As climate strikes happen the world over today, small oil and gas towns worry about their livelihoods

In the eyes of climate activists, the solution to the world’s environmental problems is simple: transition to renewable energy. And this is what people around the world will be demanding from their governments today, at global climate strikes. However, for small, rural Alberta towns, who rely exclusively on oil and gas royalties, a future without oil and gas is deeply troubling. The industry is literally what allows them to live an enjoyable life, to raise their children with first-world privileges. And although they know that relying on oil and gas isn’t sustainable, the history of their reliance on one resource runs so deep that they’re unsure how to transition.

A great story published by The Narwhal this week dives into this dilemma, in the Municipal District of Greenview, Alberta, where residents receive more money per capita from oil and gas companies than in any other municipal district in the country. These residents are pro oil and gas because it’s literally the only thing propping up their livelihoods. It’s what allows their kids to go swimming at a beautiful rec centre, or to enjoy a beautiful municipal park.

Having lived many years in Alberta, including in a small oil and gas town, I can identify with the residents’ concerns. And while they know that their reliance on one sector isn’t sustainable, they hold on to hope that another oil boom might be somewhere in the cards. As this story points out, the town of Pincher Creek, Alberta, saw almost three decades ago that relying on one sector – oil and gas – was unsustainable. The town’s residents made a big push for wind power, seeing the path of the future, and today a visit to Pincher Creek will expose you to giant wind turbines that belong to one of the first commercial wind farms built in the country. The towns of Lacombe, AB and Fernie, BC have made similar transitions.

I see the world’s environmental problems as much more than unhampered growth, wasteful production, and greenhouse gas emissions. Underlying these issues is human psychology: a lack of compassion, understanding, and empathy. While I’ll join in the climate strikes today, I don’t see pro oil and gas citizens as evil and anti-climate change. These are regular people who just want a good life for their families. They don’t necessarily care what industry makes that happen – but it just so happens to be oil and gas, in most of rural Alberta. What I would like to see from the environmental movement, and from the left in general, is more compassion and understanding. An overnight switch to renewable energy is not possible without hurting millions of people. Although demanding action from our governments is important, going out to these communities and helping them transition away from oil and gas is just as important. Building relationships with those who we see as anti-climate change is important. There is far too much finger-pointing and insult-hurling going on in a world where we really all want the same things. No one wants to destroy the environment. But the transition we truly need is not simple.

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