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Nature Environmental Conservation & Protection

Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life

A Tar Sands Tale

by (author) Matt Hern & Am Johal

contributions by Joe Sacco

MIT Press
Initial publish date
Mar 2018
Environmental Conservation & Protection, Environmental Policy, Personal Memoirs
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2018
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Seeking new definitions of ecology in the tar sands of northern Alberta and searching for the sweetness of life in the face of planetary crises.

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 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.

Published with the help of funding from Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan fund

About the authors

Matt Hern is the director of the Purple Thistle centre, an alternative youth program in Vancouver, BC. He holds a a PhD in Urban Studies from the Union Institute. An accomplished writer and public speaker, he has written three books: Deschooling Our Lives, Field Day: Getting Society Out of School and Watch Yourself: Why Safer Isn't Always Better. He lives with his partner and two daughters in East Vancouver.

Matt Hern's profile page

Am Johal is Director of Simon Fraser University's Vancity Office of Community Engagement and author of Ecological Metapolitics: Badiou and the Anthropocene.

Am Johal's profile page

Joe Saccois a cartoonist and author of Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde, Footnotes in Gaza, and other works of journalism. He lives in Portland with a vodka martini.

Joe Sacco's profile page

Editorial Reviews

A book like no other – one of the most peculiar I have read in a while… A highly intelligent and inspiring read.—E&T Magazine

The book's intellectual rigour is as laudable as its open-mindedness.

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor

appealingly humble and refreshingly determined to talk about big ideas with the individuals who would be most affected by their implementation.

New York Review of Books, 2.21.2019—

no one else could have written this book, in this form, and it's a delight to be faced so openly with such complexity of perspective in (mostly!) direct prose.

Book Addiction Blog

Other titles by Matt Hern