All Against the Haul is group organized to protest the construction of a permanent industrial corridor along rural roads in the Northwest and Northern Rockies, which oil companies will use for mega-trucking to get large equipment to the Alberta tar sands. Renowned writers Rick Bass and David James Duncan collaborated on a book about the impact this proposed corridor could have on the region, and the world.
I caught up with Rick Bass recently to find out more about the corridor, All Against the Haul, and what about the issue compelled him and Mr. Duncan to collaborate on the book, The Heart of the Monster: Why the Pacific Northwest & Northern Rockies Must Not Become an ExxonMobil Conduit to the Alberta Tar Sands— proceeds from which go to All Against the Haul.
1) First, if you can tell us a bit more about the corridor, All Against the Haul, and what this issue means to you personally and, as you see it, what is means to the region’s, even the world’s interest in the balance between the environment and commerce?
The Exxon-proposed corridor, designed to connect the manufacturing of giant South Korean-made mining equipment, with the vast tar sands deposits in southern Alberta—the largest industrial project in the world—has been proposed without due diligence to come up the Snake River on barges from the Pacific, then on trucks up along Idaho’s Lochsa River, over Lolo Pass on the Montana-Idaho border, through smalltown Montana, along Norman Maclean’s Blackfoot River of A River Runs Through It fame, and then up along the majestic and incomparable Rocky Mountain Front, through Choteau—the heart of the Front, in Montana—and on through Indian country, crossing over then into Canada, and proceeding to the great boreal forest of Canada, which is being scraped away to access the tar. (The boreal forest up there has been likened to being the lungs of North America, capable of absorbing great and critical amounts of carbon dioxide).
Further, this barge traffic on the Snake will “ratify” the continued damming of that once-great salmon corridor, creating a perceived need for those subsidized dams to remain in place, rather than removing them and letting wild salmon return to the western U.S.
2) You’ve both written great books that center on nature and, Rick, you’ve written a great deal on conservation and activism. While this issue is important, what about it stood out so much from so many of the other tough environmental issues that you each decided to write The Heart of the Monster?
NASA scientist Jim Hansen has said that if the tar sands extraction proceeds as planned, it will singlehandedly tip the planet irreversibly beyond any hope of mitigating or stopping global warming. And for now the fight all boils down to Montana. If we can cut off the supply lines through our beautiful state, maybe we can buy enough time for a truer accounting system to be set in place, one that rewards clean energy and taxes dirty energy, as a way of mitigating the damage we are doing not just to the future, but to the here and now. It’s literally the biggest battle in the world, and it passes right through our state, through our home country, and no one knows about it yet.
3) How does Heart of the Monster tackle this huge issue?
David writes an impassioned nonfiction memoir, chock-filled with facts, while I write a fictional piece about an imaginary Western politician of immense gifts who finds himself corrupted by his willingness to please Big Oil.
4) You two have never collaborated before, what brought the collaboration into being?
Crisis! During the week of the 4th of July, 2010, David and I attended a meeting of local activists in Missoula in which we all brainstormed and tried to figure out what each of us could do.
5) There are some readers who may feel that The Heart of the Monster is a book of conjecture, that the accidents and negative impact that you predict might well never happen. As terrible and preventable as the recent Yellowstone River oil spill was, do you think it might help sway those who would otherwise hold the view that books like Heart of the Monster are “alarmist” or “anti-commerce”?
I hope so. My experience in the oilfield is not insubstantial. Exxon, of course, makes a living by telling people not to worry—as do BP and other giant oil companies. It’s certainly the message we would like to believe.
Ultimately in a democracy, it’s up to each of us to get involved and decide who’s right, and who’s got skin in the game, and who doesn’t: who benefits, who loses. The main theme I would want to expose is that current economic system does not price the true accountability of oil. The future will be paying for this artificial pricing system. We simply can’t afford it. It is killing us, and turning countries against one another, and is killing our health, our quality of life. It is a massive, toxic, sick, twisted subsidy, a monstrous subsidy. It is a speculative bubble yet, with the world’s atmosphere and climate at stake. Life will survive, even prosper. Human beings might even survive. But the suffering—economic, social, environmental—doesn’t have to happen. We can still make corrections, though barely, now.
6) After folks read your book, or even if they don’t, how can they get involved, how can they make a real impact?
All the usual ways—visiting the All Against the Haul website, signing the petition, writing legislators—but mostly just talking to friends and neighbors about the lunacy of tar sands extraction, and the unchecked and destructive power of corporations.
Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts on the tar sands corridor through the American Rockies.
Rick Bass is an environmental activist, former petroleum geologist, and author who has written many books, both fiction and non-fiction, about the natural world and our relationship with and impact upon it. His books include, The Book of Yaak, Winter: Notes from Montana, Where the Sea Used to Be, and many others. David James Duncan is the author of the novels The River Why and The Brothers K.