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Film director James Cameron during an interview with the Globe and Mail in Edmonton on Sept. 29, 2010. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Film director James Cameron during an interview with the Globe and Mail in Edmonton on Sept. 29, 2010. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)


James Cameron talks oil sands with the Globe Add to ...

Canadian-born director James Cameron wrapped up a three-day tour of Alberta Wednesday. He toured the oil sands with industry, met with the premier and two opposition parties, as well as a leading academic and a host of first nations groups. When it was all over, Mr. Cameron appeared alongside the first nations groups and urged the Alberta government to do more to protect their land from pollution caused by oil sands development. He spoke with The Globe and Mail Wednesday afternoon.

By appearing here, are you effectively lending your name to the people of Fort Chipewyan who have long complained about water quality, in an effort to get them some more attention?

I don't know if you lend your name. I think you have to lend your energy. You're not lending, you give your energy, give your personal resources, in the sense that if I call a press conference and people show up, and I can do that in a way that's helpful to the plight of first nations people who really need that voice, I'm going to do it. As long as people keep showing up, why not?

Your visit was greeted with some hostility; namely, Wednesday's Edmonton Sun featured your photo on its front page above the word "Dipstick!" Some have suggested this is Hollywood eco-tourism. Were you surprised by that reaction?

Pretty surprised, pretty surprised. You know, I don't think it's just about me showing up here. I think it's the fact an outsider showed up to form an opinion. And I think everyone was leaning forward to find out what would happen there, what would oil say, what would government say, what would first nations say, what would the scientists say. Everyone had a story to tell and it was fascinating. And I want to be clear - I don't feel that I'm some independent arbitrator, you know, completely unbiased, coming down from some Tibetan mountaintop to arbitrate on this thing. I've got my own opinions. I don't want to say an agenda, because I didn't really come here with a strategy per se. But I did come here with a very, very strong set of opinions - you might even say passions - about what we need to be doing to save ourselves, and to save the natural world around us. Everything I learned I had to fit into that framework, and nothing that I saw challenged it. In fact, a lot of what I saw just reinforced that framework. You see the devastation of the surface mining around Fort McMurray, just north of Fort McMurray, you know, it's appalling. Then you see the efforts to restore that back to a mature boreal forest, and you see how difficult that is and certainly how expensive that's going to be.

You toured some of those reclaimed sites. Syncrude has a "fen," or a marsh, that it has reclaimed. Suncor lifted the curtain on its reclaimed Pond 1 last week.

Syncrude has a little patch, you know, I think in terms of certified reclaimed boreal forest, it's one per cent of the area disturbed. But you know, to complete that thought, it's all sort of appalling in its scope and scale. And then when you think it's two to three per cent of what it will be when the entire deposit, which covers a fifth of the province is mined one way or another through in situ or surface mining - You think, my God, you can't even get your mind around it. You cant even get your mind around what's going to happen here. On the other hand, you have to balance that against: well, you know, we need energy, no matter how optimistic one is about how quickly we can convert to a green, clean energy economy, we're going to still need oil for a while. It's just a question of if that's 10 years, 20 years, 30 years [away] And I would always [qualify]any of this with the given [fact]that I think it needs to be as quickly as possible by whatever means necessary. But even with that as a given, we still need oil. Why not have that oil come from Canada? And have Canadians benefit economically from that? Why not have Canadians be the saviours of North American oil security?

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