Bill McKibben: Wildfires And Spills In The Canadian Tar Sands

Our guest blogger is Bill McKibben, founder of

We’ve managed to disrupt the planet in so many ways that some new disaster breaks out almost daily. One spot on earth that seems really snakebit this month is the Canadian province of Alberta. In the past week, a drought and strong winds have combined to produce huge wildfires that gutted much of the town of Slave Lake — all 7,000 residents had to evacuate, and the city hall and many other buildings were burned to the ground. Right now there are over a hundred wildfires raging in Alberta, with 36 of them still “out of control.”

Just two weeks before the fires, a massive spill from an oil pipeline sickened residents of the community of Little Buffalo, the traditional lands of the Lubicon Cree. It took the government six days to show up and begin monitoring the air, despite the fact that local residents were suffering headaches, burning and nausea from the stench. Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a local Cree organizer, wrote board member Naomi Klein:

My heart hurts, not a day has gone by that I have not broken down crying but I hope that I can expose this cover up for what it is. And hope that my community will not continue to be silenced like they have for decades. It is a sad time as you can imagine.

The reason the government doesn’t want to acknowledge the problem, of course, is that this region of Alberta is home to the giant tar sands project. Over the objections of many indigenous residents residents, they’ve made a moonscape of large swaths of the region, as they ramp up massive oil production. When that oil leaks, it’s bad — and it’s bad when it’s burnt too, because it pours carbon into the atmosphere. The carbon that raises the temperature, making wildfire and drought more likely and more devastating.


The Lubicon Cree have shown great courage in fighting to protect their home. The rest of us need to show not only our respect for their fight, but similar courage in fighting to protect our joint home, this rapidly warming planet. The only answer is to keep that carbon in the ground and end the tar sands project before it causes any more trouble.

In the meantime, emergency assistance for Alberta families can be sent via the Canadian Red Cross and you can read more from Melina.