Accepted Paper:

Photography and the Oil Sands: Connecting Climate Change to Spatiality  
Laura Alfaro

Paper short abstract:

Responses to climate change within Canadian society are heavily influenced by notions of space. Edward Burtynsky’s photography of oil industry activity illustrates visual culture’s potential for increasing understandings about the relationship between climate change and spatiality.

Paper long abstract:

The tar sands oil project, located in the northern part of Alberta, Canada is situated on the largest known reservoir of bitumen (a form of crude oil) in the world. This energy project, which employs a highly polluting and carbon-intensive oil process, occupies a central role in national climate change discussions. Although the connection between high greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands and climate change has been well-established, the debate surrounding measures to control these emissions remains contentious. I argue the hesitation to adopt more urgent measures against oil sand emissions, while usually filtered through an economic lens, is also heavily influenced by popular notions of the Canadian landscape as vast and uninhabited. These understandings are widely reflected in visual culture—from famous paintings of the past to contemporary aerial photography, including Edward Burtynsky's oil sands photography. Burtynsky's work, which situates oil industry activities within the context of a vast Canadian landscape, illustrates visual culture's potential for creating increased awareness about the relationship between environmental damage and spatiality, as well as the way these understandings shape public responses to the connection between the oil industry and climate change.

Panel P32
Visualizing Climate - Changing Futures?