Let me begin on a light note in what might be an otherwise heavy post by saying that I can't believe Thea made an "i can has cheezburger
" reference on the CYD Poznan blog. If you get upset or depressed while reading this post, just scroll back up the page and click the link.
Today, the Canadian Youth Delegation met with Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner and a few other staff from Alberta Environment. I've got to give credit for the minister for making the time to meet with us. Unfortunately, I don't have a whole lot else that's positive to say about the meeting. I think we managed to articulate how we felt as youth about continued tar sands development and its implications for human health, the environment, and Canadian climate policy.
As the meeting went on, frustration mounted as we didn't seem to be getting much. Heather, a young Dene woman in the CYD, described her family's and community's experience with the impacts of tar sands development; Minister Renner's response was unfortunate and inadequate, without any acknowledgement of the health problems these people are experiencing. A lot of Minister Renner's answers seemed to point the finger of blame at past policies and management. I don't think his case is helped by the fact that he's been a member of the Alberta legislative assembly since 1993, and Minister of Alberta Environment for nearly two years now. He called the current framework for assessing and dealing with development impacts in Alberta inadequate and obsolete. Why do we still have an obsolete and broken system in place, two years after his appointment as Minister of Environment, when lives are at stake and we're facing an urgent and growing climate crisis?
The meeting did become heated and confrontational - one CYD member excused herself because she could no longer listen to the types of responses we were hearing. Some CYDers became emotional near the end of the discussion, overwhelmed by the seriousness of the problems we are facing and equally underwhelmed by the response we are seeing from our leaders.
It's important to recognize that Minister Renner is not the problem - I don't think he's a bad guy. He agreed to meet with the CYD, probably knowing that it wasn't going to be pleasant. I even think he represents a big step up from some of the previous environmental management Alberta has seen. Minister Renner's policies are a symptom of a bigger problem. Unfortunately, Alberta has yet to make any real commitment to combating climate change. Under Alberta's current climate plan, emissions are projected to remain above 1990 levels, even in 2050, when the science tells us developing countries must reduce their emissions by 25-40% by 2020 for us to stand a chance of avoiding dangerous climate change. The Minister agreed that a 2 degrees C increase in global average surface temperature was a dangerous level of warming, but in the same breath made excuses for Alberta's soaring emissions and lack of a credible plan to deal with projected emissions growth.
He made a strong and compelling case for carbon capture and storage (CCS) as an important mitigation tool, even though the technology still has some uncertainties related to its scale up and deployment, and significant cost challenges. In the answer to the very next question, he dismissed a massive scale-up of renewable energy as impossible and unrealistic. This is not exactly the type of visionary leadership we need to get ourselves out of this climate mess. He even said massive renewables deployment would take too long, which I thought was funny, considering electricity sources like wind and solar are some of the fastest solutions to deploy, while a nuclear plant may take ten times as long to come on line.
Part of the problem is that Alberta's government is still thinking within the same old paradigms - that bigger is better. The Minister singled out solar thermal as a non-viable option for Alberta. While concentrated solar thermal electricity generation may not be an appropriate energy solution for Alberta, what about solar domestic hot water? What about all of the distributed energy solutions we have at our fingertips? Why talk about a massive CCS carbon pipeline and not a distributed, smart, renewable-supported grid in Alberta? Why do the discussions seem so focused on only one kind of solution?
We need a new kind of thinking in Alberta. We need real, visionary leadership, rather than just making some tweaks to the status quo. In a world of financial crisis and where oil can go from $140 a barrel to less than $40 a barrel in only a couple of months, we need to be looking at ways to diversify our economy. Alberta can become a green energy leader - we have one of the most skilled energy workforces in the world, we have the R&D capacity, we have the business leaders and the money - we just need some vision and a commitment to do better, and we need it now.