We need a comprehensive plan for how Alberta is going to make a rapid transition to a post-carbon economy. “Rapid,” because the time frame for the whole world to make a radical cut to greenhouse gas emissions (before we make a global temperature rise in the range of 4 to 6 C unavoidable) is now very, very short. It’s not good enough for Albertans to allow our province’s emissions to keep rising, because that means other people, somewhere else, have to cut their GHG emissions by more than their fair share, to compensate for our unwillingness to make the necessary changes to our energy system, our transportation infrastructure, and our consumption. We have to remember that the wealthiest countries have benefited the most from the dumping of greenhouse gases into the planet’s atmosphere since the beginning of the coal-fuelled industrial revolution. In Canada, wealth from oil and other resource extraction has been built on the dispossession of indigenous peoples. People in other parts of the world may never have a chance to have secure and decent lives, as the effects of global warming (for which they are not responsible) render their conditions of life ever more precarious. Moreover, we are pushing the incalculable costs of climatic change (greater food and water insecurity, diseases, natural disasters, massive loss of biodiversity) into the future– for our children’s and grandchildren’s generations to deal with.
What resources are available to us to build a society that is more ecologically sustainable, more egalitarian, more secure and resilient, and that provides more happiness and well-being? We need answers to many questions; a lot of different kinds of expertise and experience must come together to problem-solve. I’d like to see the government commission research, and provide funding for something like a representative citizens’ assembly or convention, whose participants could make informed judgments about GHG emission reduction targets for Alberta, and deliberate on a wide range of measures (with nothing off the table) for attaining these targets. Why are governments able to find millions of dollars to subsidize the development of oil and gas extraction technologies, but nothing to bring citizens and experts together to become more knowledgeable, and to find solutions to the most urgent problems of our time? Alberta could be a model for the world in how to do this. We have no time to lose.
[Laurie Adkin is a Professor of Political Science and Environmental Studies, and editor/co-author of First World Petro-Politics: The Political Ecology and Governance of Alberta (University of Toronto Press, 2016).]