On Thursday evening, December 6, at 7pm, Putney Friends Meeting’s Social Justice and Peace Committee will be sponsoring a showing of Tipping Point: The Age of the Oil Sands, an hour and a half visual tour de force, taking viewers inside the David and Goliath struggle playing out within one of the most compelling environmental issues of our time.
In an oil-scarce world, we know there are sacrifices to be made in the pursuit of energy. What no one expected was that a tiny Native community downriver from Canada’s oil sands would reach out to the world, and be heard.
Directed by Edmonton filmmakers Tom Radford and Niobe Thompson of Clearwater Media, and hosted by Dr. David Suzuki, this special presentation of The Nature of Things goes behind the headlines to reveal how a groundbreaking new research project triggered a tipping point for the Alberta oil sands.
For years, residents of the northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan, down the Athabasca River from the oil sands, have been plagued by rare forms of cancer. They were concerned that toxins from oil sands production might be to blame. Industry and government, meanwhile, claimed production in the oil sands contributed zero pollution to the Athabasca River.
But in 2010, new and independent research measured pollution in waters flowing through the oil sands and discovered higher-than-expected levels of toxins, including arsenic, lead and mercury, coming from industrial plants. Leading the research was renowned freshwater scientist Dr. David Schindler. At the same time, the leaders of tiny Fort Chipewyan took their battle to the boardrooms of global oil companies, demanding change.
Leading the campaign was Dene Elder Francois Paulette, whose battles with Ottawa a generation ago launched the era of modern land claims. From New York, to Copenhagen, to Oslo, to the oil sands themselves, our camera followed Paulette on his relentless search for allies. When he finally enlisted the support of Avatar director James Cameron, Paulette created a storm of controversy for the Alberta’s oil sands industry.
By the end of 2010, Schindler’s alarming discovery of toxic pollution and the media attention Cameron’s visit had raised was putting federal and provincial environmental policy under serious pressure. Separate reports by Canada’s Auditor General, the Royal Society of Canada, and a panel of experts appointed by then Environment Minister Jim Prentice revealed a decade of incompetent pollution monitoring, paid for by industry, in Alberta’s oil sands.
The documentary’s climax shows how Professor Schindler’s research findings, and the determination of Fort Chipewyan residents, led to change. In December 2010, the special scientific review by the high-level federal panel declared environmental monitoring standards in the oil sands seriously flawed. In a dramatic reversal of their previous position, both the Federal and Alberta governments announced steps to improve their pollution monitoring. The age of innocence for the oil sands is over.
Tipping Point was directed by Niobe Thompson and Tom Radford for Clearwater Media in association with CBC-TV. A theatrical version of the documentary, narrated by Sigourney Weaver, is now playing in film festivals around the world.