Big Green

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Highlights

A story in which Alberta loses its energy pre-eminence and increasingly becomes a consumer, rather than a producer of energy
Key Themes: Towards Carbon Free; Global Scale Agriculture; Controlled Growth
Key Question: What if Alberta, including East Central Alberta, is left behind in the invention, development, and export of efficient new green technologies?

Energy:

  • Coal is not development
  • Foreign governments and multinational corporations outside of Alberta control and manage energy supplies
  • Energy from renewable sources is readily available and moderately priced
  • Oil/gas is still sold, but the price has dropped dramatically, making it unprofitable to explore and develop new sources of carbon-based fuels
  • Economy:
  • Alberta’s provincial revenues are way down
  • Relatively cheap, clean and renewable energy keep global Agriculture viable
  • East Central Alberta continues to rely on large-scale consolidated farms to produce products for export
  • Large, consolidated farms grow cash crops and bio-fuels
  • Lower energy, transportation and housing costs reduce the cost of living in the region

Community:

  • De-population of the countryside
  • Small rural communities do not thrive
  • Health and social services are centred in Edmonton and Camrose
    Environment:
  • Water management ethic adopted by the region’s farmers
  • New technology used to mitigate impacts
  • Environment recovers due to few pressures, plus supportive wetlands and water management practices

Governance:

  • Few competing interests
  • Control lies in the hands of large corporations
  • No real shared governance, but cooperation on water management issues
  • With few competing interests, there is no real need for comprehensive regulation

Story (Scenario)

 

Little Red Wilson sits alone in the spruced-up auditorium of the Sedgewick Community Recreation Centre. Still trying to put its best foot forward. He notes a fresh coat of paint. Twenty years ago, in 2013, it was a school filled with the sounds of 300 or so students, farm kids mostly, wayward academic souls like himself, as he recalls, doing their time until graduation. He observes the sparkling decorations, estimates there are place settings for perhaps 25, not including the head table. A solid turnout, he decides, from a graduating class of 52.

To pass the time, he speculates on the head table’s composition. Bruce Carpenter, to be sure, the class valedictorian, and currently the town’s mayor. And the Goodwin twins, organizers of the whole event, as they were not shy of pointing out on the official invitations. He considers for a moment. He cannot think of anyone else still living in the area.

The graduating class of 2013 was Central High’s last. At the time, he did not give it much thought, except to joke with his friends that it was too bad it hadn’t closed a few years earlier. He was only vaguely aware of the heroic efforts of concerned parents to keep it open, their struggle against the relentless march of demographics, and what the closure symbolized for the community.

His father, Big Red Wilson, however, no academic himself, left such concerns to his wife. What consumed all his thoughts was his 500-acre mixed farm, located between Sedgewick and Lougheed. He was focussed, he told anyone who would listen, on keeping the farm viable for the day he would pass it on to his only son. Little Red had little to say on the matter, and even less to say when that time suddenly came five years after his graduation.

Back in 2010, Europe, Japan and India, dependent on an unstable Russia for their energy needs, faced with the increasing consequences of global warming, and with domestic economies still recovering from the 2008-2009 recession, embarked on a campaign to change the very nature of energy consumption. Major tax incentives were put in place. Alternative energy research and technology efforts were enhanced. A massive green infrastructure rebuilding program recalled the great public works projects at the end of the Second World War. Some European leaders invoked the spirit of The Marshall Plan when describing the enormity of the challenge and the need for collective, steadfast resolve.

In 2012, the world economy remained sluggish, with oil prices stable at around $50 a barrel. The oil and gas industry continued to fuel the Alberta economy, though industry leaders were growing increasingly restive. Coal development in East Central Alberta was put on hold, until prices recovered.

By 2020, green renewable energy alternatives were becoming mainstream. A new Japanese electric car was introduced to North American markets, one that reached speeds up to 90 kilometres an hour and travelled 300 kilometres without a recharge. Residential solar energy had improved its efficiency, and hence its economic competitiveness, by an average of 70% over 2008 systems.

Major oil sands projects, troubled by global warming and 5-year projections of $40-$50 a barrel oil, continued to scale back or cancel expansion plans. Commitments to build coal mining and gasification facilities in East Central Alberta were permanently abandoned. The depletion of conventional oil and gas reserves, particularly in Flagstaff County, had almost run its course. Alberta’s revenues from oil and gas continued to decline.

With the diminishing presence of Big Oil in East Central Alberta, the region increasingly turned to Agriculture, supported by Corporate Agribusinesses supplying machinery, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and GMOs to large-scale farming operations. Consolidated farms were given tax incentives to expand existing operations to produce more cash crops and biofuels for export markets, with priority rights to scarce water resources.

Little Red studies the invitation. It says 6:00 p.m. Not long now. He’s the first to arrive because he had a late sales call just outside of town, and had calculated that it was not worth it to drive home to Camrose, to the house he shares with his wife and two young daughters, and then back again. Before work, he threw a change of clothes in his electric pickup.

In 2018, at 23 years old, Little Red inherited his father’s farm. Growing up at his father’s side, listening to his dreams and his plans, they’d always seemed so far away, part of someone else’s imaginings, part of some distant future time. So he was as surprised as anyone when he moved back home from Edmonton and tried to make a go of it.

His wife joined him eight months later and they both quickly concluded she was not cut out to be a farmer’s wife. It was just as well. Because his farm was an existing mixed farm, it was not eligible for new agricultural subsidies. As drought persisted in the region, and disputes over water allocation escalated, large consolidated farms, supported by Corporate Agribusiness, had the inside track. The creek running through his property was running dry, as were his markets. His prices were not competitive. Health inspectors would not allow him to reopen his father’s abattoir, where Big Red had prepared pork and beef and lamb for local customers.

Little Red might have put it down to his own incompetence, or lack of commitment, or lack of guile, except the same story was being played out across the region. In 2021 he sold out to a neighbour bravely expanding his operations in an attempt to become more competitive.

By 2022, it was clear Alberta could no longer bet its future solely on fossil fuels. The province decided to use energy revenues to explore new green technologies, but it had years of catching up to do. Renewable energy was already in wide use in East Central Alberta, but control and profits had shifted into the hands of foreign governments and multinationals, creating anxiety about energy security in the region. Big Oil had suddenly morphed into Big Green.

East Central Alberta purchased wind energy from Montana and solar energy from a German-owned company operating out of the Nevada dessert. Japanese and Korean electric cars were increasingly popular. Dutch-owned small-scale solar panel systems were widely available for residential use.

By 2025, large consolidated farms dominated the region, growing cash crops and biofuels for international consumption, although challenges remained around water shortages and drought. There was little agricultural production for local consumption.

Recognizing their primacy, as well as their own long-term interests, farmers in the region began working closely with government and non-profit community organizations on environmental sustainability and water management issues. East Central Alberta quickly became a leader in new water conservation and restoration practices. The region’s farmers began using fewer chemicals, changing their farming practices, and forcing Corporate Agribusiness to supply more environmentally friendly products.

But the region continued to depopulate. Unemployment rose, and young people moved away in search of opportunity. The region’s population continued to age, at the same time experiencing a centralization of services in Edmonton and Camrose, and the overall loss of a sense of community.

By 2033, the lack of industrial development, a declining population, and the abundance of green energy sources had resulted in a much cleaner environment, cleaner water and air, restored wetlands and wilderness areas, and healthier wildlife populations.

In 2025, Little Red became the junior sales rep for Grown Up Agricultural Systems, a new Camrose-based company positioning itself to support the growing commitment to environmental sustainability. When his former classmates ask him, he’ll explain that he’s now the company’s regional sales manager, one of six province-wide. And if they ask, he’ll describe, in some detail, the company’s state-of-the-art water capture, storage and irrigation systems, and their innovative methods of controlling weeds and pests.

Little Red loosens his tie absentmindedly. The thing about reunions, he considers for the first time, is that they’re all about taking stock, about measuring up to long forgotten expectations. He wonders what his dad would say, if he were taking stock, sitting beside him right now. His father was no environmentalist, at least not by modern definitions. But things change. Things evolve.

He hopes in some small way he’s honouring his dad’s legacy. Maybe, he considers, it’s that the creek that used to flow through their family farm is flowing once again. The land’s current owner, one of his customers, has told him he can visit the creek at his pleasure. Tomorrow, he decides, will be a good time.

Little Red looks up to see high school sweethearts Evelyn Pratt and her husband Jerry approaching. He’s heard they were living in Toronto. Evelyn tells him they’re sharing the same table for dinner. After a few double scotches, Jerry says he’s heard good things about the hunting and fishing, the clean air and water, and the reasonable real estate costs, and that he and Evelyn might think of investing in a little getaway spot. Lots of those around, Little Red assures him.
 

Detailed Assumptions

Energy:

  • Coal is not developed in East Central Alberta
  • Conventional oil and gas reserves in East Central Alberta are depleted, and remaining deposits are not economically viable
  • Alberta is late getting into the renewable energy industry
  • Renewable energy becomes mainstream, but control and profits remain in the hands of governments and multinational corporations outside of Alberta
  • These corporations have the innovative technology needed to provide moderately priced, readily available renewable energy to the world
  • Some oil/gas is still sold on global markets, but the price has dropped dramatically, making it unprofitable to explore and develop new sources of carbon-based fuels

Economy:

  • Alberta is left behind in terms of green technologies
  • Alberta’s provincial revenues are way down
  • Relatively cheap, clean and renewable energy keep global Agriculture viable
  • East Central Alberta continues to produce agricultural products for export
  • Little food is produced for local consumption; most continues to be imported
  • In East Central Alberta, large, consolidated farms grow cash crops and bio-fuels
  • Global warming increases the growing season, but there are significant challenges related to drought and water shortages
  • The region’s farmers cooperate with government to manage water quality and supply

Community:

  • Unemployment rises in East Central Alberta, and rural communities continue to depopulate
  • Out-migration of young people for school and work leads to a loss of community, a loss of a sense of belonging, and an aging population
  • People use vehicles, powered by clean energy (solar, electric, hybrids)
  • They use their green cars to commute to jobs in the City
  • People have access to cleaner sources of energy to power their homes (foreign-owned corporations install green technology in exchange for long-term revenue from energy contracts)
  • Lower energy, transportation and housing costs reduce the cost of living in the region
  • Health and social services remain centred in Edmonton and Camrose
    Water and Environment:
  • New technologies provide relatively cheap, renewable energy
  • Energy use is more environmentally friendly, but it is not helping the local economy grow
  • In East Central Alberta, water quality begins to improve as the region empties out, and the oil and gas industry leaves
  • Global scale Agriculture (supported by Corporate Agribusiness), and global warming put strains on the region’s fresh water, and conflicts arise
  • Water conservation becomes a priority; the value of wetlands is recognized
  • The government, working with the region’s farmers, becomes a leader in the management, reclamation, restoration and protection of water resources, including wetlands

Governance:

  • Decision-making is global/corporate – there is little local control over foreign-owned energy supplies
  • Watershed management in the region is a model for shared governance between the provincial government and the region’s farmers
  • With few competing interests, there is no real need for comprehensive regulation

Chart of Assumptions

Planning Factor: Energy Future (Download Chart)
Theme: Energy - Towards Carbon Free

Alberta becomes a consumer rather that a producer of energy

Planning Factor: Economic Sustainability (Download Chart)
The
me: Agriculture - Global Scale

Planning Factor: Nature of Community (Download Chart)
Theme: Community and our Environment - Controlled Growth

Citizens are satisfied with their quality of life and their communities meet/exceed their expectations

Planning Factor: Water Quality and Quantity (Download Chart)
Theme: Community and our Environment - Controlled Growth

Planning Factor: Environmental Sustainability (Download Chart)
Theme:
Community and our Environment - Controlled Growth

Planning Factor:  Governance (Download Chart)
Theme:
Community and our Environment - Controlled Growth