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  • Writer's pictureThe Moot Times UCalgary Law

Albertan Optimism Amidst the Global Energy Transition

Updated: Nov 8, 2021

by Ian Profiri

I’m an Albertan environmentalist.

My seemingly oxymoronic state means that I am perpetually caught between wanting to absolutely tear into my fellow Albertans because of the outdated propagandized rhetoric that they ardently regurgitate when challenged on our dependence on fossil fuels; while still recognizing that people have these entrenched views because of concerns that are, frankly, well-founded and understandable. People need to eat, after all.

As a kid I would walk through the beaches and forests of Wabamun and Seba Beach, just west of my Edmonton home, wondering why others couldn’t see the inherent value in protecting trees, lakes, and the animals that live there. In grade school, during a debate on the pros and cons of logging the Amazon rainforest, I yelled “if you rip apart the rain-forest there ain’t going to be people to live in the homes ‘cause no-one could breathe!” A bit dramatic, sure, but I was a kid! How was I supposed to know that I’d be kinda right?

Fast forward a decade, and I’ve had an uncounted number of arguments over essentially the same conflict: the economy vs the environment. Now we’ve entered a year where the Gulf of Mexico was set on fire, Lytton BC was burned off the face of the Earth, and the Antarctic reached shorts weather; and yet, somehow, I still have conversations with people that see fossil fuels as the essential part of our lives for decades to come. I don’t understand it.

The federal government seems to revel in this passivity towards change. Not wanting to anger too many out west (probably), Prime Minister Trudeau announced to the world at the Leaders Summit on Climate that Canada will happily reduce its emissions by a whopping 40% of 2005 levels by 2030! Nevermind that the US, traditional stalwarts on environmental action, decided to be more ambitious, aiming for 50% reductions while implementing “Green New Deal”-esque infrastructure plans; or that Europe implemented a 55% reductions target with substantive controls on emissions that will significantly help them reach their targets as well.

That sound you hear is every climate scientist on the planet collectively waiting for the punchline. Scientific consensus currently falls on a 60% reduction target in carbon production from 2005 numbers by 2030 in-order to begin reversing the effects of climate change, never mind reaching Paris Agreement targets (which also didn’t align with scientific consensus: scientists wanted 1.5ºC, politicians said 2ºC. Guess they thought they could negotiate with Mother Nature later on; do ephemeral metaphors take cash or credit?).

Clearly the message hasn’t completely gotten through yet.

Of course, we have to keep ourselves optimistic in light of never-ending reasons not to be; if we worry ourselves into dissolution, we can’t help anyone. And there are reasons to be optimistic, Albertan reasons even!

Albertans have been historically averse to understanding that the economic driver of the province is causing problems for us, both commercially (as the world increasingly embraces renewables) and politically (“ew… ya’ll still do the oil sands thing? … gross”). We have been doubly bad at recognizing that Alberta is primarily responsible for Canada’s emission target failures. However, we are very good at understanding the concept of NIMBY, otherwise known as “not in my fucking backyard there eh!”

When the UCP government threatened to reduce the environmental protections surrounding coal mines, allowing an Australian coal mining company to lease portions of the Rockies despite the known pollutive effects, a chord was struck with Albertans from Lethbridge to Fort Mac. I guess someone forgot to tell Kenny and Co. that Albertans REALLY like their backyard.

After months of protests, a poll was commissioned that evaluated Albertan’s attitudes on the slated coal mining projects; Albertan’s overwhelmingly told them where to go. Even with the possibility of increased economic output and jobs added to the language of the questions, Albertans roundly chimed “no way in hell.”

This seems to have broken our lawmaker’s spirits. Energy Minister Savage announced in January the cancellation of the controversial coal leases, and in February reinstated the original coal policy adding a prohibition on mountaintop mining. The debate continues if the changes are enough to actually prevent what most Albertans fear but now we know where Albertans stand on environmental issues when they can grasp the consequences.

Meanwhile, protests in BC against old-growth logging are slowing down the destruction of forests, pipelines have been cancelled or appear to be on their way to cancellation across North America, and Bill C-12, which allows Canadians to sue government and businesses for their exacerbations of climate change, has received royal assent.

Living in Calgary, the business hub of what I could call my main antagonist for my adolescence (outside of, you know, pimples), is a switch. But I’m optimistic. I still struggle to get people to see beyond the propagandized version of our energy reality, but Albertans are generally more accepting (if reluctantly) that we need to adapt for our own benefit.

I’m looking forward to the day where I don’t have to constantly worry that it’s all for naught, that every green thing was thwarted by some shadowy Exxon-Mobile lobbyist even as Florida pulls an Atlantis; but it appears that government actors, driven by public opinion, are finally starting to act as if climate change is something that has to be addressed.

Maybe it was the International Energy Agency report that promoted an end to investments in fossil fuel projects, or the now familiar sight of a smoked-out Albertan sky alongside continuous 40ºC heat, or perhaps it was simply the audacious mining projects that finally allowed Albertans to openly embrace the possibilities. Regardless, change is coming, and I can’t wait to see what we’ll do when it does.

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