Tar sands developments are among the most destructive projects on Earth and not many know the damage they do, says Derek Leahy.
“Very few people outside of Canada know about the tar sands,” he says. “And even within Canada there are some people who do not know about them.”
To change that, Leahy created International Stop the Tar Sands Day, which falls on June 18.
“International Stop the Tar Sands Day is a raising awareness campaign, plain and simple,” he says. “Our hope is when people — whether in Canada or abroad — are aware of destructiveness of the tar sands of northern Alberta they will do something about them.”
The oil found in the tar sands has a gummy consistency. When mixed with sand, it creates a clay called bitumen, which in Alberta is found under huge swaths of untouched forest. Extracting the oil is profitable and good for Canada’s bottom line, but the environmental price is too high.
“An area of pristine boreal forests the size of the city of Toronto has already been destroyed by tar sands development,” says Renee Leahy, an ardent supporter of International Stop the Tar Sands Day and Derek Leahy’s mother. “Continued development of the tar sands could industrialize an area the size of England.
“The tar sands industry is draining fresh water from the Mackenzie River Basin at an alarming rate,” she says. “Extracting oil from the tar sands requires approximately 370 million cubic metres of fresh water each year from the Athabasca River. These tailings ponds are leaking toxins into the Athabasca River which is the drinking water for communities and animals in the area.”
When people learn what’s going on, Derek Leahy says, the reaction is one of shock.
“I have been working on International Stop the Tar Sands Day for more than a year now from Europe mainly,” he says. “Every time a European finds out about the tar sands, their initial response is: ‘No, it can’t be. They would never do that in Canada!’
“Canada has always enjoyed a great reputation internationally as a nice, friendly, environmentally conscious country,” he says. “The tar sands are putting this great rep at risk.”
On International Stop the Tar Sands Day, Derek Leahy is urging Torontonians to stand up for the environment and peacefully demonstrate at Trinity Bellwoods Park from noon to 5 p.m. The Toronto event is one of dozens planned around the world.
“It is not too late,” he says. “Tar sands ‘black gold’ rush can still be stopped. Canada can still be that environmentally conscious country that Canadians and everyone else wants it to be.”
He’s right. On June 18, we should all stand and fight for our environment before this disaster-in-progress before it’s too late.