If you didn’t know any better or didn’t bother to look too closely, you might think the “Ministry of Just Transition” was a real thing. Its website looks very similar to other federal government properties, right down to the familiar Government of Canada logo, and it echoes language the Trudeau government has used in the past, including last July’s announcement of a “Just Transition Engagement.” But a more thorough inspection reveals it’s actually a campaign being run by 350.org, and the writing was done by none other than former NDP candidate Avi Lewis.
Hoisting governments on their own petard is hardly a new strategy. It’s one I find almost irresistible, and I’ve done it plenty of times with the UCP here in Alberta, whether it’s their disastrous “best summer ever” or Jobs Minister Doug Schweitzer’s claim that his government will “move at the speed of business.”
But it’s one thing to mock a government with its own words and quite another to build a website and online identity for a “Just Transition Ministry” that so closely mirrors the government’s own branding that a casual observer could be tricked into thinking it really exists.
In an age of widespread (and widely weaponized) misinformation, and at a time when Conservatives are gleefully spreading their own brand of deceit around a supposed “truck tax,” this is a dangerous way to attract attention.
The tactics behind the campaign are secondary to its content, though, which leans heavily on the phrase “just transition,” two buzzwords that don’t play nearly as well as they could. A 2019 poll done by Abacus Data for Clean Energy Canada showed that when given a range of options, most Canadians ranked “just transition” as one of their least favourite ways of describing the process of moving away from fossil fuels.
When asked: “Which do you feel is the single best description of the transition you would like to see happen?” only eight per cent of Canadians — and five per cent of British Columbians — selected the phrase “just transition.” In contrast, 30 per cent said they liked “responsible transition.”
The 2018 Alberta Narratives Project, which captured the findings and insights from more than 50 provincewide conversations on climate change with nearly 500 people, raised some important flags about the use of the word “transition.” “The conventional transition narrative follows an arc that begins by asserting the dangers of climate change, then criticizes the oil industry, followed by an imperative to reduce or close down fossil fuel production and an economic case for expanding renewable energy,” it said. “This narrative does not hold up well in Alberta.”
What people are reading
The idea of a “just transition” tested just as poorly. “There was little interest in Alberta in protecting people’s livelihoods in this way,” the authors wrote, “possibly because of shared values of resilience to change and independence from government.”
The “Just Transition Ministry” website also repeatedly references a “green economy,” another phrase that’s more of an albatross than it needs to be. As Angus McAllister, the founder of McAllister Research, told Clean Energy Canada, “It works with the usual suspects and alienates everyone else.”
Clean Energy Canada’s 2019 research shows that when asked “Which best describes the economy you want to see for Canada in the future?” 43 per cent said “sustainable economy” — nearly three times as many as who said “green economy” (15 per cent). In Alberta, the spread was even bigger, with 58 per cent preferring “sustainable economy” to the just nine per cent who liked “green economy.”
Why does this sort of linguistic nitpicking matter? Because as the ongoing efforts in the United States to improve policing outcomes and raise awareness about the discrimination and violence against Black and brown communities shows, words matter. Former president Barack Obama made that point in December 2020 when he suggested the phrase “defund the police” was getting in the way of the task at hand. “If you want to get something done in a democracy, in a country as big and diverse as ours, then you’ve got to be able to meet people where they are.”
Obama was upbraided by progressive activists and Democratic legislators for his comments, but others rallied to his defence. As Njeri Mathis Rutledge, a professor at the South Texas College of Law, wrote in her column about that skirmish, “Messaging and policy go hand in hand. Rather than insist on a slogan that is both inflammatory and misleading, we must choose language that will influence real progress and mobilize most people to action, instead of just a few.”
The same applies here in Canada, and especially in Alberta, to the notion of a “just transition.” Given the recent report from the IPCC and the crucial importance of making forward progress on climate policy in Canada, we can’t afford any missteps.
And while the idea of a “just transition” might appeal to people in downtown Toronto, Vancouver, or Cortes Island, it’s far less attractive to Albertans whose lives and careers are going to be upended as fossil fuel production winds down, as it inevitably must. Rather than doubling down on potentially polarizing language, we should adopt words and ideas that bridge the divide and move as many people as possible down the road together.
And please, no more fake websites.
Albertans who bristle at
Albertans who bristle at “just transition” reject the fundamental notion of transition away from fossil fuels. The objection is to the word "transition", not "just".
Big Oil's agenda is fossil fuel expansion, not transition.
"The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) also encouraged its members to submit feedback, with high-level recommendations like … ensuring any 'just transition' policy is aimed at cementing Canada as a global supplier of fossil fuels, rather than transitioning out of the industry."
"Industry and climate groups face off over just transition consultation" (National Observer, 06-Oct-21)
"Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers board chair and Crescent Point Energy Corp. chief executive Craig Bryksa said the ultimate goal of the Canadian energy sector is to advance production while reducing its overall emissions intensity. 'But what I would say is the sector as a whole...is very, very good and very efficient at producing oil and natural gas. And we do it in what we believe is the most environmentally friendly fashion that there is.'"
"Greenpeace criticizes Suncor's decision to exit wind and solar energy business" (CP, April 6th 2022)
In Alberta, any criticism of the O&G industry is anti-Albertan, unpatriotic, and likely traitorous. Hence, our "Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns".
Note the conflation of the "energy" industry with the province of Alberta. The interests of the O&G industry and the public interest are one and the same.
Note also the conflation of oil & gas with the entire "energy" category, which nominally also includes hydro, nuclear, renewables, etc.
Fawcett: "When asked: 'Which
Fawcett: "When asked: 'Which do you feel is the single best description of the transition you would like to see happen?' only eight per cent of Canadians — and five per cent of British Columbians — selected the phrase 'just transition.' In contrast, 30 per cent said they liked 'responsible transition.'"
And the conclusion we are supposed to draw from that is what?
What is the difference? Is a "responsible" transition different from a "just" transition?
"Responsible" transition is like "responsible" oilsands development. The adjective is empty. Mere greenwashing.
Alberta and Big Oil are fundamentally opposed to any transition away from fossil fuels. If we wait for them to get on board, we shall wait forever. The recalcitrants will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Speaking of "narratives"
Speaking of "narratives" though, under the circumstances a bit of satire that both raises expectations AND incites some real longing for what is truly wanted, not to mention urgently NEEDED, 350.org is being creative. And their basic credibility IS impeccable after all.
And as far as deceit goes, DO let's recall the staggering and relentless level of subterfuge in "big oil" narratives for DECADES now, starting with outright denialism of climate science, also impeccable ultimately. A solid crime against humanity if there ever was one.
And they do actually point out quite dramatically that this is a satirical narrative at the end of the short video right at the beginning of the website.
The need to handle Albertans with kid gloves by engineering certain narratives that aren't too "woke or "libtard" is somewhat problematic as well, with " kid" being the key word in that they can't handle the truth and so have to be cajoled; it's ultimately patronizing. And when we look at certain conservative people's resistance to scientific truth generally as has been so distressingly obvious with covid and climate change, I don't think cajoling will do much at this point. These people are not the majority thank goodness, so I'd like to see a lot more honesty with them, not less. They don't deserve it; they're a genuine threat to us all.
I dunno. When one of her
I dunno. When one of her kids offered as an explanation for why they'd done something disallowed, or stupid, Mom would counter, "And if they jumped off a cliff, would you do that, too?"
I found the exercise to be peurile. I hope no one got paid for it.
I think it was also counterproductive all 'round, to brand it with the colors of 3 political parties. Especially at a time when Alberta and Ontario are so close to provincial elections.
I think the problem with "just transition" is that some (perhaps most) people think of it as " it's just transition" instead of referring to fairness. It has connotations of "Well, just transition already, demmit. Let the pieces fall where they may."
In the same way that middle-class, university educated people, especially those who work in professional milieus, understood "guidelines" from Health Canada to mean, "Do it, already," while the less educated wage-earners (and contractors, and small business owners) heard it in the same way as "cut along the dotted line" and they prefer to roughly tear it. They heard something quite different from what lawyers and accountants heard.
On top of that, the "guidelines" were out of reach for the entire bottom quintile of the population, at least, who couldn't afford masks even when they became available.
And yes, it *is* important, it's exactly the sort of thing that's lead to a huge political divide.
Consider that most of the population of the western world sees and knows full well that Ukraine needs help, and they don't begrudge it. Even if they don't understand all the legal reasons, or political reasons, or strategic reasons, or economic reasons or even moral reasons why, pretty much everyone by now has heard Zelenskyy. He's got excellent writers, but he's also an excellent communicator. He presents as "everyman," and even turned around the narrative that the best the West has to offer produced. Because the plain-straight basic language hits home to everyone, can't be misinterpreted (there's no jargon) and everyone knows what everyone else heard, and that they all heard the same thing. And everyone who heard him, and investigated anything, knew that he was just telling the truth. That's powerful. They may have reacted differently at least at first. But in the end, because everyone knew what everyone else heard, the people with decision-making power that counts couldn't sit comfortbly atop their jargon-horses, knowing full well that those whose opinions they didn't care about, or deemed inferior, knew full well that they had the whole message.
(I'm not saying his effectiveness has been only because of his communication ability: he's proven himself a good leader in pretty much every sense of the word. Clones, please!!!)
The "progressives," including environmentalists, have huge problems with their "messaging," precisely because they're locked into the jargon and perspective of class and identity. You can't speak to half the room only, without alienating most of the rest.
It's one of the reasons Barry Saxifrage's charts are so compelling, and why Public Health charts are meaningless to a lot of the population. He shows the whole thing. Public Health charts require a huge amount of interpolation to get anywhere near to the answers to people's questions. It's galling to a lot of people (everyone I know, in fact) that so much information is withheld from the public, for no reason at all. Except, perhaps, to hide the information.
As examples. Not as rants.
Does it matter what Albertans
Does it matter what Albertans think about this?
Let's be clear: Albertans have never cared what we think about anything. So for instance, when they're ramming a pipeline through my city, to supply tankers going through my harbour, so they can make money, they make it very clear that they don't care what happens to that city or harbour, let alone what I think about it.
So. There is going to be a transition. In the end, it doesn't matter what Albertans, Alberta oil companies, or even the Canadian federal government think--enough countries are shifting hard enough that demand for Alberta oil is going to drop through the floor at some point in the medium term future. At that point, I favour helping Albertans who lose oil industry jobs find alternative employment and generally be treated with justice, even though I think most of them are stupid jerks. But if them hating the language means they won't take the help, well . . . whatever. Not my problem.
On the other hand, it doesn't matter what language you use, I do not believe it is possible to get Albertans themselves, let alone the oil corporations that control their politics, to dump oil before the market dries up. Any policies which shrink the oil patch before lack of demand does it anyway, will have to be imposed from outside against strong resistance. Finding just the right language will not help. If anything, these alternative languages are almost certainly more positive to Albertans just because they don't already associate any particular meaning or political affiliation to them. If we settle on a different slogan that means "just transition", they will start hating that one soon enough, partly because of what it means, partly just because "libtards" are using it.
(At the same time, I do actually think "defund the police" is a counterproductive slogan--that kind of problem can exist and it can be relevant. Just, not in this case)
We are increasingly replacing
We are increasingly replacing relevant language with symbolism, and slogans with mantras. The trouble with branding is it’s irreversible and hard to amend or disguise—like circumcision, which was precisely the purpose The Good Book outlines. “Slogan” is Gaelic for “war cry”—the catchiest phrase rendered from the only slightly more elaborate “paean”—or “war song” (the Bible, btw, has as many books, apocrypha, Gemara, and canon as it does because, despite many quotable entries of pith, rote loyalty and blind faith always get questioned eventually , and slogans do not law make—at least not good law).
Indeed, political pith gets weaponized almost immediately these days and, if one side fires a slogan at the other, it soon gets fired back—it doesn’t need to make sense. That’s the whole problem nowadays.
Why study-group “Just Transition” versus “Responsible Transition” when subjects suspect auditors to statistically massage and policy-makers to mangle whatever their responses are. It’s all meant to defortify —to reconcile, as ‘t were, with Baden Powell’s left-handed hand-shake, with shield also cast aside.
But are the “Just” and “Responsible” qualifiers really necessary to grapple with plain old transition? Put another way, is it necessary to qualify “Reconciliation” with respect conciliatory attitudes between indigenous and Canadian governments? One of the reasons Reconciliation hasn’t been weaponized—like, “decolonization,” “consent,” and “veto” have—is that it isn’t about partisanship, winnowing, or sloganeering in the first place, so we don’t need “Just Reconciliation” or “Responsible Reconciliation” or even “Green Reconciliation” (just in case, though, a google search immediately reveals the 94-point synopsis attached which, naturally, is too unwieldy to sloganize anyway—ask any advertiser).
For bitumen miners and smelters, “Transition” is ripe for sloganizing and subsequent weaponizing: it means ‘the woke West Coast flakes want to take our jobs away.’ Explanatory commentary is already composed and considerably more elaborate, and short, sharp retorts to snickering at the inanity of theoretical conspiracies have been around for a long time. The really arcane rationalizations, though, are reserved for the dismal scientists fluent in cap-and-trade-ese, carbon-offset-ish, and oil-and-gas-subsidizarian, the dullest sword and driest pen in the game of might. Otherwise, it’s a bucket of gin and “this meetin’s over!”
Who’s confident that a just or responsible transition away from fossil fuels—and especially the most polluting of all, bitumen (all smelted n distilled n cracked n de-sulpherized n all—before it even makes it to your gas tank)—is any more likely that an economic one, a la buggy-whips and kitchen ice-boxes? A sermon on economic hypocrisy—citizens actually subsidizing private interests to take their resources away—is not gonna get bitumen workers’ full and patient attention. They already wrote us West Coasters off as hypocrites for driving plastic cars fuelled by the Bitumen Mines of Albetar while protesting the TMX pipeline expansion—more like interception now than returning fire.
But transition, however it happens, whatever it’s called, and no matter how just or fair it is, needs to be sweet enough to soothe any worker’s fear of unemployment, or poorer remuneration, or real property values so determinedly paid-off anticipating the tattering tarpaper of an industrial ghost town. The fear is real because the ghost towns are real, from fishing outports, to shuttered mines, and on to decaying mill towns and logging camps all across the second-biggest nation on earth. Athabasca was sold as too big to fail—but so were the Roaring Twenties and Lehman Brothers.
I think transition has to start with assurances that existing jobs can work out their careers to retirement, allowing everything from equipment to real estate values to temper at a rate something like fair. Winding down bitumen smelting is the responsible thing to do, but if demand for fossil fuels continues to grow as it is, it won’t seem just. It’s just best not to even make that case. Remember that Fort Mac (for example) hasn’t stopped defending its industry or denying climate change even through the vicissitudes of the market, wildfire, and a whole planet turning to face now-unavoidable inconvenient truths —like the ones meted by the God of Genesis. Heck, even when nobody will pay enough for diluted bitumen to make the industry feasible and, certainly, prospects looking grim, let alone expansive, workers in the field, voters all, will rankle and react to any perceived slight, even when the threat they pose is minuscule compared to what this industry has already experienced. Carbon tax, for example, does not threaten any bitumen career today, but it can easily be ginned and balled like a fist and hurled back at the well-meaning. But everybody knows being chuffed over rising oil prices (and dilbit, too) because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is dishonourably trite—not just, not responsible.
It would be nice if such demagoguery weren’t the stock in trade of certain political parties: maybe the war-cries would be less ardent and industry, workers and citizens could be assured that nobody’s out to get them; transition is just something that’s happening and responsible governments get policies done to deal with on behalf of everyone’s welfare.
We’re not there, the slogans are getting louder and paeans are being sung by fascist crusaders, united and rolling. Focus groups and parliamentary committees/commissions on what to call it aren’t helping much. Already the mob is demanding cabinet confidentiality be chucked in order to resupply the armoury of slogans.
For what it’s worth, IMHO, unless nuclear fusion breaks through soon, the bitumen deposit will present opportunities difficult to deny—but transition will happen over about the length of a typical working career. It will never be complete but at some point in, say, thirty years, production they way it’s done now will have shrunk by about 70%, new ways to exploit the resource will have been realized by the same tried and true method of public subsidy and government intervention, and the direct workforce will have been attritted in a fair way. The jobs we need to keep our country safe, clothed, and nurtured will be in other sectors, some like plastics and petro-chemicals directly attached to Fort Mac (for example). And there will always be a need for strategic petroleum fuels. Worker will roll up to the plant in an EV and not be harping slogans and paeans—or even remember, unless reminded, how it was back in the Raging Twenties.