James Cameron Goes to the Tar Sands

The most powerful man in Hollywood just confronted the most powerful industry on the planet. Director James Cameron wrapped up a three-day tour of Alberta where big oil is making its biggest play for the planet's dwindling oil reserves in the form of Canada's colossal tar sands project.

Cameron made the trip on the invitation of George Poitras on behalf of Indigenous Environmental Network, whom he met last year at the UN. Poitras has been a long-time advocate for his small community, Fort Chipewyan, just downstream from the toxic tar sands development in Northern Alberta. Those in Fort Chipewyan along with several other Indigenous communities are resisting the tar sands development because of the devastating health, human rights and environmental impacts the project poses.

"We need to put the brakes on expansion and learn more about how to extract this resource in a safe manner," Cameron declared to a packed press conference, "we must include the First Nations in these important policy decisions because right now they can't even trust the water they are drinking."

National news networks carried live coverage of Cameron's trip in the US and Canada as pundits from all sides clamored to interpret the director's every word. The attention could not have come at a better time. This year, tar sands became the biggest source of oil imports into the US, with more than a million barrels per day of the dirty crude flowing across the border. If big oil gets its way, investors will pour $218 billion of investment capital into tripling oil production from tar sands by 2020, and another $35 billion or more to expand pipelines and refineries to process the muck.

A 2009 report by WWF and the Co-Operative Bank concludes that if production continues at this rapid pace around 87 billion barrels of tar sands oil will be mined, burned and ultimately released into the atmosphere as more than 50 gigatons of CO2 by 2050.

This week, James Cameron added his voice to the chorus of voices pushing to stop the destruction caused by tar sands development. It is critical that we in the US, the largest consumer of this dirty oil, do the same. The real solution to the horrors of the tar sands is to transition away from this devastating source of oil extraction and toward a green energy economy.