By Julia McElgunn
Climate Change. These two words trigger instant defense, and they should. The message loud and clear has been to blame fossil fuels for releasing the culprit, CO2 with the solution to get rid of it, otherwise there will be genocide. A message that haunts.
Climate change is real. It’s a natural cycle of the earth’s dynamic history over millions of years. For most of the Earth’s geological history, the average temperature has been near 22oC, approximately 8oC warmer compared to now. In fact, we are in an ice age. Ironically, 450 million years ago CO2 levels were 10 times higher than they are today, but the earth was in an ice age then with similar average temperatures to now. There does not seem to be a strong correlation with CO2 and temperature rise when considering the longer geological history of our planet, suggesting humans cannot control the temperature. If CO2 is still heavy on Canadian’s minds, it might ease the conscience knowing Canada is CO2 neutral and perhaps even CO2 negative thankfully due to the large forests, bodies of water and soil absorbing the colorless, odourless gas we exhale, and yet a source vital to life on this planet.
The silver lining? The push towards climate change policy guides better management of our home planet. There is only one habitable planet, and it needs respectful and sustainable development with long-term future implications considered and acknowledged. It needs a ‘we can do better’ transition.
Exactly how do we begin this transition to a greener cleaner renewable energy consumption?
I would argue we are in the midst of this transition now. It begins with a passionate dialogue about options for possible solutions. Sadly, we are not looking at the bigger picture, and these options are limiting and small. The current conversation has been extremely one-sided, and the loudest voices of paid protestors have prevailed, while the country has politely listened.
Protesting is a luxury resultant of a standard of living created by an oil industry that is well-above a significant portion of the world’s population who live in energy poverty. Access to food and water is an expectation while shelter from the extreme weather ranging from heat waves to cold snaps is regulated through instant switches on air conditioners and furnaces. A just transition keeps the daily standard of living we expect while forging ahead, demanding renewable options.
Undoubtedly accepting the environmental extremists’ perspective appears to leave only two options:
1. Support oil and gas expansion projects while steamrolling all social concerns in favour of the economy; or,
2. Be totally and completely opposed to them, fighting on ideologies such as Indigenous rights and the environment.
The hypocrisy is, those fighting for the environment often destroy landscapes by creating garbage no longer reusable or even recyclable, merely adding to the environmental devastation, while clothed in hydrocarbon products extracted from deep within the earth’s strata. Not to mention, countless Indigenous voices who support the oil and gas industry are not heard or heeded.
A just transition requires honesty with respect to daily personal energy footprints: A full-cycle look at the products and services we choose. For example, understanding the environmental impact of deciding to take a cruise, or opting for the newest technological devices. It involves fully understanding what is necessary to get solar panels built and installed or shipping electric cars across the globe and being aware of how they are powered.
It’s important to recognize a just transition is not only about the environment, nor is it solely about the economy either. It considers a multi-faceted approach that is about Canadians and how they want to progress into the future.
The current state of affairs is regressing our standard of living and is causing more issues. The unemployment rate in Alberta over the past 3 years has been between 6 to 8%, the highest since 2010 and 1996 before that. Although Canada’s unemployment fell to 5.9% in September 2018, it’s still almost double that of the USA, at 3.7%. Unemployment indicates a suffering economy, rippling out into the mental health crisis on the rise through stress, depression, even increased suicide. Charities and non-profit organizations receiving less funding, are unable to support the society with their necessary services vital to a developed nation assisting all Canadians, regardless of social status.
Canadian oil and gas is undervalued and sold to the only available buyer, the United States at a 40-60% reduction on premium global pricing. An incredible win for the buyer and a catastrophic loss of 22 billion dollars per year to the seller, the Canadian people. Big brother can bully the price much like stealing loonies from toddlers. How can we stand there and let this happen? Each day Canada loses out on potential revenue that could build in-demand infrastructure; schools, hospitals and efficient roadways. Perhaps most Canadians don’t care that the oil industry is losing money, but this differential indirectly affects their quality of living and their children’s future. Are we connecting all of the dots? A just transition connects all of the dots.
The oil and gas industry is misunderstood because supporters have not corrected the myths and misconceptions. They have been diligently working at providing the nation with needed resources. Moreover, every manufactured product is linked to oil and gas, whether it is used in harvesting raw materials, transporting products or making actual product. Oil and gas is in all consumer aspects of our modern lives. The world is transitioning, in the meantime, we have a choice on which oil and gas products are going to help us transition. Do you want to choose products that are ethical, have a sustainable consideration and are socially responsible like Canadian oil and gas? Or do you want to support other countries that aren’t even talking about climate change considerations?
It’s unfortunate that Canada is still importing nearly 1 Billion barrels of oil per year, a value of $14.4 billion dollars (CND) from countries like Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Algeria, Ivory Coast and the US. This is a hypocritical dependency and yet we won’t consider creating safe green and sustainable pipelines that will help a just transition.
Since Canada renounced its apparently wicked environmental damaging ways, democracy hasn’t been visible on the horizon. One such action would be to ask Canadians how they can creatively and innovatively deliver. The Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project could reap the benefits from innovative technology already established making it environmentally safer while de-risking the old line. Instead, political agendas have taken over with an urgency to win debates, and now re-election strategists are paving the way deciding what is important. Talk to any oil and gas supporter, underneath the defensive anger is the same drive for keeping their families safe and providing a secure future. This isn’t possible if Canada is expected to relieve its dependency on oil and gas in next 15 or even 50 years. Bringing the oil industry to a grinding halt would be like expecting a Boeing 767 to land on a grass landing strip short by more than 90% of the required length. It would be utter chaos. The just transition to a cleaner, greener energy must be done methodically, thoughtfully and deliberately. The purpose of why must be clear and must consider more than the environment and a minority group of people.
For example, Site C, a hydroelectric dam under construction is the 3rd dam along the Peace River in northern BC. This project is a clean renewable energy project, but the consequence is vast flooding of Indigenous and first settler lands along the river banks. To the Indigenous communities near the Peace River these are important lands and were promised to be protected by a signed treaty. The lands will now be lost indefinitely, making it hard to understand how a pipeline expansion project can assume the same lost land consequence commanded by the minority. Let me be clear, the Trans Mountain Pipeline has been in the ground since 1953 and was twinned once already before this newly polarized expansion project took a global stage. It seems contradictory that a hydro dam can eliminate precious land but a pipeline denies the globe of socially responsible, environmentally aware and ethical oil and gas.
Let’s not allow political ignorance and marketing confusion drive decisions. Canada can sell its product and work with innovators to find greener ways to transport and utilize hydrocarbons, simultaneously analyzing existing oil infrastructure while potentially equipping them with new technology making them better and safer.
Canada can lead in green clean energy by committing to a just transition thoughtfully with purpose and planning around productivity to create a secure economy and quality of living that maintains the highest standard of living for our families, both now and in the future.
About Julia McElgunn
Julia is a professional exploration and development geologist. She has broad geotechnical experience from across Canada, including exposure to the Wolfcamp Basin. A mother of 4, she is extremely passionate about science and human behavior.
As an advocate for the Canadian Oil industry and sustainability she is working continuously to build awareness, education, and dialogue around the integration of multiple priorities, including equity, inclusion, environmental, health and economic. Julia strongly believes all of these can be achieved if we think and lead from our most creative, innovative and engaged selves. In a time where the oil and gas industry is under political scrutiny, Julia sees an opportunity to bring a voice to how Alberta oil and gas lives up to the standards.