In this Feb. 7, 2019 photo, the sun sets behind the ice-covered Platte River in Columbus, Neb. Mentioning climate change can kill a conversation. But a new Alberta project is using the topic to start one - and has shown people from geologists to farmers to environmentalists they have more in common than they thought. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Nati Harnik

Alienated: Alberta project seeks to find common language on climate change

Talk about climate change in the energy-rich province can be difficult

Mentioning climate change can kill a conversation. But a new Alberta project is using the topic to start one — and is showing people from geologists to farmers to environmentalists that they have more in common than they thought.

“Climate change has become quite a polarized issue and it often falls down the line of identity,” said Amber Bennett of Climate Outreach, one of the organizers of the Alberta Narratives Project, which released its final report this month.

“Communication has a big role to play because it can help broaden that and talk to people about what they care about rather than asking them to be different than who they are.”

Talk about global warming can raise temperatures anywhere. But in Alberta — where oil drives the economic bus and climate skepticism is strong — opinions may be held more firmly.

“Alberta is a different beast,” said organizer Julia-Maria Becker of the energy think-tank Pembina Institute.

The project — supported by 75 organizations including government, foundations, universities, churches and industry — is attempting to find a way for different people to at least talk, if not agree. Too often, said Becker, people are afraid to even mention climate change.

“People don’t feel comfortable the moment they start talking about this. They get shut down because they feel they are going to offend someone.”

Or they get defensive. Oilpatch workers, Becker said, often take personally suggestions their industry is “dirty.”

To get past that, the project used a method developed in the United Kingdom. It convened 55 meetings across the province with a total of 482 people. Each group had something in common. There were meetings for church-goers, engineers and geologists, school children, farmers, women, business leaders, oilfield workers, immigrants, parents, environmentalists and small-c conservatives.

Group leaders presented participants with five “stories” about Alberta — five- or six-paragraph sketches that presented climate change within contexts from provincial pride to future generations to ethics. Participants discussed which parts they liked and which they didn’t.

The common bond within the group made people more willing to speak.

“People feel like they are with others who they already know and trust,” Bennett said.

Opinions varied widely, said Becker. The point was not to develop policy but to find language that everyone felt comfortable using.

“This is not convincing people about policies. It’s about having conversations about options.”

People loved it, she said. Sessions often ran late.

“It seems like we found something for which there is a hunger.”

READ MORE: Court rejects B.C.’s request to declare Alberta oil export law unconstitutional

One thing the project found was that people are tired of bluster. “Alberta First” rhetoric rolled as many eyes as “Shut the Tarsands.”

“The language comes across as too politic-y, not authentic or genuine,” said Bennett. ”People wanted language that isn’t so carefully worded and sterilized, but language we use in our everyday conversation.

“People wanted a sense of acknowledgment that this is hard and it’s going to be hard.”

Recognition was universal that Alberta owes much to its energy industry, as was a love of the province’s outdoors. People agreed weather is changing and the province needs to prepare. Everyone feared Alberta has too many eggs in one economic basket.

There’s more to life in Alberta than money, people said. And we all need to talk.

The project has already spawned spinoffs to keep the conversation going, including corporate retreats and book clubs.

“We’ve had briefings with more than one political party,” Becker said.

The narratives project isn’t going to have everyone singing around the campfire anytime soon, said Bennett. Nor is that the point.

“There’s no magic bullet. There’s a lot more that needs to happen that is outside the realm of communication.”

But it’s a start.

“It clearly came out that many people feel alienated from the current conversations around climate change. Language can help, and starting from … what matters to people is a good place to start.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Spring street sweeping starts

Vernon’s street sweeping and flushing will occur every day for the next four to six weeks.

PHOTOS: Spring has sprung in the Okanagan-Shuswap

The new season is bringing warm weather across the region

Vernon RCMP kick off impaired driving prevention week with drunk driving arrest

Impaired Driving Prevention Week encourages Canadians to drive sober.

Dust advisory continues for a third day

It is recommended that persons with chronic underlying medical conditions postpone strenuous exercise until the advisory is lifted.

VIDEO: Sunny skies in the forecast makes for a great start to spring

Mostly sunny skies with a chance of rain by Friday evening in the Okanagan Valley

B.C. man sentenced for tying up, assaulting and robbing another man at hotel

Gabriel Stephen Nelson robbed and assaulted travelling businessman in Nanaimo in 2017

Deadline extended through April to nominate top B.C. educators

Second year of Premier John Horgan’s awards offers $3,000 bursary

B.C. girl and her toy monkey make videos to fight negativity on Facebook

Ava Ast created the Ava and Cello’s Good Deed Page last month

Detective dog, from Nelson, joins fight to combat invasive mussels

K9 Major will be on the road starting this month, hunting for quagga and zebra mussels

No cause yet for grassfire near Kamloops

Fire was about 1.8 hectares in size

Paramedic staff shortage at critical level: B.C. union

A number of units were out of service due to lack of staffing in Lower Mainland, union says

B.C. lottery winner being sued by Surrey co-workers

They claim he owes them $200,000 each, in a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver

Case made for free tampon dispensers in schools

Advocate says access, anonymity key to providing less stressful experience for female students

Most Read