Alberta has never taken kindly to celebrities endeavouring to bolster their environmental cred by coming to the province to denounce the oil sands.
Neil Young, Jane Fonda and Leonardo DiCaprio are among the Hollywood types who have infuriated many by attempting to turn the province into the poster-child of wanton planetary destruction.
It was no surprise, then, that this week’s visit by the most famous climate activist in the world – Greta Thunberg – incited much hand-wringing and thinly veiled annoyance among members of the United Conservative Party government. There was unreserved hostility and anger expressed toward the Swedish 16-year-old on social media as well.
Ms. Thunberg is scheduled to participate in a climate march on the legislature in Edmonton on Friday. She may get to see the signs put up in the office windows of staff members of Premier Jason Kenney intended to greet those who took part in a similar, Greta-inspired “Fridays for Future” march on the legislature a couple of weeks ago. They read: We Love Oil and Gas.
Neither Mr. Kenney nor any member of his cabinet or caucus have expressed any desire to meet with Ms. Thunberg during her stay. Instead, the Premier’s office put out a tweet, widely criticized for being petulant and sarcastic, which expressed hope that the teenager would recognize the province’s “leading” human rights and environmental standards.
“Especially in comparison to oil-producing dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia and Venezuela – which she will presumably visit next.”
There is no question that Ms. Thunberg’s stopover will bring the province and government unwanted world-wide attention. People will learn, for instance, about the $30-million war room (now officially called the Canadian Energy Centre) designed to investigate and “correct” oil-sands critics. It will also be an opportunity for more people to learn about the public inquiry that the government called to look into the funding sources of some of those same critics. The activist’s stay will also draw attention to the fact that the UCP effectively killed most of the historic climate-change-fighting measures brought in by the previous NDP government.
Yes, I understand why Ms. Thunberg’s visit has incited clear agitation inside the government.
Some have expressed hope she will spend time becoming educated about the progress that has been made by some companies, through technology, in bringing oil-sands emissions down. Or that maybe she might visit some of the wind farms that exist in the province. Somehow, I doubt she is going to spend much time learning about all the wonderful things Alberta is doing to fight global climate change, because that story doesn’t exist.
This isn’t to slag Albertans, who understandably feel put upon whenever the topic of climate change comes up. But the facts are the facts. There is no middle ground here. There is literally nothing the Alberta government could tell this young woman that would assuage her fears.
Besides killing the province’s carbon tax and stalling a plan to phase out coal-fired electricity plants, the UCP wants to build more pipelines beyond the Trans Mountain expansion, for which preliminary work is now underway. And the reality is the oil sands produces some of the dirtiest, most emissions-intensive fuel in the world. This is a simple byproduct of trying to create gasoline from sludge.
There is no question that carbon intensity from the oil sands has been reduced over the last decade, thanks to technological advancements. But a barrel of crude from the province still emits, on average, far more greenhouse-gas emissions than most other conventional sources around the world. Beyond that, we know emissions in Alberta are forecast to rise over the coming years as production in the oil sands is ramped up.
Sure, maybe further advances in technology will help bring emissions down over time. But those incremental improvements aren’t enough if you believe the science of climate change, as Ms. Thunberg urges us all to do. We are quickly running out of time, which puts oil-producing jurisdictions such as Alberta on a collision course with people determined to fight for the planet’s survival.
Alberta’s Environment Minister Jason Nixon dismissed Ms. Thunberg’s visit, saying she “doesn’t understand” the province. Which, of course, completely misses the point.
This is not personal. Greta Thunberg doesn’t have a particular grievance against Alberta any more than she does any province or country not doing enough to turn the tide on the most existential threat we have ever faced.
Doesn’t understand? Give me a break. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
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