I moved to Edmonton, Alberta several years ago from Michigan. The automobile capital of the world is Detroit Michigan, otherwise known to hockey fans as Motor City. Three hours away I lived near communities with factories making rear view mirrors, upholstery, door panels, and more. The auto industry tentacles spread from Detroit all around the state like a virus attacking the cells in a body. In 2008, General Motors and Chrysler asked Congress for a bailout. The affect on Detroit was devastating and it was all over the news. Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of the story. Those communities all around Michigan making parts were infected as well. They didn't get a bailout. People had to leave their homes and the state to find work.
I share my story because it is the filter in which I see the oil and gas industry of Alberta. In the capital of Edmonton, politicians fight to keep the flame burning because it is the revenue that sustains the entire province. It trickles out all around in the "boom and bust" economy. For example, I have journalist acquaintances who have written for trade magazines for oil and gas. Those journalists wouldn't put food on the table without the work. When oil prices go up, Alberta is reliving the gold rush era. When the price goes down, things get bleak. As someone who lived through the auto bailout, this reliance on oil and gas in Alberta is terrifying.
Climate Crisis - Blame and Defense
When thousands of students held a strike at the Alberta Legislature on September 27th they were greeted by signs in the windows of the politicians that read "I Love Oil and Gas." Greta Thunberg is expected to come to Edmonton on Friday, October 18th and the current government seems hellbent to have nothing to do with her. Greta is black and the government is white. This is the political atmosphere of our world and possibly more dangerous than the actual climate crisis. The government has taken the defensive position out of fear. Being seen with Greta could hurt their chances of being reelected into a system that is about helping people. This is the goal of Greta too. Her actions are about saving people, not the planet. As a politician, would it not be nice to see a fellow human being following in your footsteps and choosing the path of a leader at such a young age? Can the environment minister, Jason Nixon, not support her for that, even if they have different ideas politically? That's the beauty of gray, and not part of our current cultural atmosphere where everything is about blame and defense.
Greta threatens people with her use of language. She is fed up that business as usual has tried to sweep the very, real climate crisis under the rug. Perhaps it is a poor strategy as she is putting people on the defensive? However, each of us are in charge of our own response. We value those who fight for what they believe is right, more than we value empathetic communication. So, the response over and over is one of anger and defense. It's a black and white world. Greta blaming adults and governments for not listening may be just as bad as those shouting that she's wrong. We don't live in a society of discourse. We live in a world of sound bites, memes, clickbait headlines, and choosing sides. You are with us or you're against us.
Too Big To Fail
There was an old lady who swallowed a fly I don't know why she swallowed a fly - perhaps she'll die!
There was an old lady who swallowed a spider That wriggled and wiggled and tiggled inside her. She swallowed the spider to catch the fly I don't know why she swallowed a fly - Perhaps she'll die!
Our world is a complex one. A single solution to a problem can often result in numerous other issues. The automobile virus that surrounds Michigan could not simply be eradicated. However, fear kept us from looking for alternatives. Cash for Clunkers was created to assist the Big Three automakers to get back to business as usual. Michigan wanted to put the past behind them. The state could not simply pick up and diversify in a short time. The infrastructure of its government, industries, and communities was all built within this huge system that relied on the auto industry. Similarly, Alberta, its inhabitants, and Canada as a whole stay afloat because of oil.
Alberta cannot merely stop producing oil and gas. It's a harsh reality. At the same time, as a species we cannot continue on like we are. Our children will pay with their lives. The climate crisis is not about "saving the planet" like so many in the 1990s and early 2000s boasted. It's about saving humans. Blaming temperature change on the planet is not a solution. Like Michigan and Alberta economies, the environment is a giant system that is woven into our lives. The hard work is in the sacrifices we decide to make to ensure our own survival. Time is wasted when we try to point fingers with blame. This is why Greta and others are striking. They are giving up something important, like their education and work, to bring light to an issue.
The time for choosing sides is over. It is time to seriously sit down and discuss strategies before it is too late. Greta herself, has even said that it isn't her you need to listen to, but scientists. The demand is that we do something about the climate crisis. It is not that we must all stop driving cars, using plastics, heating our homes, and using light bulbs at night. I'm not a scientist, but renewable resources seem like they would be more profitable for longer than fossil fuels. Of course, that's if you want to sustain your business interests and not just get rich quick. Your opinion can differ from mine and we can discuss it instead of being defensively trying to win an argument. Communication has to happen before it becomes impossible. See, communication needs oxygen. We may have that now, but the future is uncertain despite what those who want to keep their political positions, jobs, and cash, tell you.
That last bit feels as if I am also casting blame. It's a difficult thing to avoid today. Especially, when I am alone in a room typing this instead of having a conversation with my politicians. As I said above, this is not a black and white world. This is a complex system that we are all part of, whether we like it or not. The economy, the government, the planet, our communities, our jobs, and neighborhoods are all systems intricately tied together by a common thread, us humans. There's no argument of whether Alberta oil and gas is right or Greta is, if no humans are around to shout.
Responsibility and Resolution
In the 80s GM closed several auto plants in Flint, Michigan. According to The Detroit News there were around 80,000 people working for GM in Flint prior to the closings. In 2015, there were only 7,200 employed by the auto giant. At Christmas of 1988, Michael Moore told the chairman that he had filmed a family being evicted from their Flint home on Christmas eve. Chairman Roger B. Smith responded, "Well, I'm... listen, I'm sure General Motors didn't evict them. You'd have to go talk to their landlords."
Is Roger passing the buck? Is Moore blaming him for something he had no control over? General Motors is a complex system. I'm certain they didn't close those Flint plants on a whim, but had a meeting about the impact it would have on General Motors. The people who lost their jobs may have sacrificed themselves for the others who luckily remained employed at other plants. This kind of boom and bust is one that we are used to. The lose of drinking water and breathable air are not anything we want to experience. Oil and gas are intricate to the survival of people in Alberta, right now. Can we use those profits to build something better for our children? First, we have to have the conversation as a group of humans, not politicians trying to get votes or CEOs looking to keep investors happy. World War I and World War II did not end because of a show of might by armies. It was not the heroic fighting of the soldiers that we should idolize. The wars were won in rooms with pens. People, humans signed armistices. They declared to end hostilities. If we have any heroes today, they shouldn't be costume vigilantes, bombastic politicians, or striking children. Heroes are the people that can see that the world is not black and white and can come to the table to talk solutions.