Long-time ISE lecturer Matt Hern has an excellent new book just out, combining an extended travelogue to the center of Canada’s tar sands with an engaging dose of social theory and free-form political commentary. Here’s what the publisher, MIT Press, says about Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life: A Tar Sands Tale, co-written by Matt and his colleague Am Johal, the Community Engagement director at Simon Fraser University. The book also features lots of photos and a cartoon account of their journey by Joe Sacco:
Confounded by global warming and in search of an affirmative politics that links ecology with social change, Matt Hern and Am Johal set off on a series of road trips to the tar sands of northern Alberta—perhaps the world’s largest industrial site, dedicated to the dirty work of extracting oil from Alberta’s vast reserves. Traveling from culturally liberal, self-consciously “green” Vancouver, and aware that our well-meaning performances of recycling and climate-justice marching are accompanied by constant driving, flying, heating, and fossil-fuel consumption, Hern and Johal want to talk to people whose lives and fortunes depend on or are imperiled by extraction. They are seeking new definitions of ecology built on a renovated politics of land. Traveling with them is their friend Joe Sacco—infamous journalist and cartoonist, teller of complex stories from Gaza to Paris—who contributes illustrations and insights and a chapter-length comic about the contradictions of life in an oil town. The epic scale of the ecological horror is captured through an series of stunning color photos by award-winning aerial photographer Louis Helbig.
Seamlessly combining travelogue, sophisticated political analysis, and ecological theory, speaking both to local residents and to leading scholars, the authors propose a new understanding of ecology [one that’s familiar to social ecologists!] that links the domination of the other-than-human world to the domination of humans by humans. They argue that any definition of ecology has to start with decolonization and that confronting global warming requires a politics that speaks to a different way of being in the world—a reconstituted understanding of the sweetness of life.