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Column: Welcome to Canada, Greta Thunberg – Stewart Muir


As the most ubiquitous Swedish product since IKEA’s Billy bookcase, the fact that Greta Thunberg’s climate symphony in the key of apocalypse has now arrived in Alberta should not have come as a surprise.

Some say she’s also packing more hypocrisy than you could fit in a Vardegan. (That’s a measuring cup in Ikean, in case you’re wondering.) Is that too harsh a judgment? Yes it is. If every kid her age had a pinky’s worth of her desire to make the world a better place, there’s a very good chance the world could become that place.

Even so, I’m going to take the risk of being pushed adrift on a teensy ice floe by Greta’s vocal fan club and point out that this exemplary young person could save herself a world of effort by starting closer to home in showcasing her ideas about a low-emissions world.

A mere walk away, her fellow Scandinavians in next door Norway last week switched on a massive new oil project that will operate for 50 years, to 2069 (that’s 39 years after human extinction), while producing 2.7 billion barrels of oil and generating over $200 billion in income during its operations, all while “meeting Paris”, because, you know, the world needs oil now and long into the future.

Norwegians recognize the 20 percent boost to the Sovereign Wealth Fund signified by this shiny new piece of fossil-fuel infrastructure, and are evidently proud to see it bear the name of their founding prime minister, Johan Sverdrup. (He secured nation-builder status while the leader of the – wait for it – Liberal Party). Possibly taking a cue from Canadian practices, they’ve also gone to exceptional lengths to green up their oil extraction processes.

Unlike Canada, no climate emergency has been declared in Greta’s home country. Instead, Swedes are eschewing the rhetoric of panic in favour of a practical approach to tackling the problem. I say good on them.

 

Many fear that with a potential tour of dour around Alberta, Greta intends to stage what amounts to a theatrical performance, scripted by handlers from Greenpeace (they were using her exact lines when she was still in diapers), where she will follow the custom of foreign-funded eco-lobby groups operating in our country and slander Canadian energy people, projects and products for an enthralled Instagram following.

There is reason to be wary. Alberta-bound Greta has managed to travel through Wyoming while failing to remark on its status as the sixth-largest oil-producing state in the U.S., and the source of about 40 percent of all coal mined in the country in 2017.

No, Ms. Thunberg’s target in the western U.S. was Keystone XL, a pipeline that once finished will create national wealth for Canada just like the Johan Sverdrup project will for Norway, by allowing our oil to fetch the fair market value.

Sounds like the tedious Rockefeller Foundation “landlock the tar sands” campaign all over again, using methods that are as obvious as they are wrongheaded.

Will it feel like Greta is just another protester-for-hire to assail only Canadian energy and ignore the rest, fixating on the alleged negatives of the oil sands while steadfastly ignoring all of the efforts made by industry and governments to achieve progress in using this resource responsibly?

Let’s hope not, but realistically what are the odds it will go differently.

That a heavily political tour is taking place during a Canadian election campaign is already generating cynicism towards Greta’s crusade, because it will look to some like an attempt by holier-than-thou eco-lobbyists to evade Elections Canada rules for writ-period spending. Canadians outside of Alberta are the obvious audience as parties roll out their most desperate measures in the last days of a campaign that is universally described as both tight and nasty.

If slow is the new fast for Greta, surely she could spend a little more time exploring the American West, and wait until after Oct. 21 to come see what we western Canadians are all about.

But since she’s already arrived, Greta does have the chance to discover firsthand that the most technology-intensive and innovative part of the Canadian economy is to be found in the western Canadian energy patch. The human resources and financial might exist there to continue supporting science and the movement toward constantly improving energy. She’d learn about the rapidly lowering GHG footprint of the oil sands and that thanks to abundant natural gas, Warren Buffet is investing $200 million in a new southern Alberta wind mega-farm.

That would place her on a much higher moral plane than using the trip to give cover to the Scandinavian fossil fuel industry while finger-wagging at Canada. The only energy system capable of fueling her dreams for society is one significantly dependent on creative development of the versatile hydrocarbon molecule. Not everyone is onside with this yet, however, and Greta should be sensitive to local frictions.

Yesterday, I heard from a friend in the Alberta energy industry:  “Just closed down my Canadian operation yesterday. Since January that’s put another 90 well paid, taxpaying western Canadians out of work. We are one of several having to close the doors as the pain continues.”

It’s a typical story.

Albertans are facing the loss of their homes; insolvency; job loss; finding themselves no longer able to afford arts and sports programming for their children; struggling with depression or addiction associated with the de-marketing campaign against Canada’s world-class oil and gas industry; and much more.

Greta’s inimitable style could come across as out of touch and offensive to the 15,000-plus Alberta residents facing insolvency this year (double the rate of 2014), though one suspects that some in her entourage are relishing the imagery of distressed adults angrily confronting the saintly message bearer. That would really get donations flowing…

Alberta residents would be wise not to do Greta the favour. Can they help bring about a better outcome? Maybe it’s time for a peaceful rally—a “Rally to a Social Conscience”— that showers love and wisdom on Greta, asking her to judge Canada with the same fairness that she applies to her home region.

Alberta could use its imminent facetime with Greta to get a message across to the world’s media: The industries involved in producing Canadian oil and gas – aka “Big Oil” but also “small” oil like my friend – are the ones already leading the global fight against greenhouse emissions.

Stewart Muir is the executive director of Vancouver-based Resource Works Society.



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