Going Solar

IMGP0682 In the hours leading up to the Greenpeace action, I knew that some of my closest friends would be going into harms way — where they could be injured or arrested. I knew they were going into a situation where their future prospects could be compromised. Granted, it was a low risk action: they weren’t delivering their message from an industry site, nor were they singling out a political figure. They were delivering a feel-good message from a public landmark. Still — I was worried. I was also experiencing an unsettling sense of cognitive dissonance that I knew came from this: My friends were willing to stand up and do something that could affect their futures for a cause that they believe in deeply, a cause that I believe in deeply. But they were willing to stand up for that cause in a way that I was not.

I believe the province of Alberta must move to sustainable energy solutions, yet we’ve already missed enormous opportunities. When the price of oil was high, we should have been investing in renewable energy, but we weren’t. When excitement for new oil sands projects was intoxicating, we should have increased royalty rates, but we didn’t. When we learned that Climate Change was/is a thing, we should have insisted on subsidies so homeowners could retrofit their homes, but we haven’t. When we look back on the Alberta legacy twenty or fifty years from now, I’m afraid we will see a litany of missed opportunities — but I hope we don’t.

It is never too late to make positive change, and that is what Mike Hudema, Katrina Armstrong, Tavis Ford and Mary Lovell aimed to demonstrate when they climbed the Leduc #1 oil derrick this week. Mike Hudema is the Climate and Energy campaigner for Greenpeace. He is also a close friend. He explained the inspiration for the action: “We thought it’s appropriate to bring our message to where western Canada’s oil industry really began to say now is the time to transition again. For the future of our planet and the health of our communities, we need to get off dirty energy and usher in the age of renewables.”

Later that day Katrina Armstrong talked to me about the action:

Alberta’s economy has depended upon fossil fuel for far too long. In the good times, people are employed at high-paying jobs; they buy expensive vehicles and renovate their homes. But during the busts, the vehicles are repossessed and the homes are foreclosed. I know because I’m old enough to remember purchasing my first house when banks were virtually giving them away in the ‘80’s. Then a brief boom and a decade later, my marriage was limping through the Klein cuts. Now I see a new challenge in the distance — the near distance.

Even if Alberta and Canadian governments are willing to risk the catastrophic effects of climate change, much of the rest of the world is not. After initial enthusiasm, China is pulling away from investment in the sands. The Rockefeller Fund — that right-wing bastion of tradition — is divesting from oil sands and coal investments. The Northern Gateway Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipelines have both faced sizable grassroots opposition and it seems unlikely that either will see construction. The question remains: Will Alberta become a leader of the future or will it remain stuck in the past? banner Melina Laboucan-Massimo is also a Climate and Energy campaigner. She explained her vision for the future: “Alberta has among the best solar potential in the country but we use less than 1% of our renewable potential. Every home, farm and First Nation can be part of the solar solution.”

There were others involved in the action too. At the foot of the derrick, Jade held a banner that read, “Go Solar; 100% Spill Proof.” She spoke about her belief in solar energy:

The action went well. The sun leant its support and shone brilliantly. No one was injured. No one was arrested. A rope on the large banner broke but not before pictures had been snapped. The Go Solar message was delivered to the media and hence to the people. I was able to relax in relief.

I sense the change in attitude and expectation here in Alberta. More and more Albertans want to see our province invest in solar, and I am one of them. So I am grateful to those who were willing to step forward and work to get this message out. Thank you to all of you.

Large banner photo courtesy of Greenpeace: http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/

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