Western Canadians are ready for a new economic era

You’ve probably already heard that the village of Lytton, B.C., broke Canada’s all-time temperature record not once but three days in a row earlier this summer, culminating to an unbelievable 49.6 C before tragically burning to the ground.

What you may have missed: the unprecedented heat dome, which subsequently drifted eastward through the Prairies, was 150 times more likely because of human-caused climate change. For comparison, the Fort McMurray fire of 2016 was up to six times more likely as a result of global warming.

This year’s heatwave could hardly have been more symbolic, and yet it’s joined by a number of other significant recent events that together are imploring Western Canadians to look in the mirror and reassess their climate resilience and, along with it, their economic future.

Climate change threatens many important industries. While a decline in fossil fuel use is well-documented, crops will increasingly be impacted as well, by droughts or unexpected snowstorms. Indeed, climate change is already driving up food prices.

In short, climate change is no longer a distant threat. It’s now our lived reality.

Reality is changing in other ways too.

In the wake of COVID-19, countries around the globe are rebuilding their economies with purpose and climate change top of mind. Likewise, automakers are electrifying their most popular models, including their most popular trucks (even Premier Jason Kenney’s Ram 1500 will soon have an electric version).

There’s no pretending that things aren’t changing, nor is there any denying that global demand for what we produce here in Canada must change with it.

Western Canada has often been oversimplified as cowboys on the Prairies and hippies on the Left Coast, much to the annoyance of the 12 million people who actually live there and know better.

What Western Canada actually has in common is its entrepreneurial spirit.

Looking forward, Canada’s clean energy sector will add 210,000 jobs by 2030, many of them on this side of the country. According to recent modelling from Clean Energy Canada and Navius Research, Alberta will experience the biggest jump of any province: a 164 per cent increase in clean energy jobs over the next decade. In second, third and fourth place for fastest expected job growth: Saskatchewan, B.C. and Manitoba, respectively.

Given the diverse nature of the clean energy sector, growth will take different forms in different provinces. As Alberta updates its fossil-fuel-heavy electricity grid, the province is on track to see a surge in wind power jobs. Clean hydrogen and geothermal also represent opportunities for Alberta. The recent announcement of a $1.3-billion hydrogen facility in Edmonton is but one example that opportunity is rapidly becoming reality.

Additionally, as Alberta’s electricity grid (which is phasing out coal power way ahead of schedule) grows cleaner, so too will the many industries powered by it, giving them a competitive low-carbon advantage as our largest trading partners—the U.S. and the EU—eye carbon tariffs on future imports.

Luckily, Alberta isn’t just rich in oil; the province is generously endowed with renewable energy, with perhaps the best wind and solar resources in the country. It was Alberta wind power that yielded the lowest-ever rate for electricity in Canada, while the province’s solar power potential is roughly on par with Florida’s.

Job seekers are taking note. In a recent poll, seven in 10 Canadian fossil fuel workers said they’re interested in careers in the clean economy.

Western Canadians are looking to the horizon and wanting change.

The alternative—towns burning, streets flooding, missing out on the economic opportunity of a generation—is hardly an appealing proposition.

That’s especially true for a region that already possesses the right skills, the renewable resources, and the good old-fashioned tenacity to push forward.

This post was co-authored by Trevor Melanson and originally appeared in the Calgary Herald.

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