Oil Sands, Fungi, and Hauntings: Foraging in the Spectral Landscape of Fort McMurray, Canada

Authors: Carley-Jane Stanton*, University of Oxford
Topics: Anthropocene, Political Geography, Landscape
Keywords: political ecology, anthropocene, Canada, oil sands, fungi, landscape
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Iberville, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Fort McMurray, Alberta is associated with the Athabasca oil sands, Canada’s largest reserve of fossil oil, and is widely recognized as a damaging industrial landscape. Residents of Fort McMurray face economic precarity due to fluctuations in international energy markets and the adoption of renewable technologies. Further, the community is increasingly subject to environmental precarity via climate change. A severe wildfire occurred in May 2016 which impacted 590,000 hectares of forest, led to the evacuation of over 80,000 residents, and caused an estimated $2.8 Billion USD in damages. 

This talk, based upon fieldwork conducted in Fort McMurray in Spring 2017, will explore the political ecology of morel mushroom foragers in Fort McMurray's post-wildfire landscape. Morel mushrooms fruit in the spring following wildfires in the Canadian boreal forest, and attract commercial and amateur foragers. These foragers navigate what I will argue is a spectral landscape of the Anthropocene, where both the economic and environmental precarity experienced in places like Fort McMurray are affective “hauntings” of past and future deaths. In Fort McMurray, these deaths are physical, such as the mass tree disturbance required for morel fungi to fruit; as well as intangible, such as what is perceived by participants as the impending “death” of the oil sands economy. I will describe the ways foragers in Fort McMurray live and are haunted by these spectres, and how a deconstructed view of history is a valuable contribution to research of industrial landscapes and ecologies in the Anthropocene.

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