An Open Letter to Saskatchewan

Dear Fellow Saskatchewan Citizens:

I am an environmental activist. If you’ve read the province’s throne speech, you will know me as part of the uneducated, province-hating collective of “they.”  I am one who believes in “misguided dogma that has no basis in reality” and does not “Stand…Up for Saskatchewan.”  This is how Brad Wall sees me and anyone else who voices concern about climate change and suggests the province needs to shift away from a fossil fuel economy. In a recent speech to the Petroleum Club in Calgary, he disclosed his fears that “we” (meaning he and the oil industry) “haven’t been winning many battles lately,” and that “we’re in danger of losing more battles if we’re not vigilant.” Battles? Winning? Vigilant?  Is Brad Wall talking about a foreign enemy hell-bent on killing us all? When did this become a war in which the premier vocally and ideologically pits himself against citizens of the province? This language and what lies behind it, “we”, “they,” “winning,” “battles”…this helps no one. Why is he a “we” with the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada and not also with people who care about the environment? This is not how a leader addresses constituents’ legitimate interests, and it is an infantile approach to solving a real problem.

I want you to know, I understand that nothing is black and white. I know people who work (or have worked) in the oil industry. I care about these people. Despite how Brad Wall would characterize me, I am not a heartless monster who sits at home counting the money I’ve raked in over the years as an environmental activist, chortling over how everyone in the oil industry will soon be out of business. This is not me, and it’s not anyone I know who is advocating for a shift to renewable energy.

Please, I ask you, hear what I am saying: I am not against you. I know that people’s jobs mean something to them, that they represent not just livelihood but identity. I did not think it was karma that Fort Mac burned. I recognize that there is a difference between those who are making a living in the oil industry and those who are becoming so rich in it that they need to see us silenced.

We are working toward a common future. I just don’t know what that future looks like when our own premier treats concerned citizens as enemies. When he spends time and energy trying to figure out how to spin the benefits of fossil fuel to us so he can start “winning.” When he cares more about saving a dying industry than supporting people who want environmental justice and employment that is sustainable.

Anthropogenic climate change is not a hoax. If you believe it is, I don’t know what I can say to you on this issue. If you have reached this point in history and believe that climate change is someone’s idea of a big joke, I sincerely will not be able to come up with anything convincing beyond the existing immeasurable body of data supporting it. This is not the discussion we can have today.

If you do believe that climate change is real but don’t know where that leaves you, well…welcome to the club. The future will be uncertain. The future will probably be difficult and confusing. For all of us. There will be unemployment and shifting identities.  There will be tears and anger and a whole mess of trying things in a new way. There will be the temptation to lash out against those who are in it alongside us.

But environmental activists aren’t going anywhere. We will continue to be concerned about climate change, fracking chemicals, and water contamination. We will continue to care about Indigenous land claims and social justice. Brad Wall can characterize us as the enemy, but if you listen, we are talking about clean air, safe water, justice, and a livable planet, which are hardly objectionable goals.

If you believe that alternative energy sources are not feasible, please know that I understand we have things to learn. Technology can be buggy, but that does not mean we give up on it, especially when the stakes are high. We stick with it, knowing that we need to improve it. Not knowing all the answers does not mean we can stop asking questions, or that the technology leads us on any more of an unrealistic path than the one we’re on.

I can hear it now. Some of you are thinking wait, don’t you use a computer? Don’t you drive a car and eat imported food? The answers to all these questions is yes. I am complicit in the oil culture. I will face incredible changes in the future when (not if) energy is rationed or becomes less available. I will know when I see images of the tar sands that I am a part of what allowed that to happen. But pointing out that I am not perfect does nothing to solve the problem. It does not make oil extraction any less toxic, the air any cleaner, nor scientific facts about climate change any less valid.

Whether right now you are cheering me on or damning me, we have reached the end of it. What IT is, I don’t know. The possibility for a clean environment in the future? The fossil fuel industry? Is it the end of us? I don’t know. What I do know is that the current situation is unsustainable, and rather than having a premier who has the guts to lead us through the upcoming uncertainty, we have one who takes every opportunity to undermine anyone trying to meet the real challenge. He is, as are all the people who benefit politically or financially from the fossil fuel industry, trying to pit us against one another, to make us believe that we do not have that common future. Please, let us figure this out somehow together, with or in spite of Brad Wall.

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