What Comes After Oil in Alberta?

Arts research group hosts free, public roundtable Aug. 21; tasks Edmontonians with imagining a life after oil

Angelique Rodrigues - 10 August 2015

Oil makes the world go round, but for how long? For decades, oil has fuelled invention and powered our daily lives. Now, after 150 years of solid drilling, it's unclear how much oil is left.

Experts insist it is limited: a finite product that if used unchecked, will guarantee ecological catastrophe. In recent months, the eight industrial nations - including Canada - that form the G8 agreed to phase out the use of fossil fuels by the end of the century.

"I think it's uncontroversial that we have two looming problems that no one is exempt from: climate change and the end of the fossil fuel era," says Imre Szeman, UAlberta's Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies who specializes in environmental studies. "We cannot carry on using and consuming, with no consequences. It's a mistake to continue to organize our society around a resource that we won't have one day."

The question now is, what will it mean - for Alberta, for Canada and for the world - when that day comes?

As scientists turn to technological solutions in an effort to transition to new forms of energy, a team of UAlberta Arts researchers is looking at what societies can do to prepare for life after oil.

"Matters of fossil fuels are often seen as technical matters, but in reality we have to take into account values, ethics and everyday practices like personal mobility and products we use," says Szeman. "Part of what the arts can contribute to this transition is to examine how we're connected to fossil fuels and what we can do to change our values and help cut the tie between our 'needs' and oil."

It will take a global, social transition to reach a new culture after oil, he says, but the key is to start the conversation.

Which is why UAlberta's Petrocultures research group, in connection with the Kule Institute for Advanced Study (KIAS) and the Faculty of Arts, is hosting "After Oil" - a free, public roundtable - to address these issues with Albertans.

This timely roundtable, in the wake of a recent dramatic change of provincial government, will be held at the Alberta Art Gallery and bring together a sampling of industry experts to discuss a post-oil future.

Besides Szeman, the lineup includes moderator and ATB Chief Economist Todd Hirsch; guest speaker Jennifer Jacquet - an environmental studies professor and author of Is Shame Necessary; and respondents Eddy Isaacs (Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Innovates - Energy and Environment Solutions), Simon O'Byrne (Vice-President, Urban Planning, Stantec), Sheena Wilson (Petrocultures research group) and Trevor Harrison (Director, Parkland Institute).

Jacquet will give a short presentation at the roundtable, set for 7 to 9 p.m. on August 21 at the Art Gallery of Alberta's Ledcor Theatre. Each panelist will have a chance to respond before the discussion is opened up to the audience.

"There is no right answer for what a life after oil might look like - the reason we are having this event is because we don't yet know," says Szeman.

"We would love to hear from members of the public about the steps we can take in Alberta to begin to imagine life after oil."

The roundtable is part of a larger "After Oil School," which will see academics from around the world come together at the University of Alberta for a week to research and discuss the economic, political and sociological impacts of transitioning to life after oil.

To R.S.V.P. for the After Oil roundtable, go to their Eventbrite listing. For more information on the research group, visit petrocultures.com.