and sits still at the centre of Israel's warrior culture. Jon Elmer is a freelance Canadian writer and photo-journalist who has lived in and reported from some of the world's hottest hot spots. He's the author the news websites and

Jon has followed the unfolding catastrophe that is daily visited upon Palestine from the beginnings of the on-going, so-called al-Aqsa intifada, more than five years old now, and he's served as Gorilla Radio's authority on Palestine. Jon Elmer and the changing of the guard in Israel in the second segment.

And; in solidarity with the Student University Building workers, members of the striking steel workers union, on action due to a labour dispute with the UVSS, Janine Bandcroft, formerly of the aforesaid organized labour collective, is standing figurative picket, and thus will have a nice day off... she urges your check out her website for the good going-ons in and around Victoria in the coming week.

But first Mickey Z. and CPR for Dummies.

G-Radio is dedicated to social justice, the environment, community, and providing a forum for people and issues not covered in the corporate media.

Some past guests include: M. Junaid Alam, M. Shahid Alam, Joel Bakan, Maude Barlow, David Barsamian, Rhoda Berenson, William Blum, Luciana Bohne, William Bowles, Mordecai Briemberg, Vincent Bugliosi, Helen Caldicott, Noam Chomsky, Michel Chossudovsky, Diane Christian, Juan Cole, David Cromwell, Murray Dobbin, Jon Elmer, Reese Erlich, Anthony Fenton, Jim Fetzer, Laura Flanders, Chris Floyd, Connie Fogal, Glen Ford, Susan George, Stan Goff, Amy Goodman, Robert Greenwald, Denis Halliday, Chris Hedges, Sander Hicks, Julia Butterfly Hill, Scott Horton, Robert Jensen, Dahr Jamail, Chalmers Johnson, Diana Johnstone, Kathy Kelly, Naomi Klein, Brewster Kneen, Anthony Lappe, Frances Moore Lappe, Jason Leopold, Jeff Leys, Dave Lindorff, Jim Lobe, Jennifer Loewenstein, Wayne Madsen, Stephen Marshall, Linda McQuaig, George Monbiot, Loretta Napoleoni, John Nichols, Kurt Nimmo, David Orchard, Greg Palast, Mike Palecek, Michael Parenti, Robert Parry, John Pilger, Kevin Pina, William Rivers Pitt, Justin Podur, Lila Rajiva, Jack Random, Sheldon Rampton, Paul Craig Roberts, David Robb, Paul de Rooij, John Ross, David Rovics, Danny Schechter, Vandana Shiva, Norman Solomon, Starhawk, Grant Wakefield, Paul Watson, Bernard Weiner, Mickey Z., Howard Zinn and many others.

Are You Mad Yet?

Tar: Canada's Death Throes

Dirty business
The tar sands of Alberta and toxic waste

September, 21 2008

By Andrew Nikiforuk

Andrew Nikiforuk's ZSpace Page

Fred McDonald, a Métis trapper and storyteller extraordinaire, often questioned the reasoning and science behind the proliferation of toxic ponds and end-pit lakes. Before he died in 2007 of kidney failure, McDonald lived in Fort McKay, an Aboriginal community 72 kilometres north of Fort Saskatchewan. The stench of hydrocarbons from the surrounding mines often hangs heavily in the air there, and in 2006, an ammonia release from a Syncrude facility hospitalized more than 20 children.

On a fall day in 2006, McDonald sat in his kitchen, sipping a glass of rat root juice ("It's good for everything," he told me) and breathing through an oxygen tube. The day before, he had spent several hours on a dialysis machine. McDonald's kidneys were failing but not his mind. He recalled the days when Tar Island was a good place to fish and hunt. (Tar Island was so named by local Cree and Métis after the bitumen that often oozed down its banks. In the late 1960s, Suncor transformed the island into a tailings pond, the first in the tar sands.) "It always had moose on it. We loved that island. We are slowly losing everything."

McDonald was born on the river, and he had trapped, fished, farmed and worked for the oil companies. He fondly remembered the 1930 and 1940s, when Syrian fur traders exchanged pots and pans for muskrat and beaver furs along the Athabasca River. Families lived off the land then and had feasts of rabbit. They netted jackfish, pickerel and whitefish all winter long. "Everyone walked or paddled, and the people were healthy," McDonald said. "No one travels that river anymore. There is nothing in that river. It's polluted. Once you could dip your cup and have a nice cold drink from that river, and now you can't."

McDonald said that tar-sands pollution is killing berries. The mines are also draining the surrounding muskeg of water: "It's our future source of water, and it's drying." Climate warming has changed the clear blue ice of the Athabasca River in the winter to a dangerous slush. McDonald had recently told his son not to have any more children: "They are going to suffer. They are going to have a tough time to breathe and will have nothing to drink." He dismissed the talk of reclaiming waste ponds and open-pit mines as a white-skinned fairy tale. "There is no way in this world that you can put Mother Earth back like it was."

Because of "the bad behaviour of clays," Natural Resources Canada researcher Randy Mikula suspects that tar-sands waste won't settle to solid form for 1,000 years, so "something has to be done." Right now the best solution might be a "brute force" centrifugal approach, says Mikula. Waste is spun (much like lettuce in a spinner) in order to create material that is dry and stackable, while recovering water at the same time. Both Syncrude and Suncor have started pilot projects. "We could reduce water usage by a barrel, which means less water withdrawn from the Athabasca River," Mikula says.

The volume of sand and toxic waste produced by the tar sands to date is as great as the agricultural drainage and sewage water the water-short nation of Egypt, with a population of 80 million, reuses every year. By 2015, the tar sands could be creating ponds of wastewater three times that size.

The growing waste problem is nowhere more evident than downstream in Fort Chipewyan, where the Athabasca and Peace rivers spill into Lake Athabasca. About 10 years ago, Raymond Ladouceur, a 65-year-old commercial Métis fishermen, started to find something new in his pickerel nets: damned ugly fish. The deformities included crooked tails, humpbacks, bulging eyes and skin tumours. "Jesus, I was pulling them out all the time," says Ladouceur. "But we threw the deformed fish away. They weren't fit for human consumption."

In 2002, Ladouceur and other fishermen packed up 90 kilos of the deformed fish and flew them off to Fort McMurray for study by Alberta Environment. Nobody from the government department picked up the fish over the weekend, though, and they rotted.

Like most residents of Fort Chipewyan, Ladouceur believes there is something definitely wrong with the water. He has a list of suspects. Abandoned uranium mines on the east end of the lake, for example, have been leaking for years. "God knows how much radium is in this lake," he says. Then there are the pulp mills and, of course, the tar sands and tar ponds. Ladouceur says his cousin collected yellow scum from the river downstream from the mines and dried it, and "it caught on fire." Almost everyone in Fort Chip has witnessed oil spills or leaks on the Athabasca River.

The governments of Alberta and Canada, along with the multinational companies, insist not only that they'll clean up the whole mess but that rapid tar-sands development is sustainable. "Alberta is proving that environmental protection and economic development can happen at the same time," promises a 2008 provincial propaganda sheet entitled "Opportunity and Balance." The Canadian Parliament, an institution less inclined to hubris, talks about groping "towards sustainable development" in its 2007 tar sands report.

Alberta's bitumen apologists swear that "work is progressing to return the disturbed land to a natural state after development, and it will be done right." The province's former ambassador to the United States, Murray Smith, even assured our number-one oil market that the industry will achieve "100 percent long-term restoration of the lands it makes use of." Why, major tar-sand companies have even planted 7.5 million tree seedlings. The Mining Association of Canada says reclaiming open-pit mines can be done with a "vision worthy of a Group of Seven artist."

According to the Alberta government, open-pit mines will eventually obliterate 3,500 square kilometres of forest. The government likes to minimize the scale of the destruction by saying that it's "less than one percent of boreal forest area" in Canada. (In other words, it's perfectly okay to destroy small places.) Whatever the Orwellian rhetoric, the forest-top removal will cover an area four times larger than that of New York City. Outdoor enthusiasts can imagine half of Banff National Park flattened and excavated.

Even at that, the mines make up only a small part of the wreckage created by the megaproject. The Alberta government has leased an additional 50,000 square kilometres of land (and another 100,000 square kilometres await global investors) for in-situ projects including steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD). Canada's four famed mountain parks - Jasper, Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay - could easily fit into this industrial zone with approximately 20,000 square kilometres left over. SAGD development will slice and dice the land with thousands of industrial well sites, seismic lines, pipelines and roads. This fragmentation will transform the forest into a bitumen park, exterminating the population of woodland caribou and decimating song-birds home from their winter in the tropics. Seismic lines, which make a forest look like an engineered spider web, typically nee! d more than 100 years to fill in with trees again. Yet the government has no tight guidelines for reclaiming forest ruined by SAGD.

Government definitions of reclamation exhibit a genuine vagueness as well as a preference for mechanics over biology. According to Alberta's Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, reclamation is mostly about "stabilization, contouring, maintenance, conditioning or reconstruction of the surface of the land." Operators of the open-pit mines must "conserve and reclaim disturbed land to an equivalent land capability." Doing so will earn them a certificate proving the deed done. Industry-friendly scientists talk about creating "a self-sustaining ecosystem with no long-term toxicity." Those reassured by such academic language might want to consider the actual pace of reclamation: after nearly 50 years of mining, the provincial government has certified only 104 hectares of forest, or 0.2 percent of the land dug up since 1963. Even industry admits that reclamation has moved more slowly than cold bitumen in a pipeline! .

The uncomfortable truth remains simply this: the rapid mining of the boreal forest has outpaced the science on the reclamation of wetlands, soil, and forest uplands by decades. No one has a handle on the real costs of reclamation. Security deposits remain laughably inadequate. And both Alberta and Canada have an appalling record of environmental negligence and disregard for taxpayers.

Reclamation in the tar sands now amounts to little more than putting lipstick on a corpse. Unless Alberta and Canada soon address the pace, effectiveness and transparency of reclamation, a rich forest will become an impoverished industrial park littered with salts, grass, polluted water and spindly trees. It might, with a bit of luck and some regular rainfall, eventually resemble a third-rate golf course in the Sudan.

Excerpted from Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, to be published October 15 by Greystone Books / Douglas & McIntyre.