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Across the swift-flowing waters of the Bow River in Calgary, a blazing red sun is setting over a dark row of spruce trees that are bursting with cones, their natural response to drought conditions. The horizon is illuminated in shades of mauve, creating a stunning wildfire-enhanced sundown. Dogs run across the beach of river rock and splash joyously into the cool waters, lapping as they swim or wade just deep enough to cool their bellies. It’s a gorgeous evening after searing under intense sunshine for most of the day.
The nearby sports fields are beginning to glow beneath towering lights, while exuberant shouts and whistle blasts drift above the hum of traffic. Rows of trees surround the fields and leaves rustle in the light wind. For a moment, I feel calm and my thoughts become silent in this comforting place. A song by Imogen Heap stirs in my memory and in my mind I hear the lyrics, “There’s beauty in the breakdown.”
At what point will these water-starved trees begin to die off? There’s a biological limit to the stress they can take and this summer, the city presents undeniable evidence of trees in various stages of dying. How would this beautiful park look without the aspens, poplars and Manitoba maples? It’s entirely possible that one day, Calgary could resemble the barren landscape of El Paso where the Rio Grande runs dry after long periods without rain.
Over two million hectares of forest have burned in Alberta this year. They’re ignited mostly by lightning and careless human behaviour. However, despite a steady decline in the number of wildfires, the size and intensity of the outbreaks are increasing due to the hot and dry weather brought on by global warming. Although there is conclusive evidence that the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for creating the conditions that are resulting in massive environmental destruction, some people are unwilling to acknowledge the cause-and-effect relationship.
It isn’t just forests and urban trees that will be impacted by increasingly severe droughts and more frequent heat waves. Farmland will become less productive, crops will fail and the current allocation of water distribution licences will be insufficient as producers become ever more reliant on irrigation. The airborne particulates from wildfires will also contribute to decreases in the productivity and health of Alberta’s agricultural products.
For the second consecutive election, Albertans have chosen a conservative government that vows to fight for the fossil fuel industry. Indeed, this is a historically important sector of Alberta’s economy that generates jobs, wealth and substantial revenue for the provincial government. If it weren’t for climate change, I would agree that Alberta should take full advantage of its fossil fuel energy resources.
It’s extremely concerning that global demand for fossil fuels is at record levels and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts increasing consumption for decades to come. This is in spite of exponential growth in renewable energy capacity around the world. There is an astounding lack of concern over the IEC’s scenario. With the exception of the vast majority of climate scientists, not enough people accept the reality that a degenerative environmental cycle caused by the burning of fossil fuels will have a far greater impact on their lives than the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources.
Alberta’s six-month moratorium on approvals for renewable energy projects is an example of the kind of foolish thinking that is rooted in political ideology and stoked by misinformation campaigns and political lobbyists sponsored by Big Oil. Given the views of Premier Danielle Smith, this initial volley in the war against renewable energy should come as no surprise. However, it’s surprising that free-market conservatives in Alberta support the loss of billions of dollars in renewable energy investment, thousands of jobs and millions in revenue for landowners and rural municipalities.
A moratorium on renewable energy project approvals will not impress investors who have spent millions getting to the approval stage. Investors considering a renewable energy project in Alberta won’t waste their time on a province that says it's open for business but acts contrary to that invitation. Can you imagine what would happen if a six-month moratorium was declared on approvals for natural gas or oilsands development projects?
Alberta’s six-month moratorium on approvals for #RenewableEnergy projects is rooted in political ideology and stoked by misinformation campaigns and political lobbyists sponsored by #BigOil, writes Rob Miller @winexus #abpoli
This roadblock for clean energy was declared without any consultation with the renewable energy industry. Perhaps a few meetings or even a courtesy call would’ve been more appropriate than a hastily convened meeting with the Canadian Renewable Energy Association minutes before the announcement was made. This was amateurish, disrespectful and exacerbated by justification based on two gems from populist misinformation campaigns.
Stoking fear over the loss of prime agricultural land to wind and solar energy has long been in Big Oil’s arsenal of simple but effective messages. But is it not the right of the landowner to decide how to best use their property to generate income? Ironically, provincial law prohibits landowners from refusing access to oil and gas resources when discovered on their land. A farmer does have the right to refuse any renewable energy project, but for at least the next six months, the government is refusing to approve the income-generating opportunities they want.
The government’s concern over the cleanup of renewable energy projects is completely without merit. Rural municipalities are equally concerned about the millions in unpaid taxes from oil companies and the billions required for cleaning up an astronomical number of orphan wells. Given that these are issues today and not potential issues decades down the road, perhaps a moratorium on drilling would be more appropriate until the backlog of orphan wells is cleaned up.
The offensive against renewable energy has begun. It doesn’t matter that heat waves, drought and flash flooding due to climate change will cause the loss of far more prime agricultural land than renewable energy. This isn’t science-based or even fact-based policy. This is the kind of policy that you get from people who believe in conspiracy theories, only love oil and gas, and are convinced the rest of Canada wants to kill their golden goose.
As climate change continues to worsen, Big Oil is destined for a day of reckoning. By then, Albertans may have already exhausted any goodwill from the majority of Canadians who want climate action, not petty turf wars.
The people of Alberta deserve better stewardship but, unfortunately, they made a choice that will have long-term consequences. Somehow the majority convinced themselves that business as usual would be OK. But it won’t be business as usual, it will be a crippling of the energy and economic diversification that Albertans have always wanted.
Rob Miller is a retired systems engineer, formerly with General Dynamics Canada, who now volunteers with the Calgary Climate Hub and writes on behalf of Eco-Elders for Climate Action.