09/18/2013 09:59 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Inescapable, Undeniable Fact


Hi Tim,

It was clear from reading your piece in The Huffington Post Canada that you have helped stir up some defensive emotions from your community of Fort McMurray. In response, it seems only appropriate that I take the opportunity to clarify some of the disinformation you may be inadvertently spreading, and possibly eradicate some of the ill will now engendered.

It's quite common for people to project onto public figures what their intentions might be, or what they think, believe or don't believe. You and I met for only a few minutes on either side of your flight and spoke only a few sentences, so when you claim that I make "judgments with little information" it is actually you, rather ironically, who is making a judgment.

I was impressed with your courage, hanging off the chopper over the tar sands toxic tailings ponds (which look more like lakes, or oceans and have floating barrels every few yards with orange construction worker scarecrows and air cannons blasting every few seconds 24/7 to keep birds from mistaking them for actual lakes and landing and dying), as I have a touch of vertigo, and after over 30 years in the film business, working in and around ariel photography, I know enough about film making to see that you were doing, what looked like a great job.

It seems awfully harsh and defensive to jump on Neil Young for invoking "Hiroshima" when describing the tar sands mines, when you yourself describe it as "mordor." Is it not obvious that the tar sands, their mass destruction and the health impacts they cause are what he was moved by and referring to, not your neighborhood. So, It may be semantics that upset you, but for the many thousands of species that once inhabited the boreal forest that was once there and is now forever destroyed -- the decimation was probably more akin to nuclear bombs devastation than an art directed fantasy film.

I have a deep sense of respect and gratitude to the people who toil in the unforgiving tars sands camps to provide for their families and provide a service for those of us still demanding oil. Everyone in the region we came across, though we weren't there for long, was welcoming and friendly.

The documentary we were there to film part of is almost five years in the making (so far) and is about Neil's journey with his 1959 Lincoln continental. It is not a documentary about Fort McMurray, or about the tar sands, so unfortunately, while I'm sure it would have been fun, there was not time in our schedule to visit fairs, meet with industry experts or film the community in Fort McMurray. We did chat with Ken Chapman, who you brought, and described as an "environmentally conscious oil sands development advocate" and though he was helpful, we were later informed that he was in fact, the former Executive Director of the Oil Sands Developers Group.

Never the less, films must run on a relatively tight schedule, and stay on point or they get too pricey and the end result unfocussed. This film is about a 1959 Lincoln Continental automobile and energy. The 1959 Lincoln Continentals have such an exquisite beauty and design but they are also known as gas guzzling beasts, being one the largest cars on the road. Part of the films concept as I understand it is -- If this iconic car can run cleanly and efficiently, that speaks volumes as to what is possible for every car on the road.


It is a little known fact that every fuel-injected car (which is most every gas burner made since the 1980s) can run on clean burning alcohol fuel. All these cars need is a small, inexpensive box that tells your engine what fuel it's running on, and you could still use petroleum if you want -- and even blend it at any ratio. Alcohol fuel can be made from ANY starchy or sugary substance. It's a simple fermentation process. It can be homemade as cheaply as 5 cents a gallon but even if you buy E85 at the pump (85 percent ethanol and 15 percent petroleum ) it usually costs about a dollar less than unleaded gas here in the States.

What makes biofuels sustainable or not is the feedstock they're made from, and how its produced and distributed. Corn mostly grown for livestock is used most often in the States because of their powerful lobby and subsidized annual surplus, though it is not the most efficient feedstock. As a general rule -- waste, like day old bread, or orchard droppings, or cellulosic ethanol (which the Lincoln uses to power its electric generator) is best. But there are thousands of possibilities, depending on what you have in abundance in the region of the world you live in. While up in your area, I noticed the beautiful boreal forest dotted with areas of cattails everywhere. Cattails are a phenomenal source for alcohol fuel as they have a high yield and can even be used to bio-remediate brackish water.

Diesel motors, of course, were invented by Rudolf Diesel to run on vegetable oil so that farmers could grow their own fuel for their farm equipment -- and guess what? Though they took his engine and modified it to run on diesel fuel (a more toxic byproduct of petroleum) they still can run on veggie oil (thinned to the right viscosity) -- even already used veggie oil, which is what I use in my 1983 El Camino! Most people don't know this, and, the wealthiest industry in the history of humankind (big oil) has every intention (and deep financial interests) that it remains that way. The oil and gas profiteers would like us to believe that one would need to be rich (or a wealthy entertainer, as you said) to be able to afford clean energy. But that is absolutely not true!

I have been using solar power for over 20 years now and the system paid for itself about 15 years ago with all that I saved by not paying a utility bill every month. There are many States in the U.S. that have no money down solar leasing options and wind farms are popping up all over Texas (our version of Alberta). The standard spin is that renewable clean energy is too expensive and that we'll always need conventional fuels in the mix. What flies in the face of that spin is the fact that non-renewable fuels, however, are by definition finite. Moreover, as fossil fuels dwindle, these commodities are becoming increasingly expensive and dangerous to extract, transport and use. The inescapable, undeniable fact is that transitioning to 100 percent safe, clean renewable energy sources is inevitable.

People buy into the myth that conventional energy is the only choice because humans tend to believe what is familiar. Even though the technologies already exist to meet our energy demand with more efficient, secure, economical renewable resources, more than a century of massive subsidies and centralized control have ensured the unsustainable non-renewable energy systems are uniquely familiar and energy players have additionally spent countless sums on media, marketing propaganda and lobbying trying to make sure that remains the case as long as possible.

But the myth has started to crumble. Renewable energy is becoming more cost-competitive with fossil fuels; electricity's cost from wind and solar sources in America has fallen by more than 50 percent since 2008. Across our shared continent -- and the world -- people are seeing renewable energy as a smarter and healthier choice for themselves, their families, their communities, and for future generations. The initial investment is paid back in a few years in most cases. It grants true energy independence, slashes regional fuel import costs, creates new local jobs and industries, and where renewable electricity penetration is high, like in Germany, cuts peak power market prices.

What we're starting to see in the U.S. is that from Greensburg, KS in the heartland of the country to Lancaster and Marin County in California, communities are increasingly committing to and achieving 100 percent renewable energy targets. So, too, are nations like Denmark and Scotland in Europe, and Tuvalu and Tokelau in the South Pacific. A growing number of businesses like Google, Apple, and Ikea are adopting parallel standards.

Bottom line: The global shift to 100 percent renewable energy is not a question of if, but when and how. As I see it, the sooner, the better.

My stance against the boondoggle that is the Keystone XL pipeline has been a stand to protect us from exacerbating the effects of the climate crisis. We are already experiencing its force, in the form of killer floods, droughts, massive fires and super storm catastrophes. Then there's the unprecedented global water crisis that is lurking on the horizon. The KXL pipeline would not only pass through the U.S.'s largest (and rapidly diminishing) fossil aquifer, but the pipeline would be a major conduit for tar sands expansion plans. This would be a disaster. The tar sands projects need to use the United States as a passageway (while taking ranch & farm land through eminent domain) to get its product to the global market. This oil is not promised to the U.S. to get us free from OPEC, it is to be sold on the open market to the highest bidder, that's why they need to get it to refineries on the tax free, foreign trade zones of the Gulf of Mexico. At a Congressional hearing last year TransCanada's president was asked directly if they would allow TransCanada's oil and its products to stay in the U.S., and he said -- NO!

Yes, we all need energy to prosper, but we now know that these 19th century ways of producing it, and the increasingly extreme extraction measures necessary to get it, are destroying our health and that of other species, our climate and our very life support systems -- the uncontaminated, increasingly rare, fresh water sources, our clean vital soil, bio diverse organic seed, and our atmosphere, that are all unquestionably essential to human existence. Even the most conservative reports of the climate crisis talk of "total systems collapse" and recommend we get off fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

Many of us from the documentary film shoot near the tar sands are still struggling with sore throats and coughs after filming near the giant tailings lakes. Maybe its coincidence, but maybe not.

Regardless, it is insulting to so casually dismiss the illnesses found in the Fort Chip First Nations community and the abnormalities found in the wildlife, which is the food source they depend upon, as irrelevant because they have been compensated for the contamination to their territory. For years Dr. O'Conner had to suffer the oil industry's attempts to have him discredited -- but it did not work -- he is an amazingly courageous, principled and admirable person to have withstood all the abuse. Seven years later, he is still dedicating his time to those communities and they in turn stood by him. He is one citizen you should be boasting about.



I'm hoping for us to find common ground, to realize we all have the same basic needs. Now more than ever, it's critical we share information with each other, so we can make wiser decisions, otherwise profits will always come before people and ultimately I'm afraid, all life.

While it was nice to meet you, I do hope you will reconsider making such harsh judgments in the future because it only stirs up divisiveness, and we've all got enough of a big mess on our hands. it is really incumbent upon us all to embrace the solutions to these crises we face and protect this glorious planet for future generations.

P.S. Congratulations on the plastic bag ban -- my town has done the same!