God Keep Our Land, Glorious and Rich

The Athabasca Oil Sands, outsize a part of the economy as they may be, are simultaneously a commonly discussed aspect of Canadian society, yet, due to the remote location and the incomprehensible enormity of their physical scale, a totally unknown quantity. The particularities of the Oil Sands are cognitively invisible. I travelled to Fort McMurray and the surrounding area in October 2017, recording as much of the soundscape as I could, and taking daily notes on my experience.

In a February 3rd, 2014 interview with David Barasamian, addressing the threat of climate change, Noam Chomsky said that “predatory capitalism is telling us to maximize the threat, to extract every drop of fossil fuel out of the ground. The excuse is jobs. But in modern political discourse, the word ‘jobs’ replaces an unspeakable, obscene seven-letter word: ‘p-r-o-f-i-t-s.’ You can’t say that, so you say ‘jobs’.” Driving 500 miles in just over two days, from oil field to oil field with conspicuously large recording equipment, I encountered a variety of curious people who were willing to speak to me about the oil sands. One middle-aged man, who had worked the area for over twenty years, proclaimed that while he truly did “believe in global warming,” the importance of jobs was paramount. This attitude sums up precisely the delusional thinking of not just Canadians, but most citizens of western nations. In many respects, almost everyone is a climate change denier. There are the loud-mouthed imbeciles, who shout at the top of their lungs that while they “aren’t a scientist, the data is simply isn’t there.” Then there is ostensibly everyone else. People who express deep concern about the future of the planet, while continuing their lifestyle and consumption habits from circa 1984: driving, flying and consuming mass-produced goods at a relentless pace, buying weekly 24-packs of bottled water in plastic containers that will never biodegrade, stolen from public lands by Nestlé et al. as part of a carbon-heavy, truck-based distribution network because for some reason tap water just doesn’t taste good enough to them. The market caused climate change, yet at the same time, because voters hate new regulations so much, solutions to climate change and waste reduction are themselves market-driven, based on reducing the cost of business, not some corporate benevolence toward saving the world.

A Focus Canada study from 2014 led by David Suzuki showed that 86% of Canadians express some level of concern about global warming, yet Canadians have one of the largest individual carbon footprints in the world. How then can this blatant discrepancy between belief and life practice be explained? The answer is quite obvious: most people cannot reconcile the scale of the problem with their individual actions, and government encourages a deep form of climate denialism. Justin Trudeau, one of the world’s greatest hypocrites on the environmental future of the planet, said in March 2017 that “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.” We return to Chomsky, and observe that Trudeau cares only about money, and keeping Canada rich, not the environment. Whereto these toxic profits then? Seized with great force from the Earth, they barely enrich the lives of those who perform this dirty, perilous work, nor those Canadians who work tirelessly for little pay in soul-crushing jobs. This ostensibly “free” money goes to the executives, the class of international capital elites who take this money and hide it offshore; dormant, stockpiled, and ready to be weaponized against any citizen who dares to seriously challenge this criminal system of environmental and human exploitation. This is the system in which we exist and suffer, the Earth suffers, and this is the system that Trudeau II, the Liberal Party of Canada, the Conservative Party of Canada, the Alberta NDP, and generally speaking, the federal NDP all vigorously defend.

PREMIERE May 31, 2018. Quasar Saxophone Quartet.
LOCATION Le Gésu, Montreal
PERSONNEL Saxophone Quartet (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone)
COMMISSIONER Quasar, Canada Council for the Arts
TECHNOLOGY Live Processing, Contact microphone on baritone, Sample playback