Takach’s newest book mines oil, enviro, place

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Takach’s newest book mines oil, enviro, place

For Geo Takach, associate prof at Royal Roads’ School of Communication and Culture, Canada’s resource-based economy offers a revealing window into the values and priorities of the planet’s dominant species, while providing opportunities to discuss and perhaps even change them. His just-released book, Tar Wars: Oil, Environment and Alberta’s Image (University of Alberta Press), offers a critical, inside look at how leading image-makers negotiate escalating tensions between the continuous economic growth mandated by a globalized economic system and its apparently unsustainable environmental costs.

As Geo and giants on whose shoulders he stands see it, rather than simply homogenize the world holus bolus, globalization has also magnified the need for jurisdictions to compete for transnational trade, investment capital, tourism, labour and students. Consequently, he argues, representations of a place and its identity (place branding) assume paramount importance in an ever-progressively networked, wired and environmentally-conscious society.

Against this backdrop, an international battle has unfolded over Alberta’s bituminous sands, believed to be the world’s largest industrial project. Even the terminology is vigorously contested: for years, the resource was interchangeably called ‘tar’ or ‘oil’ sands, but more recent politicization of the terms led Geo to coin a neutral term, “bit-sands,” in his book.

For Geo, the vanguard of this contestation—in a society in which we communicate increasingly through images and virtual experiences—is on the visual front. Accordingly, Tar Wars chronicles, contextualizes and analyzes the international public-relations clash between independent documentary filmmakers challenging Alberta’s (and Canada’s) environmental stewardship of the bit-sands and professional communicators employed by government and the oil industry to defend it.

Having worked professionally as both a communicator serving powerful interests and an independent documentary filmmaker interrogating the status quo, Geo draws on his extensive experience and access to eminent principals involved in Alberta’s PR clash. His mission: to chronicle, deconstruct and help readers make sense of the underlying, complex and fascinating intersections of energy, environment, culture, politics, economy, media and power. His methods to this madness are long-form interviews, followed by critical visual, framing and discourse analyses.

In a parallel effort, Scripting the Environment: Oil, Democracy and the Sands of Time and Space (published by Palgrave Macmillan/Routledge in 2016), his inquiry into the soul of Alberta and resource-based economies in general takes the form of arts-based research, specifically writing scripts for the screen and the stage. (See the December 14, 2016 edition of Crossroads.)

Thus, Tar Wars concludes the trilogy that began with Geo’s multi-pronged project, Will the Real Alberta Please Stand Up?, released as an international award-winning book (also published by the University of Alberta Press), a documentary film (aired on City TV stations across Canada), and a continuing migraine (for the author). Geo’s current crusade addresses what he sees as the final frontier: energy, environment and Indigenous ways of knowing all converging around pipelines on Canada’s Pacific Coast.