The Greta has landed. Let’s hope Jason Kenney’s quixotic fever dreams of a battle against the future don’t materialize as well.
Even before Greta herself arrived in Alberta, when it was just Greta-inspired climate strikes that had come to the province, the Kenney government’s response was to gloatingly paste "I Love Oil and Gas" posters on the legislature windows, mooning the striking students in a move more childish than anything coming from the earnest teenagers below.
And when Greta announced that she, herself, would visit Alberta, Kenney’s government began issuing smug missives: the climate oracle should make her next visit to oil-producing "dictatorships" like Saudi Arabia.
Then she’d learn about "Alberta’s leading human rights and environmental standards" and that our fossil fuels are much better than theirs.
The argument behind ethical oil has been pumped out by Rebel Media, the oil industry’s attack dogs at CAPP and Postmedia. But it’s never been clear just what audience these arguments are intended to sway.
“At least we don’t dismember our critics” wouldn’t be the first message you’d pick to win over the growing majority of the world increasingly panicked about tepid government response to looming catastrophe.
The bonesaw argument is certainly not going to sway the emerging generation of kids who are taking their lives into their own hands and have galvanized global protests unlike anything the planet has ever seen.
Greta may have missed a lot of school but she is unlikely to be moved by politicians from one of the planet’s most fortunate countries insisting we should be graded on a curve, against the worst petro-regimes in the world.
Part of Greta’s transcending power is that she so piercingly articulates the big picture. The house is on fire and anyone still throwing fossil fuel on the flames is guilty, at best, of child endangerment and, probably, of much worse.
Right there is where Alberta has a big problem. It’s not just that the oilsands exist —so do many other fossil fuel projects around the world. It’s that Canada is already the fifth-largest oil producer in the world and is enthusiastically, massively expanding the size of fossil projects. Right at this moment, Alberta is actively preparing to add its largest oilsands mine ever, Teck Resources’ Frontier project (rolling over the opposition of First Nations and siting the project right next to Wood Buffalo National Park).
The fossil fuel industry can try its best to school Greta on its technological innovations in the oil and gas sector. Others will rightly point out that the Alberta isn’t just fossil fuels — the province also has admirable clean energy projects.
These arguments will be hard to hear above the still-groaning wreckage of Alberta’s recent climate policies. Kenney promised to tear up Alberta’s climate progress on Day 1 of his new government. He kept his promise. Gleefully.
Kenney didn’t just take an immediate wrecking ball to climate policy (even Easterners like Doug Ford can do that); he launched the province into all-out war with environmentalists. Thirty million dollars for a “war room” (yes, unbelievably, Kenney’s own words) to take the evil greenies to a kangaroo court and pay to advertise the bonesaw argument across the country and around the world.
Alberta is now spending more dollars fighting people concerned about climate change than it spends on monitoring the toxic effluent and air pollution from oil extraction.
The irony of Kenney’s great unravelling is that the broad international campaigns against the oilsands had been shrinking for several years. There were several reasons: Alberta had taken significant climate steps and was no longer seen as an unrestrained climate pariah; the oilsands were being dwarfed by the shale boom in the U.S. and, of course, by Donald Trump exuberantly donning the mantle of world climate villain.
Local campaigns against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion continued but now the pipeline itself was owned by the federal government and the courts were adjudicating the human rights issues and consultation process for impacted First Nations. Other pipeline projects were moving along, having slipped entirely from the public radar.
This could have been a moment to take stock. To think clearly about the formidable challenges facing any government sitting on reserves of oil, gas or coal. It still could be.
Barely a week seems to go by without another international financial giant exiting the oilsands. Without another record-setting low price for green energy, for batteries or other clean tech. Without another government committing to take its jurisdiction to zero carbon, ban coal or phase out gasoline cars or natural gas.
And each week the weather gets crazier. Another hundred-year storm coming mere months on the heels of the previous. Floods drowning entire regions. Fires incinerating seniors as they race to evacuate.
Governments with fossil fuel reserves, no matter where on the planet, need clear eyes and open minds to navigate the daunting challenges ahead. We need strategies to support workers now working in coal, oil and gas. Preparation for the known climate impacts bearing down on our cities and communities. We need innovative thinking to create economies that can thrive into the future.
And maybe, hopefully, inexplicably, it will be an otherworldly teenager that prompts the adults to get serious.