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Alberta’s Climate Consultations: The Good, The Bad and The Downright Crazy

Much of the country is understandably pre-occupied with Monday’s federal election. But while we have all been watching the national drama unfold, something monumental happened in Alberta.

In a nutshell: big coal is pushing for renewable energy and big oil is re-iterating its push for a carbon tax.

Close to 500 individuals (including at least one alien — more on that to come), companies and NGOs submitted proposals to Alberta’s Climate Change Advisory Panel (chaired by University of Alberta economics prof Andrew Leach) about the kind of policies they think the new government should introduce to address spiking greenhouse gas emissions.

The significance of this for Alberta’s climate politics cannot be overstated. After years of stalling or stifling meaningful conversations, the province has now pulled off one of the country’s most important and interesting climate consultation processes.

The submissions, now accessible online, largely consist of the classic combo of recommendations from the usual suspects: phasing out coal-fired power plants, incentivizing renewable energy sources and introducing a proper carbon tax.

But there were also some fairly surprising sources of support for such recommendations.

Major electricity providers TransAlta and ATCO backed immediate caps on coal-fired electricity and energy companies like Suncor and Shell reiterated calls for an economy-wide carbon tax (CNRL, on the other hand, issued an ostensibly veiled threat: “If we make investment in our province un-economic, the jobs and investment dollars will go elsewhere”).

Premier Rachel Notley seemed thrilled with the responses, saying to reporters: “The quality of the conversation has just improved so dramatically in just such a short time.”

It’s true. The conversation about climate change solutions has come a long way in Alberta in the past six months.

But looking through the comments posted online, there were some pretty far-out ideas coming courtesy of private citizens. Many such comments may in fact offer an intriguing window into how and what Albertans think about the issues of climate change.

Such esoteric suggestions arrived in three distinct forms: hyper-paranoid forecasting, well-meaning but unpopular social changes and outright climate change denial (we’ll let you decide which one is the more concerning of the bunch).

Aliens, Famines and Predictions of Apocalypse

The most overtly out-there suggestions of the bunch were the two that addressed aliens. Yeah, you read that correctly.

In one case, a person only referenced as “Aaron” announced that humans can’t possibly understand “broader thermodynamic processes” and the “offspring of the few humans who do miraculously survive extinction, despite failing to comprehend these limits, will nicely make pets for my offspring.” He later signed off as “the ancestor of the future benevolent overlords of your few surviving offspring.”

There was also “Michael,” who suggested there’s “UFO technology that would eradicate all pollution relating to energy production and general transportation worldwide” (linking to a radio show on the subject which has been listened to over 400,000 times).

Many other suggestions took a less extraterrestrial approach but exemplified an equal level of paranoia: someone identified only as “a terrified and terrorized citizen” warned of coming famines and suggested that Canada starts to ration food and incentivize the rapid construction of windmills by exchanging “work for full meals.” Some writers appeared to fall asleep on their keyboards, way overusing exclamation points (“Albertans should be outraged!!!!!!”). A dozen consecutive commas were issued in one bizarre entry, which also featured vaguely Biblical references and all-caps sentences like “THEIR [sic] WILL BE EMPTY (GAS_TANKS _ ).”

Keep in mind that someone had to sort through all of these. The real kicker is that the posts came with a disclaimer that “submissions will be reviewed for appropriateness before posting to the library.” It’s certainly an interesting thought experiment to imagine what kind of entries didn’t make it past such gatekeepers.

Dramatic Social Changes Proposed

Then there was the class of loftier, more cerebral pitches.

Take, for example, the notion of “Enviro-Wednesday,” which would “close” the province once a week with the exception of essential services such as hospitals and police. Only emergency services would be permitted to drive vehicles, with a “fleet of hybrid taxis” available to transport sick people to hospitals. “Enviro-Wednesday” would allow us to “relax and catch our breath in the midst of all of life’s crazy hustle and bustle and to reawaken ourselves to the priorities in life” by effectively trapping us all at home.

Another entry suggested alterations in societal values, with significant reductions in airline travel and bans on lawn-mowing and recreational road trips. A prohibition on driving trucks was also recommended.

The issue of “unchecked population growth” inevitably reared its head, as did banning GMOs. Which, of course, are legitimate concerns, but perhaps a tad beyond the powers of the Alberta panel.

Climate Change Deniers Arrive in Full Force

Rounding out the pack of entries from private citizens were those who simply don’t buy into the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming. There was a staggering number of those. Many seemed convinced that climate change is being harnessed by politicians to generate more revenue for government coffers via mechanisms like carbon taxes and cap-and-trade arrangements.

“Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming has been a solidly falsified theory by now,” one person wrote with impressive confidence. Another contended that “CO2 is not a problem as anyone who has studied the real science knows.”

One Albertan dubbed wind farms “bird slicers” and photovoltaic panels “solar cookers.” The phrase “social engineers” was slung around a few times, usually accompanying the volcanoes-produce-emissions-therefore-human-action-is-irrelevant refrain.

Friends of Science, the controversial Calgary-based organization that suggests climate change is being caused by the sun, made five submissions. The most intensely worded of the climate-denying bunch proclaimed: “Time will come you and your panel of shills shall be exposed. Treachery as this carries massive consequences.”

Climate Change Panel Report Coming Soon

All strangeness aside, hundreds of Albertans did what no one 12 months ago would have believed: that is, have a meaningful engagement with the issue of climate change and what the province can do to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Hats off to you, Alberta.

The hundreds of submissions received by the panel supplement the two public open houses that were hosted in early September: the government reports that close to 1,000 people showed up to those.

Next up is the actual formation of the climate action plan, which will be presented to cabinet prior to the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France. It’s unknown how many of the submissions will be seriously considered by the panel.

Image: Premier of Alberta

James Wilt is a freelance journalist based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a journalism degree from Mount Royal University in…

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