Canada’s impressive base of natural resources, along with the hard work and entrepreneurship that has developed them, is a defining feature of the country. Like the fur trade, forestry, and mining, the development of petroleum oil and gas products has most recently added to this national character. Our lives would look substantially different without the materials produced by these fundamental chemical feedstocks, which among other things heat our homes, fuel our vehicles, and remain crucial to the transport of food to your local grocery store or an Amazon delivery to your home.
Even with the popular momentum to expand renewable energy sources, petroleum will remain an important resource, one that will be needed in some capacity well into the future. In the oil and gas producing province of Alberta, however, the prospect of such energy diversification can be a polarizing topic. By discussing it openly, people here must then think about climate change as an emerging challenge that calls into question our choices around energy. But just as Canadians have distinguished themselves on the world stage through the growth and performance of the energy sector, we now have the opportunity to do so again by starting important conversations about the impact of this major transition.
These conversations took on an innovative tone in 2018 with the Alberta Narratives Project (ANP), an initiative led by a UK-based organization called Climate Outreach, which is dedicated to providing an open and informed forum for discussing this complex environmental subject. ANP was part of Climate Outreach’s Global Narratives Project, which collaborates with national partners to test and develop climate change communications that speak to shared values and cultural identities. With the support of 75 different organizations, ANP hosted 55 Narrative Workshops in all parts of the province, with participants from all walks of life, including farmers, oil sands workers, energy leaders, business leaders, youth, environmentalists, and new Canadians. Each workshop facilitated exchanges where the ANP could identify ways of speaking about energy from places of agreement, rather than contention, using language that could become the basis of constructive conversations rather than feeding polarization.1,2
Among the highest priorities for ANP participants was trust, which shaped people’s response to particular arguments and proposals. It was essential for the person or organization delivering a message to be respected by the people they were addressing. Such respect was earned by building language around people’s values and identities, observing the common ground between them, and removing absolutes and imperatives from statements.1
For Albertans in particular, respect goes along with an attitude of gratitude, another core value. Their shared identity stems from a common pride in the province’s accomplishments, which they regard as a place with a high quality of life and environment, built on tangible and physical achievements, and where “things can happen” and people support each other.2
With regard to Alberta’s oil and gas industry, almost all ANP participants reported connections, either personal or through families and friends. People in the industry expressed values similar to those found across Alberta — integrity, hard work, compassion, respect, authenticity, and kindness. Participants were proud of the industry’s pioneering origins, which they took as a mark of the innovation, problem-solving, and can-do attitude found in the provincial culture.
The ANP found all these groups were prepared to engage in constructive debate about the pros and cons of energy transition. Individuals employed in oil and gas, as well as other professionals, favoured the opportunities offered by development of renewable energy in parallel with and as an extension of the current energy economy. They also saw value in energy diversification a means of creating a more stable and secure industry.1,2
As conversations from the ANP have highlighted, we have opportunities in front of us. By collaborating and having everyone sitting down at the table ready for open conversations, we can think about the future we want for ourselves and for generations to come. A stagnant attitude to energy will leave us in a status-quo, which is now how Canada rose to where it is today. We can once again be pioneers; let us take our creative, innovative, and competitive entrepreneurial spirit and put it to the test.
1. Marshall, G.; Bennet, A.; Clarke, J. Communicating Climate Change and Energy in Alberta: Alberta Narratives Project. 2018.
2. Marshall, G.; Bennet, A. Communicating climate change and energy with different audiences in Alberta – Alberta Narratives Project: Report II. 2018.