Fat Cat Canada’s Giant Litter Box

by Franke James

Fat Cat illustration by Franke James

Fat Cat, population and fresh water illustration by Franke James

waterfall illustration by Franke James

tailing pond photo illustration by Franke James. Photo Copyright © 2005 The Pembina Institute Photo: Dan Woynillowicz, The Pembina Institute

dead duck illustration by Franke James

tailing pond and methane illustration by Franke James

cow illustration by Franke James

Big as England illustration by Franke James features Syncrude Oil Sands photo © 2006 David Dodge / The Pembina Institute. Map copyright Google. Wikipedia map by Norman Einstein.

Canada is number one exporter illustration by Franke James

Biggest energy project illustration by Franke James

cartoon illustration of Prime Minter Harper illustration by Franke James

Grand Vision illustration by Franke James features: Suncor upgrader complex adjacent to the Athabasca River. © 2002 Chris Evans, The Pembina Institute

Sky Sewer illustration by Franke James features: Syncrude upgrader and complex with Hwy 63 and tailings ponds in the background. Photo ©  2006 David Dodge, The Pembina Institute; Environment Canada statistic from Kelly Cryderman Vancouver Sun Dec 6, 2009

co2 toaster header by Franke James

co2 toaster bottom by Franke James

co2 toaster bottom by Franke James

ozone layer polar bear illustration by Franke James

backpack flag love illustration by Franke James

fossil illustration by Franke James

dirty old man illustration by Franke James

fat cat villain illustration by Franke James

Harper demonized illustration by Franke James

Shared Values: Canadians & Sustainability national study by Hoggan & Associates, 2006-2009. Quote from Globe letters. embarrassed illustration by Franke James

Heavy lifting illustration

grocery bags illustration by Franke James, TTC bus photo by istock/kozmoat98

shoes and boots CO2 illustration by Franke James

twitter screen grabs and fact cat illustration by Franke James

twitter and cat tail illustration by Franke James

Flamingo Florida north illustration by Franke James

health canada report cover

health canada report cover

shoe and boot smog illustration by Franke James

Greenpeace Canada photo of Ottawa action Dec 7 2009

call PMO illustration by Franke James

call PMO illustration by Franke James

Prime Minister Stephen Harper
PMO’s Ottawa Office: (+1) (613) 992-4211
Toll-free: 1 (866) 599-4999
Calgary office: (+1) (403) 253-7990
Twitter: @PMharper
fax: 613-941-6900

send canada a message illustration by Franke James

Fat Cat illustration by Franke James features: Syncrude 2007 - 12. Photo ©  2007 David Dodge, CPAWS

What Canadians Can Do

If you’re a Canadian reading this, here’s the action plan from CLIMATE ACTION NETWORK CANADA:

  1. Take action to make sure your federal elected official:
    a) Signs the Kyoto Plus Pledge For Elected Officials
    b) Supports and implements the Climate Change Accountability Act

    The Climate Change Accountability Act is currently moving through Parliament. The bill asks Canada to commit to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 and define Canada’s approach to climate change moving into the climate treaty negotiations in Copenhagen.

    Contact Your Federal MP:
    You can find your Member of Parliament using your postal code

  2. Educate your friends, colleagues and co-workers about the need to take action on climate change NOW!
  3. Attend events in your area hosted by CAN member groups. Also check out The World Wants a Real Deal
  4. Contact CAN members to find out more ways to get involved
  5. Sign the petition at

Visual Essay Credits:

“Fat Cat Canada’s Giant Litter Box” © 2009 Franke James

Photographs, illustrations and writing by Franke James, MFA, except as noted below in order of appearance:

Tailing Ponds illustration features: photo © 2005 The Pembina Institute, Dan Woynillowicz Pembina Institute

“Big as England” illustration features: Syncrude Oil Sands photo © 2006 David Dodge, Pembina Institute

Grand Vision illustration by Franke James features: Suncor upgrader complex adjacent to the Athabasca River © 2002 Chris Evans, Pembina Institute

“Sewer Sky” illustration features: Syncrude upgrader and complex with Hwy 63 and tailings ponds in the background. Photo © 2006 David Dodge, Pembina Institute

Scaling Parliament Buildings in Ottawa: December 7, 2009 ©Greenpeace Canada

“Fat Cat Litter Box” illustration features: Syncrude 2007 -12 Photo © 2007 David Dodge, CPAWS.

Background Research & Resources:

My thanks to the following people and organizations who helped with research reports and photographs for this essay: Andrew Nikiforuk, Gavin Dew at desmogblog, Greenpeace Canada and Pembina Institute.

Shared Values: Canadians & Sustainability national study by Hoggan & Associates, 2006-2009

Building on a comprehensive national study that began five years ago, this new 2009 survey examines the views of 4,368 Canadians as well as 1,000 of the country’s “thought leaders”senior-level individuals in business, academia, government, non-government organizations, and media. The study explores their beliefs and attitudes about sustainability, global warming and a wide range of social and environmental issues.


Dirty Oil: How the tar sands are fueling the global climate crisis by Andrew Nikiforuk for Greenpeace, September 2009

Health Canada Report: Harper Government Suppresses Climate Report Now Available Here

Does the Alberta Tar Sands Industry Pollute? The Scientific Evidence
Kevin P. Timoney, and Peter Lee
Cattle statistic: Page 10: “At the Mildred Lake Settling Basin (MLSB), 60-80% of the gas flux across the pond’s surface is due to methane; the pond produces the equivalent methane of 0.5 million cattle/day [11].”

Climate Leadership, Economic Prosperity: Final Report on an Economic Study of Greenhouse Gas Targets and Policies for Canada; The Pembina Institute, October 2009

Taking the Wheel PDF The Pembina Institute []

Survey of Albertans on Oil Sands PDF The Pembina Institute []

Carbon 2008 PDF Corporate Knights []

11 Million Litres: the Tar Sands’ Leaking Legacy
CBC News – Millions of litres leak each day from oilsands tailings ponds: report by Environmental Defence

2012 Update: Oilsands tailings leaking into groundwater, Joe Oliver told in memo

In May 2013, Franke James published this essay, and seven others, in Banned on the Hill. Read more here and buy it below at

Buy Banned on the Hill at


Help support Franke James’ work by donating below…

368 Responses: 67 Comments and 301 Tweets


    @CO2Now The holy-crap, inconvenient truth about Canada & CO2 by Canadian climate change artist Franke James

  • Anne Sauve says:

    Very powerful…as usual!

  • Silverbeet says:


    @silverbeet Woohoo! another Visual Essay Supreme @frankejames: Fat Cat Canada’s Giant Litter Box:

  • Wow, nice work and you are so right: we should stop destroying our world. It’s going on for a long time:

    I will put some info on my blog about this post en indeed very powerful message and of course link to it. Great work, Thanks.

  • Sorry, i forget that Canada has something to be proud ????? The Olympics

  • Michelle says:

    Well done Franke! I’ve shared this on Facebook. The scale and magnitude of the tar sands and their resulting negative impact are almost too enormous to conceive but you’ve done an amazing job of putting them into perpective!

  • Mike Soron says:


    @MikeSoron “Fat Cat Canada” Our climate shame, illustrated and told beautifully by @frankejames – #cdnpoli #tarsands

  • Laura says:

    I’ve also shared this on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for creating a wonderful visual guide that is easy to share! It is good to know some of us Canadians still care.


    @rebecca_altman: @frankejames Check out latest, striking visual essay re: Canada’s role in climate change, oil/energy & tar sands

  • Shelley says:

    Franke, Thank you SO much! As usual – your work is AMAZING & Inspiring & always so very timely!! I’m sharing everywhere, with everyone!! You have expressed all of my concerns & feelings – but so much more beautifully than I could do. Again – THANK YOU!!

  • GreenHearted says:

    Hi Franke,
    Yup, this is a good one, for sure! We here in Canada have been very blessed for a long, long time. We’ve even managed a generation or two of parents who didn’t have to worry about their children’s future.

    Those days are gone, and it’s hard to give them up. If parents don’t become activists, they are kissing their child/ren’s future goodbye. Once the Arctic summer sea ice disappears (which could happen as early as 2013), agriculture in the northern hemisphere will lose its “air conditioning” and we (but especially our children) will start facing crop failures and famines. Yup, right here in good old Fat Cat Canada.

    Dudes, quit whining and step away from the tar sands. Leave the bitumen in the ground where it can act as a vital carbon sink. When and if carbon sequestration technology is ever perfected, you can always go back and try again.

    Meantime, we have a future to safeguard, for the children of all species.

    Have a great trip, Franke!

  • Mark C. Robins says:

    Simply Awesome thank you so much for this.

  • Martin Edic says:

    Your best yet- a real call to action. I had no idea that our wimpy neighbors to the north were such evil polluters ;-). When I think of Canada I think of pristine lakes, wilderness, snow-capped mountain and gleaming cities- at least I used to. You’ve put me straight.

  • Heather says:

    Great essay Franke (as always)! I have blogged about it here There’s also another fantastic article on the tar sands here When will everyone that argues that we need the tar sands for the sake of a strong economy realize that a strong economy is no use at all on a dying planet?

  • […] I wish I was artistic, sometimes the medium used conveys a message better than words. Franke James has said it better than I could. Check out the visual essay here. […]

  • wow – what alarming statistics, and what a tragic statement about canada – who knew?? How cool that you share what folks can do to move a call to action forward – i love your work franke and have been following you in copenhagen

  • Tar Sands Junkie says:

    I am your addicted customer!

    I live in the Twin Cities in the heartland of the US and I am told that 70% of my gasoline comes from the tar sands (ACK!!), according to officials at Flint Hill oil refinery who wholesale most of the gasoline to gas stations in my town. Wow. I am a tar sands drug addict. A junkie.

    If this is the oil that’s left for me and my family, it sure doesn’t make any sense to look for a gas station with gasoline from oil from the rest of the world: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, etc.

    I guess it really IS time to get off oil altogether. If you are like me, a tar sands junkie, here’s what you can do to wean yourself, depending on your interest (and income!). Cold turkey just isn’t an option.

    Scrap your car and buy a 50 mpg car; support transit and push leaders to build more rail in your city and to big cities nearby; choose where you live based on public transport access; bicycle everywhere like the Danes I saw in Copenhagen; buy biofuel to push industry to next-gen bio-based fuels; be the early adopter to buy an electric car, or plug-in hybrid.

  • Riona says:

    Yet another brilliant and inspiring piece, Franke! This one really moved me.
    Also, I heard you on Spark this weekend: Great show. I loved hearing about your dinner with a stranger again.
    Keep it up. This is exactly what we need to get Canadians on board with changing our collective habits.

    All the best


  • Ali S. says:


    You did it again. Bring our attention to environmental realities through your art and unparalleled creativity. Very good topic as it is very relevant and everyone should read this. It’s informative and attention grabbing.

    Thank you for this!



    @ecofashionista Wow @frankejames has done it again. This is a MUST read. Amazing visual essay: #climatechange


  • Thank you Franke for your creative and relevant perspective on important environmental issues!! What a fun and interesting way to raise awareness.
    You are truly unique, and I think, a Canadian treasure :)



    @cuddlendance Too tempting to #Demonize PM #StephenHarper inconvenient truth about Canada – Franke James #GHG #CO2

  • says:

    VIA TWITTER If the climate mvmnt had an illustrator, it would be @frankejames. Latest piece does a great job rallying Canadians 2 act:

  • lisa borden says:


    @lisaborden This is another most brilliant visual essay @frankejames <–read/look!


    @funkyplates Illustrator @frankejames really opened my eyes to the role canada plays in global warming (via @rumon @350)

  • Ben West says:


    @BenWest Fantastic #climate cartoon by @frankejames . “Fat Cat #Canada” why the Tar Sands are immoral via @350 it’s our job to act

  • Thank you :)

    Your work is wonderful!

    I get sick to my stomach when I hear fellow Canadians blame people from other countries … ‘those countries …. for environmental problems….

  • […] Franke James draws Canada’s problems with greenhouse gases. (via facebook friend Amy Robinson) […]

  • Erika says:

    Can you please make one of these about the United States? This is so powerful with so few words, really!

  • […] illustrated visual essays on her website. Thanks to for tweeting her excellent piece on Fat Cat Canada, which is how I found her […]

  • Ali Pocock says:

    I just read this now.


  • Good visual presentation Franke. The real culprits in this free market economy are the consumers who purchase the cars, the furnaces etc that consume fossil fuels that poison the air,the soil, the water,etc. Of course we can blame Harper and every other leader in the free world who are constantly under pressure to create jobs,jobs, jobs, when in all fairness we the voters put them in a this no win situation in the first place. Will the opposition do any better? I think not. The problem will not go away until every consumer quits buying the product. If the producers of gasoline quit buying oil from the tar sands, the developers would quickly fold and go home. When the developer/producers of tar sands oil and the largest buyer/consumer of its products are one and the same. Who is to blame? The consumers of said products of course. Get with it Americans and Canadians, lets be realistic and blame each other, then change our consuming habits. This is a direct challenge in a high stakes game of chicken. The producers will get the message.

  • Brilliant…thank you for this eye-opening visual impact piece. I will participate and spread the message. BTW…if you have not seen it – the documentary movie ‘The Age of Stupid’ is equally brilliant. Cheers!

  • Blondetwit says:

    Wow – this is outstanding. Thank you to @raybeckerman for sharing it, which is how I got it, and now I’m following you!

    I look forward to taking time to thoroughly go through your work this weekend. I am impressed Franke.

    I have already, and will share this again =^..^=~~

  • Matthew says:

    What is the main idea of the visual essay fat cat canada’s giant litter box?

  • Jake says:

    My teacher is making us read, and do questions about your essays. I think that they’re awesome! :-)

  • Ingrid Burke says:

    This was very powerful. I will post about it on facebook. Everyone walks around taking things for granted. We are clearly in Denial. Education is key. I know that I will make the efforts to educate myself.

  • […] Change Art What Can One Person Do, When 6.8 Billion are Frying the Planet? Ending the Climate War Fat Cat Canada’s Giant Litter Box Visual Essays Franke James’ Green Conscience Workshops This entry was posted on Saturday, […]

  • […] Franke James’s Fat Cat Canada […]

  • […] Franke isn’t afraid to tackle controversy. She’s taken on climate change (Ending the Climate War), an explosion in a nearby propane plant (12,000 Sitting Ducks), and Canada’s sorry environmental record (Fat Cat Canada’s Giant Litter Box). […]

  • […] I’ve ignited the Harper Government’s fury by telling the truth about Canada’s footdragging on climate action. And having the audacity to advocate pollution taxes and tougher environmental policies on […]

  • Manuela says:

    We citizens of the world use to admire Canada for it´’s social system; for it’s caring for the environment, but it’s incredible that a single man and it’s group can harm such a beautiful country and the world for that matter, just for greed and lust for power. Canadians do something!!! You are your democracy (freedom of speech) Having this brave artist on a hit list ???? That’s a mob action, not of decent people.

  • betty says:

    Caught your issue on Care2 Causes today. Your work is great. You do explain the issue so well. This is typical of Harper. You are right where is democracy.

  • Arch Conservative says:

    Being a native citizen and resident of the USA, I am in no position to throw rocks at Canada until we first cleanup our own act. I do believe that Franke James is on the right path and that the censorship of the Harper Administration sounds as arbitrary and fulsome as the actions of our own administration.

  • […] Environmental recklessness trumps democracy

    It seems Canada is not about to let one of its artists draw attention to the country’s miserable record on environmental issues. The official response to Nektarina’s refusal to cancel James’s show was delivered verbally: “She speaks against the Canadian Government”.

    The intimidation did not stop there. Here’s another quote from the Nektarina Web site: “In the past few months we have encountered many difficulties in organizing the exhibitions, usually connected to interventions of the Canadian Government or institutions under Canadian governmental control. We continued to look for ways to collaborate with the home land of the artist, although at times we felt patronized and even intimidated, as a small NGO trying to reach an understanding with a powerful state.”

    Apparently the Harper Government is unwilling to allow an artist to be welcomed abroad if that private citizen dares call into question any of its policies. This is totally unacceptable censorship, and it is time for Canadians, and anyone else who believes in free speech, to speak out.

    Read more: […]

  • blue dragon says:

    awesome eye opener

  • […] The world is imploding for multiple reasons, so here is one more.

    Today in the Toronto Star is a story about an environmentally minded artist who had a project about the oil sands that was due to be on display in Croatia. The story goes that Ottawa pulled financial support (that was being funnelled through embassies).

    As the story goes, ” ‘Who was the idiot who approved an art show by that woman, Franke James [the artist]?’ a senior Canadian official was quoted as saying by Antonovic’s [the organizer in Croatia] contacts in the Zagreb embassy.”

    The organizer then lined up a private sponsor that later “notified Antonovic that a Canadian official had contacted it directly, leading it to yank its sponsorship funds to avoid ‘further damage for our company.’” […]

  • Marg Wood says:

    I would call this government black mail. The Company had no choice but to back out! This is also denying the Artist’s freedom of speech.

  • AnnT says:

    You don’t have to go to the Middle East or China or North Korea to find a dictator..we have one right here in Canada. PM Harper is a bully and a tyrant who cannot stand to be criticized and has been steadily eroding our Canadian democracy and values since he came into power. He and his goons have destroyed Canada’s reputation as an international peacemaker and a world leader in democracy.
    All he’s interested in is peddling his ‘ethical’ oil… no matter what it does to the environment. I can’t believe people voted for him again and gave him a majority government. We’re all going to pay for that dearly over the next 3+ years and the Canada that we know and love will be destroyed.
    The Harper government has no right to stop you from exhibiting your art and blackmailing the sponsor you had in place. This goes directly against our democratic right to free speech. What you are doing is so important to raising awareness about climate change and environmental destruction. I hope that you will not be discouraged from achieving your goal and will continue to do your wonderful work. Go Franke!!

  • Bridget M says:

    Saw this on Care2 Causes today and have been reading about Canada’s growing reputation for choosing profits over the environment. I thought the U.S. was never going to get knocked off of its infamous pedestal, but I didn’t think Canada would take a bulldozer and plow us off of it. What a shame. At a time when we should all be working to restore habitats and find alternatives to dirty energy, it is disturbing to hear that leaders are destroying the environment for short-term gain. Fight on, Franke, and take us all with you.

  • Morella Martínez says:

    Ms. James. I believe you’re brave for publishing your true and living with a conscience.
    Canada’s environment is in much better condition than Venezuela’s, and yet you have so much to tell!
    Thank you for being a living example.

  • […] I heard I had been blacklisted. That’s when I decided I better live up to my reputation and throw Fat Cat Canada and Dear Prime Minister into the mix – and show the full range of issues that I care about as a […]

  • Karen Osgood says:

    Thank you so much for this info told in such a clever way. I, too, thought we (the US) were the worst perpetrators of planet degradation. But if we are not, we must run a close second.
    Go get ’em!

  • […] below are three canvases from Fat Cat Canada’s Giant Litter Box and my 2008 Dear Prime Minister essay. Who knew that asking for polluters to pay would get the […]

  • […] could use a little global warming because the hard truths have been played down” from my 2009 Fat Cat Canada’s Giant Litter Box visual […]

  • […] climate change. Today, as the 17th round of climate change talks open in Durban, South Africa, my fat cat country is banding together with other rich nations to ensure that no significant global treaty on climate […]

  • […] accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Check her scrolling artwork titled “Fat Cat Canada’s Giant Litter Box” for an example.She’s lucky to live in a nation that, like many countries in Europe, […]

  • Peter says:

    Fabulous piece!

  • […] Fat Cat Canada’s Giant Litter Box […]

  • Taran says:

    Thanks. This was great.

    Big-money Canadian corporations trying to cross the United Sates northern border seem to be a bigger threat to our land than do the illegal immigrants who try to cross the southern border.

    The Augusta Resource Corporation, a Canadian corporation, is currently trying to destroy one of our southern Arizona mountain ranges by bringing in bags of corporate money, attempting to push approval of a huge open pit mine in the Santa Rita Mountains.

  • […] will recall the story of Franke James, an environmental advocate who, over the years, has created provocative visual essays challenging the Canadian government over its inaction on climate […]

  • […] Mr. Heatherington sharing his disapproval of my visual essays, and specifically Fat Cat Canada, he is doing two […]

  • This is very powerful. Thank you for open my eyes even wider. I will send it on to everyone I know.

  • […] approach we here at Grist admire.) Her illustrated essays call out individuals, corporations, and governments for their inadequate responses to environmental threats, but in an unfailingly good-natured way […]

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