You are comparing us to what?

I don't get over excited when I run into salacious media articles that decidedly toss large chunks of steaming poo in our general direction.  It happens so often, I fear that if I acquiesced to the simmering anger they could inspire, I would end up in the loony bin, or at the very least, in court-imposed anger management therapy sessions.

And while the collective "we" has been working on setting journalists straight with the truth about our community and the oil sands industry for years, a number of stories have been published in recent days signaling yet another swell in the anti-oil sands sentiment that automatically metastasizes into a twisted view of our urban centre, our beloved hometown of Fort McMurray.

When I read Brian Bethune's article in the August 13th edition of Maclean's - a review of Andrew Blackwell's book Visit Sunny Chernobyl called "Water's toxic, wish you were here" - in which he asserts that Fort McMurray produces double the amount of carbon emissions as the city of Los Angeles, I nearly lost my mind.

Pardon?  You are comparing us to what?

The exact reference is this: If there wasn't a collective worldwide lust for what Syncrude and Suncor provide, Fort McMurray wouldn't have carbon emissions twice the size of Los Angeles's, a city 100 times larger.

What's important to note is that the sentence is not contained within quotes, which begs the question of whether the author is making a personal statement or whether he is paraphrasing a conclusion reached within the pages of the publication he is reviewing.  Either way, it's wrong.

Fort McMurray's carbon emissions wouldn't come close to most medium-sized American cities, let alone the second largest.  If, in fact, Mr. Bethune wrote one thing but meant something slightly different - that the entire oil sands region produces twice as many carbon emissions of the city of L.A. - scientists and people with access to the data are still scurrying around trying to find out if there is truth to that wild comparison.

What really upsets me though, is that a misleading sentence of this magnitude ran in our national news magazine, a weekly compendium of issues and stories that are of import to all Canadians.  It upsets me that some unsuspecting reader, kicking back in his or her Adirondack chair with a frosty beverage and nothing but summer vacation time on their hands, will read this ludicrous comparison and become unconsciously implanted with a pretty vivid image of Fort McMurray, one filled with exhaust sputtering vehicles as far as the eyes can see and choking smog.

You wonder why we experience gut-level reactions of disdain and disaster when "Fort McMurray" gets dropped into conversation in distant airport line-up.  It is because one journalist after another has neglected their job - nay, their responsibility - of presenting a balanced story, free of hyperbole and conjecture.  How John H. Richardson in Esquire felt that he was being fair and balanced in describing us as "the little Canadian town that might just destroy the world", I have no idea. (from Keystone, published August 10, 2012)

Bethune points out in his Maclean's article that Blackwell demonstrated careless whimsy throughout his tour of what he considers the world's most polluted places, especially having "outraged fun with the oil industry and its friendly provincial government."  Calling the Oil Sands Discovery Centre "some of the best industrial propaganda in the world," Blackwell is suggesting that people - like the recent oil sands and Gateway pipeline converts from British Columbia - are getting duped, and that one of most remarkable, innovative, and regulated industrial developments in the world is actually a real-life manifestation of the Mordor described by Tolkien in Lord of the Rings.

I think some of these writers need to pull up a chair and join me at the Clearwater River at sunset, or watch the sun come up from Mayor Blake's office looking east down Franklin Avenue on a crisp November morning, or take a helicopter ride through the lower townsite as the leaves start to turn colour in the fall, or watch a dynamic ice break of the Athabasca River in the spring.  If they even see a hint of Mordor, I would eat my dirty shorts...on national television.

What is perhaps the most disturbing about Bethune's column is that some incredibly intelligent, world-class editor, sitting at his or her computer screen at Maclean's HQ, read that comparison and didn't even blink an eye.  To those of us who call Fort McMurray home, that assertion leaps off the page; to one particular editor, it sat there like a benign lump of bitumen, making complete sense in their distorted understanding of the community that is "the epicentre for opportunity in this country."


  1. Russell, I couldn't have put it better myself: You have the absolute soul of a poet, and your frustration with the tripe you describe is shared by those that know the truth. You are also far more polite in your critique than I would have been - kudos to you! - Mark Finlay

    1. Thanks Mark. There are times when the potential impact of bad journalism is so glaring, I just can't help myself.

  2. The bashing Fort McMurray seems to continuously receive is tiresome. Why doesn't anyone ever talk about the wonderfully multicultural population? Or the diversity of events and activities for families? Few cities enjoy the numerous opportunities for small business and personal advancement Fort McMurray provides.

    Why not anyone talks about the fast-paced technological advancement in the field of environmental protection the oil sands industry supports?

  3. Very well written and structured, Russell. I am so glad you took a position. (I wish you'd do it more often because you do it very well.)

    1. Thanks Myra. I appreciate your kind words and support. I always find it interesting how taking a strong stand on something increases readership is such a substantial way.

  4. The part that caught my attention was the first part of the line you cited from the article - "If there wasn't a COLLECTIVE WORLDWIDE LUST for what Syncrude and Suncor provide..."

    Yes, Mr. Bethune, a COLLECTIVE WORLWIDE in EVERYBODY, not just McMurrayites. Will you step up to the plate and lead the charge and stop lusting for the resource in the ground here? It's not like it's our fault its there. We certainly didn't put it there. Good grief!

    I also get a kick out of how the majority of BC'ers oppose this propsed Gateway pipeline....and yet how many of them work here in our region. Methinks these hyprocrites protest too much.

  5. I hope you submit your response to this article to the editor of MacLean's, thus increasing the readership of the more balanced (as you stated) view of Fort McMurray!

  6. Can't agree more Russell! You really have to wonder how people come up with these crazy "facts"!

  7. Well said, Russell. And I agree with Julie's comment - it's time to shift the media's perspective of Fort McMurray.

  8. Thanks Russell! Loved reading this.... it cudn't have been said better!


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