The primary objective of this blog is energy literacy. The period leading up to this election, then, has brought some good news. Everyone is talking about climate change and the energy industry.
Yet some of the memes and mantras circulating are superficial and misleading, even if they do resonate with us.
I get it. We are all feeling a bit desperate. From my own end, I am looking for a party to be a champion for assertive climate change without setting Alberta or Canada on a quick path to bankruptcy.
It’s a tall order. I don’t expect to select a party that can fill the whole bill.
Still, we can read or think a little deeper into some of those issues – even in this eleventh hour.
This is a very read-able Chatelaine article comparing the climate plans of the four federal parties. It includes a nice colour coded graph of the emissions reductions each party might bring. And most important, it ranks the “do-ability” of each plan.
“Canada only contributes 1.6% to world emissions.”
I see this mantra, code for taking little or no climate action, repeated often.
Sure, we are a low contributor compared to the U.S. and China. Yet we are one of the highest energy users per capita in the world. That’s in part due to our climate, in part due to our long distances, but it also relates to our wealth and rates of consumption.
We need to face that fact, and decide whether our culture of high-energy consumption is one of the exports we want to send to the world. Or should we attempt to rein it in?
For another perspective on this, try “Nine UnComfortable Canadian Energy Facts”.
Ultimately, if we want to influence other countries to do their part to meet the Paris accord, we need to be a solid role-model.
“Everyone who drives a car and heats their home with natural gas is a hypocrite.”
Our entire society’s physical infrastructure and consumer habits were built upon a universe awash in cheap, accessible fossil fuels. The legacy of those fuels is the entire modern world we now inhabit.
Most of us live in sprawling suburbs, many of us have long commutes to work, and a lot of us drive gas-guzzling mini-vans. We didn’t build a world like this out of mal-intent to the environment. It was cheap and convenient.
Now we know for sure that infrastructure came with a steep environmental price. However, I think as individuals, we are entitled to lobby for change however we damn well like.
Are we are hypocrites to ask our government to stick to our Paris agreement and reduce emissions by 30% by 2030? Nope. Not even if we personally can’t spend the time or money to reduce our carbon footprints by an equal amount.
In fact, we each need to ask how we can best serve that goal. By voting? Running for office? Volunteering to make our communities kinder places? Walking more?
Here is a different philosophy about hypocrisy and social activism “In Defence of Hypocrisy”.
“We should get off foreign oil.”
There is an idealistic mantra circulating that we should simply “get off foreign oil”.
Yet that would be far from simple.
The Energy East pipeline is the usual solution proposed to this “problem” of importing oil for eastern refineries. Yet the project is dead due to a combination of market forces and environmental approval uncertainty.
There is a revival plan in the works but it’s expensive ($23 billion) and doesn’t guarantee that that Canadian refineries would use its product exclusively. Some refineries are on record stating they would not commit to an exclusive diet of Alberta crude or bitumen. 
Historically in Canada, refineries were designed to import crude supplies that were light, sweet, nearby and cheap.  A plan to “get off foreign oil” would require significant equipment retrofits and new regulations restricting free market access to global crude.
Also, if we promote the idea we should only use domestic oil, how do we sell that to our own export customers?
“We will find Albertans new jobs.“
This mantra is used by a few federal party leaders. The concept is great. But the tone is entirely too flippant. And the details in the platform – too lean.
In fact, if the rest of the world decides to take climate change seriously, then we do need to re-tool our economy in Alberta. All the more reason we need to deepen the discussion as to when and how this might come to pass.
When the cod fishery collapsed in the 1990’s in Atlantic Canada, 23,000 fishers were thrown out of work – immediately, and the country lost an industry worth $233 Million in annual GDP in today’s dollars. The collapse was devastating to Atlantic communities and families.
Many have critiqued the federal government’s role in that collapse. Federal departments increased cod catches over the decades while ignoring the science pointing to its inevitable collapse. Then, many criticized the post-collapse relief plan as being woefully inadequate.  Yet it was a cake-walk compared to the scale of change required in the energy industry.
According to National Resources Canada, Alberta’s energy industry contributes about $71 billion to the country’s GDP, and the oil and gas industry across the country employs 62,000 people directly. Transitioning to a low-carbon economy is huge undertaking.
It needs to be more than a footnote on the federal plans.
“Foreign Interests funded the Anti-Tarsands Campaign.”
The video, “Over a Barrel” is circulating faster than a virus in flu season by frustrated Albertans, who feel ignored in this election.
Yet, there’s more to that story. This article by Sandy Garossino provides a detailed counter-argument.
More important, Albertans should ask themselves – even if it is proved that a few Hollywood elites and some former oil barons funded the “Tarsands” campaign, so what?
Big money pushes influence all the time. Big corporations fund professional lobbyists that chew up our MP’s time in Ottawa on a daily basis. There is no doubt – we should be concerned about this effect on our democracy as a whole – just not as a one-off.
If the Alberta government does indeed find a conspiracy, sure, you can stick it to your hippie cousin in British Columbia. That will be fun – for a while.
Yet, it still doesn’t move us any closer to figuring out how we will meet our climate targets while not toppling our economy.
The Eleventh Hour
In the end, it will be a difficult decision for all of us. The thing is, while it’s an extremely important election, it won’t be the last one.
If this election has sparked our passion to deal with climate change, let the next four years ignite our wisdom as we search for solutions that make sense for all Canadians.
Let’s dig a little deeper, let’s listen with open minds, and let’s drop the partisan barriers being built across the globe.
I wish you wisdom, patience, and good luck at the polls!
Alisa Caswell has a degree in chemical engineering. She spent twenty years working in the oil and gas industry, including roles in operations and energy conservation. She previously held the position of Chair – Oil Sands, Canadian Industry Program for Energy Conservation (CIPEC). She lives in Fort McMurray, Alberta. You can follow her on Facebook or check out her profile on LinkedIn.
 Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash