In the real world, I live in Edmonton, Canada (CYEG) and as I set out into the yonder in light aircraft I’m tracking, posting, writing, and otherwise documenting my virtual around-the-world trip in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. This is another log entry from the Pilot Project

Bushfires and Tarsands and Politics, Oh My!

1 year ago
Oilsands Alberta
CYMM (Fort McMurray)
Flight Time
42 minutes

I landed my virtual Cessna in the Fort McMurray airport late last night, in the pitch black of night, but in honesty I had a few lingering nuggets of curiosity about the place. I also got to thinking about how Flight Simulator 2020 (and the AI that build the scenery) would handle a couple political topics.


A tailings pond just North of Fort McMurray, Alberta

Well, Fort Mac has been the subject of at least two politically controversial issues, both which should be clearly visible from the air:

(1) in 2016 a sizable chunk of the town was razed by an out of control forest fire that saw the city evacuated and a monumental recovery effort, followed by a slow rebuild of countless homes. I know people who lost property, some of whom have yet to fully recover. And there was plenty of blame going around about the cause, some of it linked to climate change.

(2) Fort Mac is also the epicentre of Alberta's bitumen empire, a vast and sprawling strip-mining operation to extract oil embedded in the dense "sand" layer of the earth. Large swaths of open mining and lakes of waste water contaminated by the extraction process leave behind "tailings ponds" which draw the ire of environmentalists worldwide.

I did a short virtual flyover of what I'm pretty sure was a strip mine and tailings pond:

Of course, I've never been there in real life, so I'm making some assumptions based on what I've learned from friends, the media, and years of both pro- and anti-oil industry propaganda.

Ultimately there is little political about a simulation like this, but maps and photography can be deeply charged.

I flew over neighbourhoods where there are still houses missing from a recent forest fire... but the AI-generated forest is lush and green. I flew over man-made lakes that should be industrial sludge and poison... but the AI-generated water looks inviting as a summer lake.

If nothing else, it's a stark reminder that there are still limits to what we can recreate in software. Or should create?

Flight Number