Archive for September, 2008

Review of Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (And Doesn’t Seem to Care). Knopf Canada: 2007.


William Marsden is an author and investigative journalist who bravely took on the Hell’s Angels biker gang in a series of books and columns. Now he’s after a bigger, richer, and far more deceptive foe… the Canadian oil industry. Marsden goes to the physical and metaphorical heart of Canada’s oil country to provide an incisive examination of an environmental catastrophe effected by a manipulative oil industry in denial and aided an impotent and incompetent system of governments.

Marsden begins by supplying a great deal of informative historical background of the oil sands project, including a bizarre scheme in the 1950s to extract oil via controlled nuclear explosions. He also provides an inside view of the immense scale oil sands excavations by visiting the projects and talking with the workers. This sets the stage for the critique to come.


The two primary targets polemically identified by Marsden (the “stupid” ones of the title) are the oil industry and governments within the province of Alberta.


Marsden describes a heavily subsidized industry that flouts the rule of law, uses propaganda and intimidation to achieve its ends, is deliberately deceitful, and remains astonishingly ignorant of the long term effects (environmental, social, and financial) of its activities. He illustrates how time and time again the massive public relations machine of the oil industry obscures facts and keeps citizens in the dark (for example, by stating that the toxic petrochemical-related products suddenly infusing wells and land are naturally occurring).


The second side of the problem rests with an impotent and largely incompetent provincial government. This is not a government that serves its citizens; rather, it is a veritable plutocracy under the sway of corporations and addicted to royalties delivered by the ever-increasing prices of crude oil. The politics of ignorance appear to be the central creed of the Alberta government, and there is little or no desire by elected officials to listen to citizens or take their concerns seriously. As such, Marsden takes it upon himself to visit concerned citizens and report their stories, and they are not pretty. He reports of a government bought and paid for by the oil industry and who remain astonishingly oblivious about the effects of the industry on the citizens of Alberta.


Marsden concludes that the results the industry and government action/inaction have resulted in boreal forest depletion of a massive scale, a significant and possibly catastrophic depletion of the water table, and destruction of wildlife and rural agriculture. If continued unchecked, the Alberta of the future will be a bleak monument to avarice, and yes, stupidity.


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