News Articles | National Post | Kathryn Blaze Carlson | March 04, 2010
It is the year 2154 on planet Pandora, and the Sky people are desecrating the land of the indigenous Navi population as they hunt for a buried mineral called unobtanium.
Rewind 144 years, and this movie plot is precisely the scenario playing out in Canada’s tar sands, according to a cohort of environmental groups that ran a full-page advertisement in Variety magazine yesterday.
The ad, which runs under the headline ‚ÄòCanada’s Avatar Sands,’ is an obvious reference to the Oscar-nominated Avatar, an animated film centred on the plight of the Navi people and their quest to save the sacred Hometree.
Indeed, for the more than 50 international groups that backed the advertisement, the film is a science-fiction nod to a very real Canadian plot: The Navi people stand in for the aboriginal communities living near the Athabaska Oil Sands in Alberta, and the Sky people represent the oil companies with mining operations there.
“Where Indigenous Peoples in Canada are endangered by toxic pollution and future oil spills,” reads the $20,000 advertisement in the entertainment magazine.
“Where Shell, BP, Exxon, and other Sky People are destroying a huge ancient forest. Where giant Hell trucks are used to mine the most polluting, expensive unobtanium oil to feed America’s addiction.”
The Oscar-nominated film, with its stunning visual imagery and deference to nature, has been a beacon to the green movement since its release last year, and its director – Canada’s James Cameron – has been outspoken about his movie’s message.
“Avatar asks us all to be warriors for the Earth,” Mr. Cameron reportedly said at a recent benefit. “This beautiful, fragile, miracle of a planet that we have right here is our land. Not ours to own, but ours to defend and protect.”
And so an advertisement like the one that ran this week was only natural, said Michael Marx, head of U.S.-based Corporate Ethics International, which bought the ad space.
“There are people living the Avatar storyline around the world, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to bring attention to that,” said Mr. Marx, adding that Variety magazine targets the Hollywood audience and will hopefully bolster celebrity support.
“The tar sands of Canada and the infrastructure that is being built to import that oil into the United States is slowing down our transition to a clean-energy economy. It’s keeping us addicted to oil.”
The Alberta oil sands have long been a hot-button issue in Canada, but the operations there – which span more than 140,000 square kilometres of sparsely populated Boreal forest, and which make this country the top crude-oil exporter to the United States – garnered contempt at the environmental summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, last December.
“The tar sands have become the symbol of Canadian inaction on climate change,” said John Bennett, executive director of Sierra Club Canada, one of the groups that backed the ad.
“Avatar is about industrialists wanting to take every last resource and use it without regard for the future, or for those who live nearby. That’s very synonymous with what’s happening with the tar sands.”
Not so, said Janet Annesley, spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, who called the comparison “ridiculous.”
“The plot of the movie has no relation to oil-sands development other than the fact that Avatar shows equipment that is used in mining operations around the world,” Ms. Annesley said.
“This connection is entirely fabricated by the activist community. It’s fabricated to attract media attention, it’s fabricated to tell a story about aboriginal issues that simply doesn’t exist.”
But Mr. Marx said the aboriginal issues to which Ms. Annesley refers are, in fact, very real.
“I believe we will see scientific reports that there is a connection between the pollutants from the tar sands and the health problems of the native communities that live downstream.”
Ms. Annesley said the experience of the aboriginal community is nothing like that of the fictional Navi people who, in the animated movie, were essentially steamrolled by developers.
“If you look at the history of the oil sands, we have had constructive engagement with the aboriginal people for more than 40 years,” she said.
“We invite these activists back to planet Earth for a reasonable discussion about environmental performance, economic growth and meeting our energy needs.”