Mike Hudema: “It’s not possible to produce tar sands in an environmentally friendly way.”

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The Beam interview series, edition 6: Mike Hudema

To lighten up your week and give you even more energizing thoughts, we publish interviews from our partner The Beam twice a week.

The Beam takes a modern perspective at the energy transition, interviewing inspirational people from around the world that shape our sustainable energy future.

This week, Anne-Sophie Garrigou, journalist at The Beam, interviewed Mike Hudema, a fervent opponent to the development of the Alberta tar sands in Canada, working with advocacy organizations, including Greenpeace.


Can you tell us what the tar sands are and describe the main problems surrounding it?

The tar sands are the largest industrial, capital and energy project on the planet with the environmental and human rights impacts to match. Over 140,000 sq. km, an area the size of Florida, are available for tar sands leasing. To get a barrel of tar sands out of the ground you either need to create vast open pit strip mines or you have to literally bake the earth. All of this is very energy intensive and very destructive. The tar sands are single-handedly thwarting Canada’s attempts to meet its global climate commitments. The Beaver Lake Cree Nation, just one of several First Nations in the tar sands area, has already filed a lawsuit citing 20,000 treaty rights violations due to the impact of the tar sands on its traditional territory. There are over 170 sq. km of toxic lakes in Alberta because of tar sands extraction and the list just goes on and on and on.

According to you, is there a link between the oil activity in Alberta and the recent devastating Fort McMurray forest fires that left hundreds of people out of jobs and homeless?

The fires that raged through Alberta and forced tens of thousands from their homes is a sign of climate change and a warning of what is to become far more frequent the longer we fail to act. The day the fires raced into Fort McMurray, Alberta set 24 different temperature records including a record setting 32.6 C in Fort McMurray, 20 degrees above normal and a scorching 4.8 degrees above the previous record set in 1945. These tinder-dry conditions helped lead to one of the earliest wildfire seasons in Alberta’s history and fueled the fire that raged through the city. Scientists have been very clear that climate change is increasing the severity and frequency of wildfires all over the planet. The Fort McMurray fire is just one example.

Do you think it is possible to produce oil from Alberta’s tar sands without environmental and atmospheric pollution?

It’s not possible to produce tar sands in an environmentally friendly way. The reality is we have to move away from fossil fuels, especially high-carbon fuels like the tar sands, and speed the implementation of solar, wind, geothermal, sustainable transportation and other renewable technologies. We either do that or we may end life on this planet. I’m very much in favor of the first option.

Read more of the interview here. (Part of the interview is in The Beam #2 and The Beam #3.)

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The Beam

The Beam Magazine is an independent climate solutions and climate action magazine. It tells about the most exciting solutions, makes a concrete contribution to eliminating climate injustices and preserving this planet for all of us in its diversity and beauty. Our cross-country team of editors works with a network of 150 local journalists in 50 countries talking to change makers and communities. THE BEAM is published in Berlin and distributed in nearly 1,000 publicly accessible locations, to companies, organizations and individuals in 40 countries across the world powered by FairPlanet.

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