Tzeporah Berman, Rachel Notley face off at teachers' conference


[Webside editor: Watch Tzeporah Berman's speach to the Alberta Teachers Conference here.]

To invest in Alberta’s oil industry, or back away slowly, was the question at the crux of a rift between Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and environmentalist and policy adviser Tzeporah Berman last weekend.

In back-to-back speeches to social studies, environmental studies and Indigenous studies teachers at the River Cree Resort and Casino Saturday, Berman and Notley made contrasting pitches for why oil pipeline projects like the Trans Mountain expansion to B.C. are either a white-knuckled grasp on a dying industry, or a necessary investment to keep people employed and cover the costs of a transition to renewable energy, respectively.

“We can’t address climate change by building more of the past,” Berman told reporters after the addresses. “The idea that pipelines are answers to climate change is absurd. You don’t buy more cigarettes to quit smoking.”

In her speech, Notley said far-left environmentalists are as much of an obstacle to progress on tackling climate change as right-wing politicians. Jabbing at British Columbia, Notley said Alberta can’t build its economy around condominiums and coffee shops.

“Here in Alberta, we ride horses, not unicorns. I invite pipeline opponents to saddle up on something real,” she said.

Oil is passé, Berman says

Berman, program director for Stand.Earth and adjunct professor at York University, said she doesn’t support pulling the plug on Alberta’s oil industry overnight.

However, given the high financial and environmental cost of extracting fossil fuels from the oilsands, the industry is large enough, she said. With the dropping cost of renewable energy, improvements in battery technology and growth in the renewable energy industry, it makes more sense to invest in those booming sectors.

The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which hit another setback in August when a federal court ruled environmental reviews and Indigenous consultations were inadequate, is a “bad project that had a bad process,” Berman said Saturday.

While the Canadian government predicts no decline in carbon emissions during the next 12 years, Earth’s climate is already in trouble, said Berman. Although countries agreed in Paris in 2015 to prevent the Earth from warming this century by two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, current policies will see the Earth warm by three to four degrees, Berman said.

The rising temperature is sparking fires and floods, interfering with food production, driving up global hunger and increasing natural disasters that will displace millions of climate refugees. The risks are such that some major banks will no longer fund or insure new oilsands developments, she said.

Albertans are clever and innovative, and should use their skills to develop a plan that doesn’t threaten humanity, she said.

Premier Rachel Notley provides a response to an address from environmental activist Tzeporah Berman on the Alberta government’s efforts to work with Indigenous communities and address climate change while continuing to support Alberta’s oil and gas industry and advance the need for market access for Alberta oil. GREG SOUTHAM / POSTMEDIA

Premier: pipeline opponents ‘foolish’

Following Berman’s address, Notley told the teachers Berman’s approach would be a disaster for the climate and jobs.

Echoing the arguments of some right-of-centre politicians, Notley said a lack of pipeline capacity is forcing Alberta to sell its oil at a steep discount. Tripling the capacity of Trans Mountain would grow the potential market for the province’s oil and give Albertans fair value for their resource, she said.

Alberta needs those additional oil royalties to invest in a greener future, such as retraining programs for coal plant workers who will be out of jobs as coal-fired electricity is phased out by 2030 in the province. She also rejected Berman’s premise that a pipeline expansion will increase carbon emissions.

Environmentalists are “foolish” for opposing pipelines, which are not only a safer way to transport oil than train or truck, but come with federal government promises of improvements to ocean protection, Notley said.

Berman and Opposition leader Jason Kenney have more in common than they’ll admit, the premier said.

“From both extremes, they will roll back action on climate and economic progress for working people,” she said. “In treating the economy and the environment as mutually exclusive, they will fail on both.”

Kenney posted a video online Saturday saying it was laughable Notley was countering Berman after her government appointed the environmentalist to an oilsands advisory group.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association took some heat last month when it announced Berman was invited to speak.

Association spokesman Jonathan Teghtmeyer said it was a great opportunity for teachers to hear different perspectives in depth.

“I think that Albertans, just like our teachers, are concerned about the environment, and I think they’re similarly concerned about the economy and jobs,” he said.