This text explores the consequences of the massive flow of Canadian heavy crude oil from the Alberta Tar Sands to the Chicago metropolitan area. The boom in North American oil extraction has literally strained petroleum infrastructure to its bursting point. How do urban populations react to the intensifying pressure of “pipeline politics” on their daily lives? In the Chicago case, at least some of them have responded with grassroots mobilization, cultural engagement, and the timid beginnings of institutional transformation. The interplay between community activists threatened by a refinery by-product (petroleum coke, or petcoke) and experimental artists seeking to engage both immediate environmental justice issues and long-term problems of climate change offers insights into the complex social formations that may someday shift the present suicidal course of advanced industrial economies, if voluntary blindness, managed oblivion, and pervasive institutional paralysis can be overcome through the exercise of what I call a “politics of perception.”

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