Monday, November 20, 2006

Power For The People

I spent the past weekend at the Parkland Institute's tenth annual fall conference, entitled Power for the People: Determining Our Energy Future. The Parkland Institute is located on the University of Alberta campus, and examines issues of public policy from a progressive perspective, particularly healthcare, energy, water, the environment, and other current events.

The theme of the conference this year was very specific, which surprised me considering it is Parkland's tenth anniversary. However, energy is a very big topic especially here in Alberta, which is experiencing an oil and gas boom. I was one of the conference's official photographers. After one of the plenary sessions I was taken aside by a conference organizer, who said someone had complained that the cameras flashing was driving them crazy. We (there were two other photographers) toned it down after that, but I have to say this was the first time I have ever been reprimanded for flashing in public. Hardy har har.

Ahem. Back to the conference. One session featured people who have lived and worked in Fort McMurray, speaking about the changes that have happened over there in terms of living and work conditions. It's a boom town for sure, with all the drug problems and violence to go with it. Too much testosterone in one place, dangerous work, and tensions running high. I told one of the organizers they could just as easily do a session on Grande Prairie, which is going through pretty much the same thing right now. Transient worksers from all over Canada rushing there, homelessness from rising housing costs and low vacancy rates, drug problems, environmental damage, the list goes on. Problem with boom towns is that they go bust eventually.

Many of Alberta's energy and environmetal problems stem from the tar sands. Speakers discusses the low quality of tar sand "oil" which is of very poor quality because of the extensive refining process. As well, Canada should get out of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) because we get very little out of it, but are expected to provide oil down south. Is there really any reason why gas prices should be so high right here in Alberta? It's because of exporting. Most Canadians, in fact voted against free trade -- however, the vot was split between NDP and Liberal, and 43% voted Conservative. Which brings up another topic: representational government. Check out Fair Vote Canada for more information.

Reducing our use of cars would help, with solutions such as better public transportation and car pooling collectives. A speaker from Norway talked about what was done in his country, particularly in terms of more stringent regulations of corporations, and a much higher taxation rate (something like 78%) for corporations as well. This got a huge round of applause from the audience.

If consumption continues as it is, I am afraid of what Alberta will be like in 20 years once the boom is over. We have a responsibility as stewards of this earth to be careful and thoughtful of how we use the resources at our disposal.

No comments: