Photo: Tonight on CBC TV: Tipping Point: the Age of the Oil Sands

By Ryan Kadowaki, Climate Change Program Coordinator

A number of people, including Canada's prime minister and environment minister, have recently attempted to reshape the debate around Canada's tar sands. In response to growing public concern over the environmental impacts and social justice issues in the oil patch, a new line of messaging has surfaced trumpeting the "ethical" virtues of our reserves over those of other nations.

Debating the ethics of the oil sands while omitting the impacts on Aboriginal communities, watersheds, critical habitat, and climate change is intentionally deceiving. Playing public-relations games will not make these very real challenges disappear.

Tonight (January 27), Canadians will have an opportunity to take a closer look at the issues at play when Tipping Point: the Age of the Oil Sands, a special two-hour presentation of The Nature of Things, airs on CBC TV.

The documentary weaves together several storylines. Renowned freshwater scientist Dr. David Schindler discovers higher-than-expected levels of toxins in the Athabasca River, which has since led to several independent investigations revealing a decade of incompetent pollution monitoring funded by industry. Dene Elder Francois Paulette speaks out about the people of Fort Chipewyan, who have had their health and way of life acutely affected. And Avatar director James Cameron visits northern Alberta, casting the environmental impacts of the tar sands into the international spotlight. These stories merge in the climax to show how the various efforts have led to change.

One film can't change Canada's energy landscape overnight, but an informed and engaged citizenry can do its part by not letting critical issues go unaccounted for. Getting up to speed on the problems facing Canada's largest energy project is a good place to start. I'll be tuning in this evening, and I hope you will too.

Tipping Point: the Age of the Oil Sands, a two-hour special of The Nature of Things, airs Thursday, January 27, at 8 p.m. on CBC TV, repeating Saturday, February 12, at 7 p.m. EST on CBC News Network.

January 27, 2011

Post a comment


Jan 20, 2012
12:14 PM

The photograph really says it all — this is how we treat the land.

Feb 07, 2011
10:45 AM

Hi Carol, thanks for your note. According to CBC it’s repeating February 12 now, same time/channel. (7 pm EST, CBC News Network)

Feb 04, 2011
10:03 AM

The fact that David Suzuki enlisted the services of James Cameron only discredits the years of admirable work Dr. Suzuki has done. James Cameron is a Hollywood director, NOT an environmental scientist. His film “Avatar” is essentially a 3 hour endeavor lambasting the mining industry and all it’s affects on the environment, but yet, every piece of technology that made that film possible is only in existence because on the mining industry. Nearly every part of the film making process of that film was made possible by products of mining and mineral exploration. Not to mention the fact that he re-released that movie ump-teen billion times, thus making him a bigger money-grubbing whore than Sir Paul McCartney’s ex-wife. It’s sweet irony that everyone on here striving against the tar sands is on their computer, nearly all of which is made possible by oil, or mineral-derived products. James Cameron’s role is in Hollywood, making films, he has no business claiming to be anyone of any credible expertise in this field. In the movie Avatar, the chief mineral sought after is named “Unobtainium” (a cheap rip off from the movie “The Core”) for those of you lacking scientific knowledge, words ending in “ium” are elements, not minerals, (ex, Titanium, Platinum, Rubidium.) Minerals end in “ite” (ex, Mangnetite, Malachite, Anorthite)

If James Cameron had any environmental wisdom, he would have caught this in his $280 million faux pas. In my opinion, this is the largest overlooking of facts since NASA forgot to convert the Mars lander from metric to imperial units. A pretty large oversight for an electrical engineer. For that, Dr. Suzuki, you should be ashamed.

I realize that in this documentary, Mr. Cameron takes on a very neutral stance, but in my opinion, this is completely overshadowed by the fact he is involved in the documentary. When James Cameron attaches his name to any piece of film, it is certain to attract large amounts of attention. Him affixing his name to this left wing, environmentalist documentary clearly demonstrates his real life bias.

In response to Carol Jewell, if you would like to know what action to take in order to stop the oil sands, I recommend selling any metallic or plastic possession you own, and resort to foraging for berries and hunting wild game, all whilst living in a purely organic-derived dwelling, I wish you luck in enduring a Canadian winter….I highly doubt you’d be willing to give up all the luxuries you take for granted in order to be the change you wish to be, I certainly know Mr. Cameron wouldn’t give up his gold-plated britanium statues….

If it can’t be grown, it has to be mined.

Feb 01, 2011
11:18 AM

On your website it says there is to be a repeat of the January 27th special 2hr show about the tar sands on February 5 at 7pm. However, I checked the CBC television schedule for 7pm and there is a hockey game on.

Could there be a mistake re: the time. I’ve let alot of people know it’s going to be on again at that time so can you clear it up for us . Thanks

Feb 01, 2011
7:06 AM

Since watching the January 27th show about the tarsands I haven’t been able to think about much else. It is human right to have clean air to breath, clean water to drink and healthy, uncontaminated food sources to eat. Our government seems to favor human rights when referring to the way other countries treat their citizens, but if they’re promoting the tarsands development, Human Rights does not concern them one bit.

I would love to see a world wide boycott of oil and gas using the social network as a tool. Demand and supply. We are supporting this industry by using so much of it and guess what! They know what we’re like with our consumer driven neediness. I say we outsmart them and take control with our buying power.

Jan 31, 2011
10:49 AM

Thanks to everyone who tuned in on Thursday. The episode is repeating February 5, at 7 p.m. EST on CBC News Network. It is also available online at

We appreciate receiving your feedback on the episode. If you have feedback for the film’s producers they can be reached at .

Jan 30, 2011
7:29 AM

Dear David, I watched your show on Jan. 27th about the oil sands. What action can we take to stop this? I’ve just signed on to the NRDC and submitted a letter to Obama but can we send letters to Canada’s politicians.

Until I watched your 2hr show, I had no idea how bad this was. Please let me know what action to take.


Carol Jewell

Jan 29, 2011
7:48 PM

Watched the show last night, and while I thought overall that it was excellent, as are all of the Nature of Things shows, I was totally boggled by one huge oversight: your failure to mention Greenpeace Canada in the context of activism. After the show was over I sat there stunned for a few moments, trying to absorb what you had done — or not done, more to the point. You mentioned the NRDC, yet arguably Greenpeace Canada did much more, especially involving the First Nations people, so what’s the deal? Why did you ignore the major contributions of a Canadian organization, yet mention the contributions of a U.S.-based organization? I would think that you’d want Canadians to be aware of, and proud of, what their fellow citizens are doing. It’s not all about the U.S., after all — and I’m amazed that your editing would support that myth. I can’t believe that the show’s producers acted out of ignorance — if you are, write me back and I’ll clue you in — so cannot help but wonder: why the editorial choice to ignore the truly important Canadian contributions of Greenpeace Canada to this effort? I think this “oversight” is rather shocking for an organization with the purported integrity of Thanks for your normal good work, hoping you’ll do better on complete coverage in the future, especially regarding Canadian content…

David Fenton

Jan 28, 2011
9:33 PM

This was a very important, eye opening program. It confirmed my worst fears. My heart goes out to the aboriginal people who are suffering with cancer. Thank you for the time and effort it took to put this excellent documentary together, I am sure it moved many others the same way it moved me. I love my home province of Alberta, but every part of my being tells me that what is being allowed to go on up there is just plain wrong.

Jan 28, 2011
7:06 PM

Self-regulation by industry says it all!

Jan 28, 2011
1:29 PM

If this was located outside Calgary or Edmonton, this issue would not exist!

Jan 28, 2011
1:28 PM

I was shocked by what is going on in our northern reaches. Canada has lost it’s way as a global leader in doing what is just for humanity and the environment. I had no idea how horrific life is for the Dene people and the delicate balance of mother earth. What can I do to help?

Jan 28, 2011
1:25 PM

Perhaps an invitation to dine on the fish and wildlife, a drink of the local water followed by a refreshing swim in Lake Athabaska is due for those who adamantly believe there is no harm caused by the extraction of dirty oil from the tar sands. If it is safe enough for the Dene people, then it is safe enough for the policy makers and oil producers. Clearly no one who truly believes no harm exists would turn down a traditional meal prepared in their honour.

Jan 28, 2011
9:34 AM

Thank you for airing that program last night. I felt a bit ignorant and guilty after seeing the issues that are being faced by the aboriginal people. I felt very sad for the mother who said she had cancer, it really hit home. I don’t understand how the government could ignore this after looking at the crazy statistics and the deformed fish. Our family already tries to conserve, recycle, compost but I don’t feel like I am doing enough at times.

The David Suzuki Foundation does not necessarily endorse the comments or views posted within this forum. All contributors acknowledge DSF's right to remove product/service endorsements and refuse publication of comments deemed to be offensive or that contravene our operating principles as a charitable organization. Please note that all comments are pre-moderated. Privacy Policy »