Activist, analyst, and policy advisor Tzeporah Berman called for civil discussion and a managed transition off fossil fuels, and Premier Rachel Notley tried to refute her with unicorns (seriously, literally), after a speaking invitation from the Alberta Teachers’ Association became one of the year’s most contentious moments in the debate over the province’s energy future.
“In back-to-back speeches to social studies, environmental studies, and Indigenous studies teachers at the River Cree Resort and Casino Saturday, Berman and Notley made contrasting pitches for why oil pipeline projects like the Trans Mountain expansion to B.C. are either a white-knuckled grasp on a dying industry, or a necessary investment to keep people employed and cover the costs of a transition to renewable energy,” the Edmonton Journal reports.
Berman’s heavily-referenced presentation (full final draft available on the Stand.earth website) surveyed the depth of the climate crisis, the urgency embodied in last week’s IPCC report on 1.5°C pathways, the sinking economic viability of Alberta’s high-cost, high-carbon fossil industry, the astonishing rise and plummeting cost of renewable energy and energy storage, and the need for a deep, honest dialogue on the energy transition that will be at the heart of the province’s future.
“We can’t address climate change by building more of the past,” she told media afterwards. “The idea that pipelines are answers to climate change is absurd. You don’t buy more cigarettes to quit smoking.”
“Here in Alberta, we ride horses, not unicorns,” the province’s NDP premier responded, in a speech that branded “far-left environmentalists” and the province’s extreme right politicians as equal threats to progress on climate change. “I invite pipeline opponents to saddle up on something real.”
The Edmonton Journal and National Observer both have more detailed accounts of the dueling speeches, with the publication based in Alberta’s capital giving considerable space to Berman’s facts and arguments.
“No one is saying oil and gas production should be shut down overnight. But how much will we produce and for how long? Is it big enough?” Berman said in her prepared remarks.
“Here’s a crucial point that gets lost in the debate here in Alberta. The storm of controversy is not about having an oil industry—that would just be a ‘normal’ controversy. The storm is happening because government and industry want to grow production instead of planning for a peak and decline.”
Berman briefly addressed the wrenching, manufactured controversy that followed her invitation to speak in Alberta, culminating in brutal personal attacks and online death threats that prompted her to request security for the visit.
“It’s been quite a month,” she told conference participants. “I have been called a lot of things…An eco-terrorist. Try explaining that one to your kids. An enemy of the state. A traitor, a liar, an extremist, a scumbag…and much worse that I can’t even repeat.” The experience “has given that old saying ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ new meaning and importance.”
She added that “the debate over this speech has revealed a deep underbelly of fear in Alberta, for good reason. Change is hard, and in the climate era there are no easy answers.” But she traced a time when leading environmental executive directors and fossil CEOs sat down for some deep dialogue, and along the way, found themselves talking about their kids and vacation plans during breaks in negotiations.
“In the environmental community, we need to hold ourselves accountable for vilifying those who work in the oil industry, for not acknowledging how we have all benefitted and continue to benefit from oil, for not acknowledging how painful change is and will be,” she said.
“At the same time, many in industry and government need to be held accountable for trying to silence much-needed debate. For playing on people’s real fear about their livelihoods, their families, and using that for political gain. We are better than this. Regardless of your opinion of the Trans Mountain pipeline or the growth of the oilsands…we are better than this.”