Bragging sucks. It makes most decent people itch to brag, even at the thought of it. It’s generally the hallmark of little people trying to look big.
On the other hand, if someone takes a picture of you sitting in your car and simultaneously looking at your cellphone, and they paste it all over social media and insinuate that you’re texting and driving and that you habitually do it, is it bragging to deny it? Is it bragging to point out that you have no traffic tickets, that you don’t text and drive, and that you’ve never caused an accident?
No, it isn’t, and neither is the title of this post. Alberta has been accused of all sorts things, and, with the way the world’s climate messaging is going, it is ferociously hard to set the record straight. At some point a little tub-thumping is the only way to get anyone’s attention.
I’m reading a fascinating book called Factfulness by Hans Rosling. A central theme of the book is how the general population has its wires crossed to a startling degree on some basic facts. One question he asks audiences the world over is whether global poverty has increased substantially, stayed the same, or decreased substantially over the past number of decades. The vast majority of people don’t know the right answer (it has decreased substantially). However, another question he asks his audiences is whether the world’s climate is warming, staying the same, or cooling. A stunning 86 percent of subjects answer that it is warming. This is an example of the mind-blowing success the climate industry has achieved in getting its message across.
Now it’s our turn to start getting our message across.
Let’s start with what appears to be a strawman, a position so ludicrous it appears fictitious but it’s not; it is a near-comical obscene swipe taken at Alberta about 10 years ago. In 2009, Montreal writer William Marsden put out a book called Stupid to the Last Drop, a blistering indictment of Alberta’s mentality with respect to natural resource development. I may be slightly off on the precision of the main themes, because I refuse to read it, but the author’s/publisher’s synopsis suffices just fine: “it [Alberta] is running out of water, destroying its range land, wiping out its forests and wildlife and spewing huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, adding to global warming at a rate that is unrivalled in Canada or almost anywhere else in the world…As Canadians deplete their energy reserves, selling them off to Americans at bargain-basement prices, no thought is given to conservation or the long-term needs of the nation.” These views have become the cornerstone of the bludgeoning Alberta’s reputation has taken at the hands of unopposed environmental activists.
As rapacious, moronic, anti-environment rednecks, let’s chew on that for a spell. In the ten years since Marsden wrote that, Alberta has done all the things noted in this post’s title. It now has the world’s largest boreal forest reserve. The province has capped oil sands emissions on a permanent basis and implemented a carbon tax. Now, the latest admirable environmental news to hit the wires is that the Enhance Energy Carbon Trunk Line Project, which will have capacity to capture more CO2 from man-made sources than anywhere in the world, is one step closer to reality. Construction is expected to begin within two months, with an in-service date of late 2019.
On top of this and getting back to Marsden’s commentary, the province has done a very great deal for the long-term needs of the nation. A special tip of the cowboy hat is reserved for Marsden’s observation that Alberta is stupid for “selling them [resources] off to Americans at bargain-basement prices.” We are indeed, Bill. Any idea why that is? And any idea what proper market access would do for “the long-term needs of the nation”? It would be utterly delightful to see Marsden and all the climate activists who endorsed that vision a decade ago reconcile it with today’s reality. But as we mosey along with real work to do, we are not holding our breath.
It is true that mistakes were made along the way. The oil sands did indeed develop too quickly in an ill-planned (actually unplanned) manner; had it been paced properly we may have, for example, put in place all the pipelines we will ever need. The province also waited far too long to take action on the inactive well file, and is paying dearly for it now.
Those things did happen, and the province paid the price (or is still paying). We can only look forward and do better next time. The problem is, there may not be a next time if capital continues to shun Alberta (and Canada) as an impossible quagmire to invest in.
Some parts of the world consume more energy than they produce, some parts produce more than they consume. When viewed through that lens, what precisely should be required as a “social license” with respect to the environment and consumption, and from whom?
Alberta does not produce energy above and beyond its needs simply to put stress on the environment. The world needs the energy. A handful of nations generate petroleum surpluses, and provide fuel and heat for the rest of the world to get by on. With environmental causes so important in the eyes of the world, extra care is indeed required in the extraction of this energy which the world demands.
So, can we admit that perhaps in 2018 Alberta’s current accomplishments are a reasonable place to pick up the narrative, and relegate Marsden’s lamentably wrong diagnosis to the dustbin where it belongs? We can hope, but again we won’t be holding our breath. When Tzeporah Berman gets the chance to speak to the Alberta Teachers Association conference here in October, which narrative path do you think she’ll choose? Will she be excited about carbon capture and storage, or stick to the outdated and uneducated world view that she’s made a career of?
Regardless, we can’t control the filters and blinders that people like her choose to wear. All we can do is continue to point out, louder and louder, that no matter where you stand on the environmental spectrum, the province has done a lot.