Over 30 years ago, my wife and I drove to Alberta in a 1986 Camaro packed with personal belongings and a few houseplants. I remember travelling along the Yellowhead Highway, the northern route, and marvelling at the number of pump jacks that dotted the vast fields stretching to the horizon on either side of the highway.
This was oil country!
During our first winter in Calgary, we drove to Castle Mountain in southern Alberta for a ski trip and discovered wind turbines covering the distant hills south of Pincher Creek. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. My whole perception of Alberta suddenly changed. There was another possibility besides drilling rigs next to grazing cattle, open-pit oilsands glistening with toxic effluent and grasslands dotted with billowing flare gas stacks.
The route to Little Bow Provincial Park takes you through the rolling prairie in Vulcan County before descending steeply to the Travers Reservoir. Massive wind turbines tower above the plains to the south and inspire hope for an energy transition that is badly needed if we’re going to avoid accelerating natural disasters caused by a rapidly warming planet.
Steady winds make the reservoir popular for sailing and kite surfing, but it’s also a fantastic place for spotting wildlife and bird watching. I’ll never forget a large pod of pelicans taking flight and cruising just above our heads as we paddled up the Little Bow River at the west end of the lake. This park is a successful model of how renewable energy, agriculture and nature can peacefully coexist.
Not far from the hidden gem of Little Bow lies Alberta’s largest solar power plant, where a maximum of 465 megawatts of power is generated under the clear blue skies and blazing sun of “big sky” country. As the project was nearing completion, Greengate Power Corporation announced a power purchase agreement (PPA) with Amazon. The deal gave Amazon the right to most of the power generated at Travers and set off a renewable energy boom that brought in billions of investment dollars with zero contribution from the Alberta government.
The New York Times recently declared, “The Clean Energy Future Is Arriving Faster Than You Think.” The article details how the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in the U.S. is spurring major investments in the energy transition, creating jobs and driving economic growth. Tulsa, Okla., was once known as the “Oil Capital of the World,” but is now experiencing a renaissance thanks to investment in a $1-billion solar panel factory by Italian energy giant Enel, construction of an electric school bus factory by Navistar and rapid growth of Tulsa-based Francis Energy, a maker of electric vehicle charging stations.
The Times piece goes on to describe other major investments in renewable energy, such as Arkansas building the state’s largest solar farm, which will help power a nearby steel factory undergoing a $3-billion upgrade to enable the production of green steel from electric blast furnaces. But the most compelling affirmation of the energy transition was a chart showing the exponential growth of wind and solar energy in the world’s largest economies: the United States, China, the European Union and India.
On the one-year anniversary of the IRA, the energy transition is clearly ramping up, but political polarization is creating conditions that threaten to impede progress. In the U.S., the economic and environmental benefits of IRA may not survive a change in government if the Republican presidential candidate adopts the recently released Project 2025 plan.
On the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, energy transition is clearly ramping up, but political polarization in Canada is creating conditions that threaten to impede progress, writes Rob Miller @winexus #abpoli
This plan by the influential Heritage Foundation threatens to reverse all the IRA’s green economic initiatives and double down on fossil fuel production. If Project 2025 is successful, America will become a much dirtier place and Big Oil’s corporate leaders will become a lot richer.
In Canada, former leader Erin O’Toole was the last to release a Conservative Party of Canada climate plan. His plan included proposals to invest in controversial carbon capture and storage (CCS), debatably “renewable” natural gas and liquified natural gas (LNG), but it also promised investments in grid modernization, renewable energy, energy storage, electric vehicles, public transit and nature-based climate solutions.
O’Toole even proposed keeping the carbon tax, albeit in a different form of revenue-neutral, which ensured people who reduced their fossil fuel consumption wouldn’t be rewarded for their efforts. In fact, Stephen Harper’s government was once a proponent of a carbon tax in Canada. Unfortunately, Harper’s initial concerns about climate change were superseded by a desire to turn Canada into “an energy superpower.”
In the last two years, the conservative movement in Canada has lurched towards the right, no doubt heavily influenced by Republican and libertarian ideology and funding. We now have a new federal leader and an Alberta premier with far more extreme views on climate change.
Pierre Poilievre promises to axe the carbon tax and build pipelines south, north, east and west. Premier Danielle Smith has blamed wildfires on arsonists, halted a booming renewable energy industry and promised to create an orphan wells program that pays negligent companies to clean up wells they were already required to clean up at their own expense.
The commitment of conservative leadership to the fossil fuel industry isn’t new, but it’s taken on a disturbing urgency and combativeness as scientists around the world sound the alarm on climate change. This mindset is amplified on social media and widely embraced by conservative news outlets. Their rage-inducing tactics are proven to be effective at swaying voters to believe that climate solutions proposed by progressive governments are ineffective and dangerous to the economy.
Otto Scharmer is an author, senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a world-renowned thought leader on transformative leadership and systems change. Scharmer stresses that leaders must be capable of sensing the emergent future and be willing to transform systems to align with this emerging future. The alternative is a fixation on the past, where others are blamed for problems in the systems we’ve created and the result is degenerative outcomes like collapsing biodiversity, destabilizing climate and socio-economic polarization.
Conservative disdain for concepts like grid renewal, vehicle electrification and economic progress without further harming the environment is indicative of leadership that is working to prevent the rapidly emerging future. A libertarian’s guiding principle is freedom, as long as that freedom aligns with their values. For example, libertarians believe that “what you do with your property ought to be up to you.” And yet, Danielle Smith and her “Take Back Alberta” cronies are perfectly happy with denying Alberta landowners the freedom to build wealth-creating wind and solar farms on their property.
Hypocrisy exists within any political movement, but when you cherry-pick the application of your primary objective, it speaks volumes about your movement’s conviction for freedom for all. Poilievre and Smith’s sympathies for freedom demonstrators — who are still out on the streets of Calgary with their “climate scam” signs and their “climate lockdown” conspiracy theories — illustrate a blatant disregard for the majority of Canadians who express deep concern for the future, believe humans are causing climate change and want something to be done about it.
When politicians with extreme views are allowed to set policy supporting the further proliferation of an energy source that clearly needs to be replaced with non-polluting alternatives, there are two immediate consequences.
First, investment and jobs in emerging clean technologies are lost to global competitors. Calgary won’t become home to hundreds of renewable energy companies or a northwestern manufacturing hub for solar panels and energy storage solutions. Calgary’s world-leading geothermal company will develop projects in other jurisdictions and eventually relocate to Europe where there is growing demand for its renewable energy solution.
Second, the Alberta economy will eventually be weighed down by a single-minded commitment to yesterday’s energy solution. When the next big downturn occurs in global fossil fuel markets, there will be little diversification to rely on. The “green jobs not wanted” sign will come down far too late in the game for anyone to consider investing in a province that lacked the vision and entrepreneurial spirit to pursue the wealth-creating industries of the future.
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.