Energy Development has shaped society. The notion that energy development shapes society can easily be attested to growing up in a place like Alberta. Even as I write this for my Global Energy Development and Society class, I can’t help but think to the buildings around my campus. The Petro-Canada building houses the Nexen Theater, and subsequently, the very room in which I attend my weekly classes after work. It’s no surprise to find that my school, NAIT, is a polytechnic institution which receives heavy funding from the oil and gas industry.
Evidence of the industry’s affect on the city is easy to see if you know what to look for. Refineries and upgraders populate the eastern edges of the city and up into the industrial heartland, mobile crane booms soar up over the flat stretches of land between the city and the international airport, assembling industrial ‘mod’s’ that piece together like Lego when they arrive on site at their destination. Even beyond the oil sands of Alberta, Edmonton serves as the gateway to the north, with bustling airports and logistics’ companies sending people and equipment up to the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the Yukon. These three territories alone make up 39% of the total area of Canada, a land mass larger than that of India (Natural Resources Canada, 2005). Yet despite its small population, the region houses a resource rich environment, from oil and iron to gold and diamonds, it’s an industry that dominates the workforce of the local population.
When posed with the question; ‘should society shape energy development?’, instead of energy development shaping society, it seems like the clear answer should be yes. Our society should have energy development that not only compliments and provides for the needs of people, but ideally does so as cleanly and efficiently as possible. This can be deemed as minor adaptations and improvements to existing technologies, or fundamental shifts in the way we currently harness energy.
Fundamental shifts cause problems in that if they are not universally accepted by all parties involved; the balance of the movement is lost, providing unfair advantages and opportunities for some, and detrimental setbacks for others. This can best be identified with the Kyoto Protocol, which has essentially failed since its inception in 1997, leaving many nations and environmental groups looking towards post-Kyoto. The Kyoto Protocol was revolutionary at the time of its inception, you had a series of industrialized nations agreeing to reduce emissions and set environmental standards. It seemed as though this initiative would change the way the global community looked at development and the environment. However the treaty itself was never actually globally accepted and “mandates were not imposed on developing countries like Brazil, China, India and South Africa” (Austen, 2011). As a result, nations like the United States would not ratify the treaty, as they foresaw unfair economic restrictions on their economy compared to other heavy polluting nations such as China, which disregarded the treaty for similar reasons.
Since those initial talks in 1997, China has since overcome the United States as the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter, and now produces more carbon dioxide than the United States and India combined (U.S Department of Energy, 2012). Canada too, since initially supporting the protocol has since left the treaty this past December (Austen, 2011).
The complications of energy development and our society are reflected across all levels of economic development. These same issues resonate in the economies of national scale as well. Strict environmental restrictions may be supported by the majority of Canadians, but would surely face pushback from provinces such as Alberta in which “energy development is the key driver of the economy” (Government of Alberta, 2009). So crucial to the Alberta economy is oil and gas, that a University of Calgary study suggested that the size of the economy “without the impact of oil and gas, would be less than half its current size” (Government of Alberta, 2009). Suddenly I reflect to my current employment, the facilities I use at NAIT, and where Alberta would be without the resources everyone seems to love to hate, but would find difficult to live without.
Even if we know the answer to whether society should shape energy development, is it actually possible; ‘can society shape energy development?’. A recent report by Shell Canada indicated that after Alberta enacted stricter air and water pollution limits this year, their projected expansion plans including the Jackpine mine, would infact “exceed some of those limits” (The Globe and Mail, 2012). It’s clear that the Alberta government is trying to shape the way energy is developed in the province, but the effectiveness, and the implications have yet to be seen. Simon Dyer, policy director at the Pembina Institute has indicated that regulators “will need to start turning down projects to stay under the limits” (The Globe and Mail, 2012). Where will that leave Albertans, and Canadians as a whole? This is a country which relies on the resource industry for “20 percent of the economy” (The Canadian Press, 2012). What sacrifices will have to be made? Will the rest of the global community be willing to make the same sacrifices? What is the timeline for such changes in energy development? These are all questions which we must ask.
Finding the balance between our energy needs and our society is a difficult task, but nonetheless I believe that real change is possible. While we may have developed a society reliant on certain types of energy, it is possible to diversify. I believe that change must occur, but at an acceptable pace so as not to devastate the livelihoods of so many. Finally, I believe that real change in energy development will come from those same economies, companies, and organizations that are already involved in the current energy field. For just as Alberta hosts an energy based economy; it is also a place of ingenuity and innovation. Next to those refineries is the largest and one of the most advanced waste handling facilities in North America, which boasts a one of a kind “waste to biofuels facility” (Farquharson, 2011). A preserved river valley boasts the largest urban parkland on the continent, and institutions such as NAIT and the University of Alberta are leaders in energy technological advancement. Logical, and efficient solutions are already being brought to the table, and this is an indication that society is choosing to shape energy development.
Natural Resources Canada. (2005, February 1). Land and freshwater area, by province and territory. In Statistics Canada. Retrieved September 12, 2012, from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/phys01-eng.htm
Farquharson, V. (2011, November 12). Why Toronto should be more like Edmonton. In National Post. Retrieved September 12, 2012, from http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/11/12/why-toronto-should-be-more-like-edmonton/
Government of Alberta. (2009, September). Energy Economics. In Energy Alberta. Retrieved September 12, 2012, from http://www.energy.alberta.ca/Org/pdfs/Energy_Economic.pdf
The Globe and Mail. (2012, September 11). Shell warns about Alberta’s emission rules. In Industry News. Retrieved September 12, 2012, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/shell-warns-about-albertas-emission-rules/article4537725/
The Canadian Press. (2012, September 4). Natural Resources Drive 20 percent of Economy. In CBC News. Retrieved September 11, 2012, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/09/04/pol-cp-natural-resources-economy.html
U.S Department of Energy. (2012). World carbon dioxide emissions by region. In U.S Energy
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Austen, I. (2011, December 12). Canada Announces Exit from Kyoto Climate Treaty. In The New York Times. Retrieved September 12, 2012, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/13/science/earth/canada-leaving-kyoto-protocol-on-climate-change.html