|Premier Rachel Notley addresses a joint specialist council conference at the River Cree Resort and Casino near Edmonton on Saturday, Oct. 13.
Except for one little word, Premier Rachel Notley and environmentalist Tzeporah Berman are in complete agreement on pipelines.
Notley’s view: Build more pipelines. Berman’s: Build no more pipelines.
Of course, that one little word places the two leaders on opposing sides of a passionate debate, one witnessed first-hand on Oct. 13 by delegates of a joint conference hosted by the ATA’s specialist councils for social studies; First Nations, Métis and Inuit education ;and global, environmental and outdoor education.
Berman, an environmental advocate, policy advisor and author, took the stage before Notley, outlining what she’s learned since helping to lead anti-logging protests in B.C. in the early 1990s: there are good, smart people on all sides of every issue, and finding solutions requires thorough debate and consideration of all sides.
“I think respectful and safe conflict is sometimes necessary to force debate,” Berman said. “The blockades in the forest led to those conversations ... and I think the conflict over Transmountain, over oilsands, is forcing this conversation today.”
The proposed Transmountain pipeline would transport bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to ports near Vancouver, where it could be shipped to Asia. The Alberta government and energy sector view this as a crucial step to securing higher prices for the commodity, necessary to improve the province’s languishing energy sector.
But Berman stressed that no additional infrastructure should be planned, because the planet simply cannot handle it.
The energy infrastructure that is currently planned and in production is enough to generate emissions that will lead to a global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees, she said. But if energy production and consumption continue to grow according to current trends, the average global temperature will rise between three and six degrees, which will make the Earth uninhabitable.
“Here’s a crucial point that gets lost in debate in Alberta — the storm of controversy is not about having an oil industry,” Berman said. “The storm of controversy is happening because government and industry want to grow production instead of planning a peak and decline.”
While some projects are getting greener, the oilsands industry overall is increasing emissions per barrel, she said. And bitumen from oilsands production can’t compete with other sources because it’s expensive to produce and transport.
“We could build 10 pipelines and we wouldn’t fix the price problem or ensure we have a resilient economy,” Berman said.
Without naming names, Berman accused politicians of playing on people’s fears and suggested that real debate on pipelines and oilsands has been quashed.
Premier comes out swinging
Notley wasn’t in the room during Berman’s speech but spoke immediately afterward, quickly establishing that her priority is to protect Alberta’s industry and those who rely on it for their livelihood.
“Apparently, what’s most important now is that workers in our energy industry find something else to do and find it really quickly,” she said sarcastically. “What that actually looks like is anyone’s guess.”
The approach of anti-pipeline activists is a disaster for working people and also for effective climate action, Notley said.
“Who benefits when working women and men are treated as history’s losers? Well, I will say to you that it’s generally not the people who are fighting for the public good,” Notley said.
“As we see around the world, reality TV stars, climate change conspiracy theorists and right-wing demagogues are the ones who flourish when working people are kicked to the curb.”
Notley backed her government’s climate plan, saying it caps oilsands emissions, puts a price on carbon and will phase out coal-fired electricity generation by 2030. As Canada’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, Alberta has a unique responsibility to take action and, without the province, the country can’t possibly meet its international climate change commitments, Notley said.
She added that “it’s ridiculous” that the Alberta energy sector can’t access markets in Eastern Canada and emphasized that the expansion of the Transmountain pipeline to the B.C. coast is necessary to access markets in Asia.
“I would say to those who oppose our fight to build this pipeline that they are being extremely foolish,” Notley said.
“Maybe on Salt Spring Island you can build an economy on condos and coffee shops but not in Edmonton and not anywhere in Alberta. Here in Alberta we ride horses, not unicorns, and I invite pipeline opponents to saddle up on something that is real.”
Oil industry entrepreneur Chris Slubicki also spoke, saying that players in the energy sector are making innovative improvements all the time. The key to tackling climate change while also providing energy to a growing population is to improve efficiency, he said, as energy consumption currently harnesses only one-third of the available energy, while two-thirds is lost through waste and heat.
Slubicki also stressed that Canada’s energy sector is the best in the world.
“The world needs energy,” he said. “No one does it more responsibly than Canadians.” ❚
Teachers welcome information
Teachers who spoke to the ATA News said they found it valuable to hear different perspectives on climate change and the energy industry.
“It supports our multiple perspectives in social studies that we’re always trying to bring forward,” said Scott Smith of Lillian Osborne High School in Edmonton.
Stacey Lefebvre and Darcy Owen, both of Morinville Community High School, appreciated hearing the most up-to-date information that’s available.
“Did my opinion change here? No. But is that going to reflect on my students? No, because I do see all sides of it, and I will reflect that in my classroom,” Lefebvre said.
“Did it change any of my viewpoints? I don’t think so. I think I’m pretty set in the way I feel about it, but the narrative to listen to what they have to say and deliver it to our students, that’s going to change,” Owen said.
“The resources we’re getting from the textbook are dated, so to come and listen to these ideas ... I think that’s what is most important for us to do … to deliver the most up-to-date, contemporary examples we can give.”