I saw light in the distance and went toward it, crossing a small clearing, then plunging back into thick forest. Readying a mental fanfare, I broke through the tree line.

There was no scenic overlook. No magnificently insane view of rapacious oil sand strip mining. Instead, I found myself standing on the edge of a cozy little wetland, swampy water winking in the sun.

In other words, a revolting picture of nature in repose. I turned back in disgust.


You've seen the Grand Canyon. Now it's time to see the new one.

Up in northern Alberta, the Canadians have been busy, putting together a three ring strip-mining circus of giant trucks, giant shovels, giant lakes of toxic waste, and a few giant sulfur pyramids thrown in for good measure. Whether you call it oil sand or tar sand—or maybe something a little spicier, like climate crime—some things are certain: it's dirty, it's smelly, and it's hell on the ducks.

I wanted to make sure that a book about polluted places didn't put all the burden on the developing world. After all, when it comes to environmental devastation, we've got some unmissable destinations right here in North America. So it was off to Fort McMurray, to explore the lonely byways and hiking trails of an isolated petroleum Mecca… a place that all too likely represents our energy future.


next: The Refinery Capital of America