Sample Economics Book Review Paper on Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent

Book Review: Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent

Throughout history, the Alberta tar sands have attracted limited attention from the Canadians because a majority of the population considers it as a thinly populated wilderness that is defined by a relatively undesirable environment. The Canadians who are living in this area plan to retire in other regions. This happens while the government operates as an absentee property owner. The indifference and blindness that have continually affected originate from a broad spectrum aimed at denying the unpleasant consequences of overdependence on oil as a major source of power for fueling the economy. In this book, Andrew Nikiforuk provides a detailed coverage of the resultant fallout by focusing on issues emanating from the irreparable and massive destruction of the natural environment that has turned the third largest watershed in the world into a toxic environment. Additionally, Nikiforuk focuses on issues related to the political transformation of modern Canada into a petrostate. His most important exposition is the overwhelming shortsightedness and ignorance that characterizes the entire enterprise.[1]

Despite overdoing the figurative comparison, the author asserts that the area covered by open-pit mining would end up almost tripling the size of the ancient city of Angkor. Through the book, Nikiforuk aims at providing an overall and in-depth analysis and guide into understanding the environmental repercussions of overdependence on oil. In his political analysis, Nikiforuk sounds a warning about the danger of energy interdependence with his assumption based on the declining nature of the American empire.[2] The author uses the first law of petropolitics, which was developed by Thomas Friedman. According to Friedman, the quality of freedom and the price of oil travel in invariably opposite directions. This law was aimed at making a case for the corrosive effects of tar on democracy. The freedom that characterized association and businesses in many liberal democracies across the world is attributed to the relatively affordable prices of oil at the local and international markets. However, with the depletion of oil reserves on the international scene, this freedom is threatened.[3] It is endangered because countries will be forced to that ensure they institute measures aimed at controlling the use of this limited resource hence curtailing the freedom and ability of their citizens to engage in the use of machinery that is perceived to be consuming more oil energy.

In his conclusion, Nikiforuk provides twelve essential tips that he considers effective in the development of energy sanity on the international platform. His Twelve Step of Energy Sanity can be considered as an oil dependency recovery program. The recommendations that arise from this program seem achievable, and they can play a critical role in averting a disaster that is in the process of developing. According to him through this recovery program, it will be possible to salvage the problem before it gets worse than it is present.

Nikiforuk recognizes that capitalism as a fossil fuel system. When this assertion is perceived from a historical and economic perspective, it is possible to argue that fossil fuels have played a critical role in facilitating the system’s accumulation of wealth. Despite this assumption, the author recognizes that fossil fuel is an infinite resource and as economic growth and the dependency on oil increases, it will be relatively difficult to ensure effective economic development without the possibility of conflicts that would stem from the increasingly scarce resource.[4] According to him, there is a need for an immediate and rapid shift to embracing renewable energy sources. These are both possible and viable options considering that renewable energy is not only abundant but also environmentally friendly compared to fossil fuels. The tar sands, according to Nikiforuk are one of the best new extreme sources of energy by focusing on the tar sands of Alberta in Canada. He begins his proposal by referring to the deplorable situation that is definitive f the impending environmental disaster. According to Nikiforuk, this can be attributed to corporate greed, ineffective management approaches by the government, large-scale destruction, corruption, and climate change. When assessing the role of corporates in the propagation of the impending disaster, Nikiforuk argues that corporates are increasingly involved in the development of short-term policies aimed at maximizing profits at the expense of the needs of the people and environmental conservation.[5] He further asserts that the prevailing political and economic systems are also based on policies that are founded on the realization of profits at the expense of the safety of the planet and its inhabitants.

Instead of developing restrictive policies that target the mitigation of corporate destruction in Alberta, Nikiforuk recognizes that the government of Canada at the local and national levels has enthusiastically encouraged these exploitations. This does not only result from the egocentric political culture that characterizes the Canadian political platform but also the relatively profit-oriented economic policies.[6] Additionally, the author uses this book in demonstrating the approaches that oil-rich countries have used in ensuring that they put restraints on companies responsible for mining fossil fuel while undermining the democratic rights of the citizens. 

The tar sands in Alberta are significant reservoirs of fossil fuel. However, the mega projects that are underway in the area will ensure destruction by industrializing a forest the size of Florida. Oil companies have been attracted to the tar sands, and this has resulted in an investment worth 200 million. Moreover, the relatively high investments are related to the sheer remoteness of the location and the difficulty that companies face in extracting usable oil from tar sands.[7] In the first instance, Nikiforuk recognizes that the main feature that exposes the destructive nature of the oil companies is in the digging of about two tons of earth from the ground for the making of one barrel of bitumen.

According to Nikiforuk, the extraction process requires a lot of water and energy because, for every barrel of bitumen, oil companies need three barrels of fresh water. Indeed the process rarely leaves the water units clean. The devastating destruction of vegetation has led to the drying up of rivers while poisonous tailing pools surround the mining areas. These poisonous water pools have resulted in the death of plants and animals, and they threaten to leak into major water sources.[8] The scale of environmental destruction in the view of Nikiforuk is unprecedented, and he quotes an ecologist who recognizes that about a century ago all water in Alberta was drinkable, but since the beginning of the extraction process, it is not portable and must be subjected to chemical treatment before drinking.

Oil companies involved in the extraction process in the view of Nikiforuk often produce reports detailing the initiatives that they have introduced to ensure that they conserve the environment. Through these reports, the companies tend to sanitize their operations by laying more emphasis on the underlying economic benefits while ignoring the impending environmental damages. Furthermore, they often argue that their actions cannot destroy the planet. However, Nikiforuk present a contrary opinion by asserting that their extraction activities have contributed to large-scale deforestation and pollution of water streams. He also asserts that each barrel of bitumen produces about 30% more greenhouse gases than to a barrel of conventional oil. He uses the example of the Imperial Oil Company that wanted to produce bitumen from four open pit mines. In the view of Nikiforuk, this company would have been involved in the production of greenhouse gases that surpassed the capacity of 800,000 cars. These extraction activities explain why Canada was obliged to pull out the Kyoto treaty (considering that in 2004 its greenhouse gases emission rate was at 51%).[9]

The author of this book recognizes that ibecause of the failure of the environmental conservation agencies and the government of Canada the country faces unprecedented levels of greenhouse gases. The Alberta, a region that is being destroyed because of the extraction of tar sands is one of the major carbon dioxide sink areas in the world. Initiating an excavation process in one of the major weather stabilizers and carbon sink regions to facilitate the production of a product that intensifies carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere can be considered as an example of global freak economics.[10] This demonstrates the level to which the Canadian government and the oil companies are focused on realizing short terms economic gains while facilitating long-term environmental destructive mechanisms. Additionally, it signifies limited commitment from the government to ensure that the citizens are provided with a safe and clean environment that enhances their existence. The initiative is a demonstration of freak economics because the tar sands do not prevent peak oil but only ensure a brief slowdown of the decline.[11] Despite the relative profitability, only a few Canadian corporations are part of the benefits considering that the United States is the main beneficiary, which satisfies its economic needs for oil by subsidizing the Canadian tax dollars.[12] These tax dollars rarely come from the companies themselves, who have lived a life of ease by depending on handouts and deals that have little profits that they generate from the destruction of the major carbon sinks in Canada.

Nikiforuk also focuses on the short-term and the long-term effects of tar sands exploitation initiatives on human health. He recognizes the existence of an appalling destruction of life despite the economic growth in oil towns. Indeed, the destruction is inherent in the food and drinks that are produced from contaminated materials such as water and food products. These have contributed to an increase in cancer cases that arise from the pollution. Additionally, he provides an exemplary demonstration of the way the Canadian government has become implicit by authorizing oil companies to engage in tar exploitation.[13] The government has also become insincere by accepting deceptive research that presents citizens with the idea that tar sands do not present a threat to the environment and, therefore, they are good for economic development. The government in the view of Nikiforuk has failed in its sole responsibility of protecting the citizens. The decision to agree with the misleading reports on the effects of tar sands on the environment signifies the need for citizens to place less trust on government initiatives because the tar sands exploitation demonstrates that there are limited efforts that the government considers when assessing the contribution of different initiatives in enhancing the well-being of the citizens.

In this book, Nikiforuk uses his understanding of the tar sands mining to uncover and expose the destructive environmental, political, and social costs of mining process. He argues that it is important to implement a dynamic change as a methodology of reversing the probable environmental ramifications. He combines his argument with extensive findings from scientific research by assessing the effects that the tar sands exploitation has had on Fort McMurray town, which is home to one of the largest open-pit mines in the world. According to Nikiforuk, the environmental effects are not the only destructions that characterize the town, but other social ills exist.[14] He recognizes that the high cost of housing that has resulted from the perceived high demand has increased the population of the homeless while facilitating an increase in drug trafficking initiatives that target the employees and unemployed population in the town.[15] For Nikiforuk the decision to allow open field mining of tar was not only a bad deal for the local environment but also for the taxpayers because its negative effect outweighs the positive ones that are largely related to economic development. Essentially, the negative relationship is attributable to the understanding that tar sands are the major and growing source of carbon dioxide emissions in Canada. In the chapter on money, the author demonstrates that the subsidies that the government directs towards tar sands mining only facilitate the exacerbation of the deplorable environmental conditions. However, if the Canadian government redirected these finances into renewable energy sources, it would help in addressing the issue of climate change, which has been aggravated by the oil exploitation efforts in Alberta. In his assertions, Nikiforuk recognizes that partners such as the United States have been insincere in their desire to ensure the production of clean and renewable energy.[16] They have not been honest because they make it relatively impossible for the Canadian government to institute policies aimed at advancing clean energy. Regarding the issue of the best techniques of enhancing clean energy, Nikiforuk asserts that Canada would be one of the clean energy powerhouses in the modern world if it would be involved in the development of policies that target environmental conservation. Furthermore, Nikiforuk asserts that the tar sands, as presently constituted, is unlikely to be part of the clean energy policy because it signifies the unrelenting dependency on oil as an essential aspect of economic production and growth on the international platform. This limits the ability of countries to assess innovative ways of embracing effective and renewable energy sources.

Despite the in-depth analysis that Nikiforuk provides to facilitate an understanding of the effects of tar sands mining on the environment. He does not argue for the need to ensure that bitumen is left on the ground, which is a crucial position among environmental activists when arguing against the use of extreme energy. If the society is to realize an end to the runaway climate change, it must advocate the outlawing of the use of bitumen and find alternative methodologies of fueling the economy. This is because the tar sands in Canada are saturated with bitumen, which produces almost triple the amount of carbon dioxide produced by conventional oil. If the society countries to burn bitumen while also burning traditional oil, then-then carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere is bound to reach unacceptable levels. Nikiforuk argues that there is need to ensure a gradual reduction of exploitation of tar sands as economies seek an alternative means of energy. This may be an ineffective approach towards environmental conservation because according to Nikiforuk the process should be eradicated by 2030. However, he fails to realize that by 2030, millions of people will have died from the possible effects of climate change. It is the responsibility of the government to institute radical measures targeting environment conservation. From the book review, it is possible to assert that the problem lies in the decision by Nikiforuk to contextualize the problem. He recognizes the existence of an ineffective system but fails to assert that the blame lies on the consumer who uses bitumen fuel because by paying for the fuel the consumers are indirectly engaged in funding the exploitation process through the taxes that they pay to the government.

Although the author of this book desires to address issues of renewable energy, he fails to recognize that as economies continue to expand; their demand for energy will increase. This implies that they will require the use of energy that is easily available and characterized by a high energy density. In essence, this implies that the current dependence on oil is bound to increase considering that it is one of the highest energy densities that can be used in small portions to produce large amounts of energy. Furthermore, in the contemporary society, oil is widely distributed, and there exists an effective infrastructure for the transportation of oil products.

Bibliography

Mergen, Andrew C. “Mining of the North: A Review of Andrew Nikiforuk’s Tar Sands: Dirty

Oil and the Future of a Continent, The [article].” Villanova Environmental Law Journal no. 2 (2010): 219. HeinOnline, EBSCOhost

Nikiforuk, Andrew. Tar sands: dirty oil and the future of a continent. n.p.: Vancouver:

Greystone Books: David Suzuki Foundation, 2010


[1] Nikiforuk, Andrew. Tar sands: dirty oil and the future of a continent. n.p.: Vancouver: Greystone Books: David Suzuki Foundation, 2010

[2] Mergen, Andrew C. “Mining of the North: A Review of Andrew Nikiforuk’s Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, The [article].” Villanova Environmental Law Journal no. 2 (2010): 219. HeinOnline, EBSCOhost

[3] Nikiforuk, Andrew. Tar sands: dirty oil and the future of a continent. n.p.: Vancouver: Greystone Books: David Suzuki Foundation, 2010

[4] Mergen, Andrew C. “Mining of the North: A Review of Andrew Nikiforuk’s Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, The [article].” Villanova Environmental Law Journal no. 2 (2010): 219. HeinOnline, EBSCOhost

[5] Nikiforuk, Andrew. Tar sands: dirty oil and the future of a continent. n.p.: Vancouver: Greystone Books: David Suzuki Foundation, 2010

[6] Mergen, Andrew C. “Mining of the North: A Review of Andrew Nikiforuk’s Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, The [article].” Villanova Environmental Law Journal no. 2 (2010): 219. HeinOnline, EBSCOhost

[7] Nikiforuk, Andrew. Tar sands: dirty oil and the future of a continent. n.p.: Vancouver: Greystone Books: David Suzuki Foundation, 2010

[8] Mergen, Andrew C. “Mining of the North: A Review of Andrew Nikiforuk’s Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, The [article].” Villanova Environmental Law Journal no. 2 (2010): 219. HeinOnline, EBSCOhost

[9] Nikiforuk, Andrew. Tar sands: dirty oil and the future of a continent. n.p.: Vancouver: Greystone Books: David Suzuki Foundation, 2010

[10] Nikiforuk, Andrew. Tar sands: dirty oil and the future of a continent. n.p.: Vancouver: Greystone Books: David Suzuki Foundation, 2010

[11] Mergen, Andrew C. “Mining of the North: A Review of Andrew Nikiforuk’s Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, The [article].” Villanova Environmental Law Journal no. 2 (2010): 219. HeinOnline, EBSCOhost

[12] Nikiforuk, Andrew. Tar sands: dirty oil and the future of a continent. n.p.: Vancouver: Greystone Books: David Suzuki Foundation, 2010

[13] Mergen, Andrew C. “Mining of the North: A Review of Andrew Nikiforuk’s Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, The [article].” Villanova Environmental Law Journal no. 2 (2010): 219. HeinOnline, EBSCOhost

[14] Nikiforuk, Andrew. Tar sands: dirty oil and the future of a continent. n.p.: Vancouver: Greystone Books: David Suzuki Foundation, 2010

[15] Nikiforuk, Andrew. Tar sands: dirty oil and the future of a continent. n.p.: Vancouver: Greystone Books: David Suzuki Foundation, 2010

[16] Mergen, Andrew C. “Mining of the North: A Review of Andrew Nikiforuk’s Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, The [article].” Villanova Environmental Law Journal no. 2 (2010): 219. HeinOnline, EBSCOhost