OSV News photo/Kathleen Flynn, Reuters

Committed citizens can lead on climate change

  • September 8, 2023

At least give Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and her government credit for chutzpah. During a summer when Canadian forests were burning at an unprecedented rate and tens of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes, the government imposed a seven-month moratorium on the approval of new projects using renewable energy to produce electricity.

Proper evaluation of the impacts of solar and wind power is essential, as the government claims. It is likely true that adding new sources of electricity to the province’s grid is not easy. Also, “farms” of solar panels and wind turbines use valuable agricultural land. Responsibility for future decommissioned solar and wind projects should be spelled out sooner than later. Further, the premier’s chief of staff may be right in saying fields of turbines and solar panels are ugly.

But is any of this a justification for a freeze on approvals of projects that will reduce Alberta’s carbon footprint? Excessive carbon in the atmosphere is a cause of rising temperatures, droughts and the fires which have turned timber to toast. Yet, petroleum development has taken place in Alberta for 75 years without any moratoriums. Why are solar and wind being singled out?

As for ugliness, Albertans are accustomed to it. Oilsands tailing ponds, cutlines slashed through the forests for oil and gas exploration and pipelines, and large refineries not far from our front doors are part of the ugliness we endure as the price for our current prosperity.

Then there are higher asthma rates among those who live downwind from the refineries and higher cancer rates for those downstream from the tailings ponds. Those threats have not been deemed serious enough to necessitate freezes on oil development.

The recent increase in renewable energy projects is a sign of hope that prosperity might continue without the most deleterious effects of the petroleum industry. Last year, the amount of renewable energy brought onstream in Alberta was three times that of the rest of Canada. Why the government would want to shake the confidence of those investing in this new industry is hard to fathom.

The role of the Catholic Church is not to enter deeply into technical questions or advocate specific political options. But it must be a voice of conscience on moral issues.

In that light, Pope Francis wrote his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. The Pope stated that fossil fuels need to be replaced without delay. He didn’t say how, just that humanity faces a crisis that demands action.

Pope Francis also wrote, “Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest.” The Pope could have been writing those words to the government and people of Alberta today. What is it that we most suffer from — powerful opposition to renewable energy or a lack of interest in tackling a threat to humanity?

The Pope further said that not only do we need technical solutions to environmental issues but a change of lifestyle. Consumerism is feeding the fires, and developed nations have a moral imperative to reduce production and consumption.

Momentum in reducing emissions is essential. While the Alberta moratorium has slowed the drive to increased use of renewables in this province, the government is not the only force for good or ill. Too often, we forget that. Frequently, committed ordinary people are the main source of positive change.

That doesn’t mean we should forget the government. But we shouldn’t rely on it to be a leader in battling climate change. If we want to protect human life, we should advocate for reforms and live in ways that reduce carbon emissions.

One step ordinary people can take is to eliminate non-essential travel. We ought to forego frills such as destination weddings, winter vacations in the Caribbean and weekend jaunts to Prague. Nothing pumps more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than air travel. It’s not even close.

The season of caring for creation runs Sept. 1 to the feast of St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 4. Make it a time of prayer for our tortured planet and a time of action to reduce our carbon footprint.

(Glen Argan writes his online column Epiphany at https://glenargan.substack.com)

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