Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life: A Tar Sands Tale

Talk Tuesday April 2nd 2019, 7:00 PM

Join journalist and broadcaster Lucy Siegle in conversation with Matt Hern and Am Johal, to seek some new definitions for ecology and social change that can invigorate the human quest for lasting change to our relationship with the ecosystem.

Confounded by global warming and in search of an affirmative politics that links ecology with social change, Matt Hern and Am Johal set off on a series of road trips to the tar sands of northern Alberta—perhaps the world’s largest industrial site, dedicated to the dirty work of extracting oil from Alberta’s vast reserves. Traveling from culturally liberal, self-consciously “green” Vancouver, and aware that our well-meaning performances of recycling and climate-justice marching are accompanied by constant driving, flying, heating, and fossil-fuel consumption, Hern and Johal want to talk to people whose lives and fortunes depend on or are imperiled by extraction. 

They are seeking new definitions of ecology built on a renovated politics of land. Traveling with them is their friend Joe Sacco—infamous journalist and cartoonist, teller of complex stories from Gaza to Paris—who contributes illustrations and insights and a chapter-length comic about the contradictions of life in an oil town. The epic scale of the ecological horror is captured through a series of stunning color photos by award-winning aerial photographer Louis Helbig.

Seamlessly combining travelogue, sophisticated political analysis, and ecological theory, speaking both to local residents and to leading scholars, the authors propose a new understanding of ecology that links the domination of the other-than-human world to the domination of humans by humans. They argue that any definition of ecology has to start with decolonization and that confronting global warming requires a politics that speaks to a different way of being in the world—a reconstituted understanding of the sweetness of life.


Presenter for the BBC’s ‘One Show’, and columnist for the Observer, Lucy Siegle has focussed on social and environmental justice in her reporting for a number of years. Lucy has extensive experience in humanizing environmental science, from climate change to consumer energy use. In 2004, she created the paper’s Observer Ethical Awards (OEAs), dubbed the Green Oscars, which have been running for over eight years. She is a regular columnist for the Observer and contributes to Radio 4’s ‘Today Programme’.


Matt Hern lives in East Vancouver on səlil’wətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) territory, with his partner and daughters.  He is co-directs Solid State Industries and has co-founded and directed many other community projects.  He currently teaches with multiple universities, and continues to lecture globally. Matt’s books and articles have been published on all six continents and translated into thirteen languages.

Am Johal is Director of Simon Fraser University’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. He is the author of ‘Ecological Metapolitics: Badiou and the Anthropocene’ (Atropos Press, 2015) and is co-author with Matt Hern (with contributions from Joe Sacco), of “Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life: A Tar Sands Tale.” (MIT, 2018). He is the co-founder of UBC’s Humanities 101 program and is an associate of SFU’s Centre for Dialogue and SFU’s Institute for the Humanities. He previously served as co-chair of the Impact on Communities Coalition, as a board member with the Vancity Community Foundation, the Or Gallery, the Vancouver City Planning Commission, the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House and many other organizations.