Alberta, the Oil Economy, and the Future

This is my response to another comment in a discussion on a web page with more than average “conservative” readership, and I have realized that it actually says about all that I need to on this subject.

  “I’m taking the time to write out as complete of an answer as I can, because you’ve just brought up the (no pun intended) million dollar question surrounding the Alberta oil economy, I sincerely hope that you read it through when you have the time and are in the mood to consider my words instead of looking to argue with them, and will answer respectfully, because I really want to know what you have to say to them.

  Here we go:

  Having all of the economic “eggs in one basket” is exactly why there are a lot of people who are now unemployed, many of whom are in danger of losing their homes that they use to house their families that they need to feed.

  In biology, it is called a “mono-culture”, it’s why timbered areas that are mostly reforested with cloned saplings are at greater risk than natural forest for disease and parasites, and it’s why having only one type of easy to grow potato outside of the dozens of varieties available led to the Irish Potato Famine.

  It is not an “all or nothing” game, there is no reasonable way that Alberta or the world could instantly shift from a hydrocarbon based industrial base all at once.

  Even if we could make the shift for our transport infrastructure to another technology, the long chain hydrocarbons from oil would still be useful for plastics and medicines and that will never change.

  It would be nice if we could get past the laziness of people who start their car to drive three blocks to the corner store, or the simple stupidity of making and buying products and packaging that has no purpose other than to be thrown away and replaced, but that’s a tall order.

  I’m mostly going to leave alone the problem with making the fiat currency economy the main focus of an argument when (no matter what someone might want to believe or what creatures like Ezra Levant will twist facts and logic to say) there is an incredible body of evidence saying that every tiny bit of temperature increase globally or toxic compounds entering the water table that we can avoid is actually pretty damn important at this point.

  But the fact remains that tying Alberta’s future (as well as the rest of the country’s) to a single sector without actively developing others is dangerous.

  It leaves us vulnerable to shifts in the global market.

  The bulk of the profits made as things stand are actually to the benefit of people and countries that have no vested interest in the future of Alberta past having made that profit, and paying it out to their major shareholders.

  With FIPPA and (sadly) the TPP that seems likely to come into force, any changes made in provincial or federal policy to protect the long term interests of Alberta, citizens or the land itself, those foreign owners can sue for damages based solely on what they think they should have been able to make.

  It puts people like me whose immediate family and life long friends are in Alberta and suffering from the current slump, but who love the west coast and don’t like the odds on more pipelines or tanker traffic when it comes to the salmon, trees, and clean water that are jeopardized, in a really rough position.

  Honestly, it sucks to say it, but if my nephew or one of the men that I know who has lost their jobs recently aren’t able to find a new one soon, I trust them to be able to not die of starvation before they can figure out how to either find a new one or learn to survive like thousands of years of human beings managed to before the industrial revolution.

  One tanker spill, one pipeline ruptured at the top of a watershed, and the damage can’t be repaired, ever.

  The Gulf of Mexico is not recovering from the BP oil spill, and the track record of integrity for the companies who want to expand operations is not one to breed confidence.

  When I was at the University of Lethbridge in the 90s one of the older students that I met was an environmental scientist taking a new degree because he would not falsify data on water testing for an oil company, and was effectively blackballed from working anywhere in Alberta because of that.

  I’ve met many more since then, as well as ones who happily fake data or follow orders during assessments to “don’t look there, it doesn’t exist”.

  The patch is going to keep operating, that isn’t going to change, and again, it shouldn’t, people have bills to pay and you can’t retrain people for industries that don’t exist.

  But Alberta should be exploring ways to make sure that within a generation the people who are kids right now will have the option to find gainful employment in other industries, be they more sophisticated agricultural systems, high end manufacturing using petrochemicals refined with a higher standard of efficiency than is currently standard, industries based on skills and technology such as environmental remediation and disaster mitigation, information technology, and/or alternative energy sources, whatever.”