By Dale Woodard on January 23, 2021.
Laurie Adkin, a political economist and professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta, was the guest speaker as the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs met Thursday to discuss the corporate interests and idealogies shaping Alberta’s universites.
Speaking to those gathered in this week’s Zoom session, Adkin asserted if ever there was a time for universities to assume a leadership role in providing the knowledge needed for socio-ecological change, this is the moment.
In her presentation, a point of interest for Adkin was research on sustainable agriculture.
“Surely someone is thinking about sustainable agriculture as an important part of the future of Alberta. In a carbon constrained world, what are we going to build an economy on?” said Adkin, whose recent work has focused on the political ecology of knowledge production in Alberta’s universities and on innovation policy and discourse as responses to the global climate. “Funding for sustainable agriculture research from these innovation agencies is almost non-existant, at least for Alberta. Perhaps other provinces are making this a higher priority. But we found the Alberta Science and Research Investments Program (ASRIP) funding for agricultural research was significant at one time, but has shrunk drastically since 1997 and 1998.”
Agriculture was getting 61 per cent of ASRIP funding from 1997 to 2000, said Adkin.
“But then when we looked at the snap shot of what ASRIP was funding in 2010-11 to 2014-15, agriculture actually shrunk to one per cent of the amount of funding going to academic research. What has increased is energy and, to some extent, environment. So environmental science has been getting somewhat more funding compared to the early period.
“Energy research has tripled and agriculture has shrunk to a very tiny percent.”
Adkin referenced a graph indicating dollar amounts allocated by governments of Alberta between 1997-98 and 2015-16 to selected categories of research and development.
“Over this period of time, governments of Alberta have spent $6.4 billion on technology development related to fossil fuels compared to about $241 million on research and development related to renewable energies, energy conservation and bio fuels and only about $190 million on research related to environmental science, water quality and management climate change, or sustainable development,” said Adkin, adding a total of 3.4 billion of this took the form of corporate tax credits for research and development in the energy sector since 2004 and another $3 billion went to fund research centres, institutes or research chairs dedicated to fossil fuels related to research and development.
“It’s evident from these findings that the priorites of the fossil fuel industries have been transcribed into government road maps for innovation, yet continuing heavy investment in research and development related to the extraction processing and transportation of fossil fuels is clearly in conflict with the urgent need to prevent further climate de-stableization.”
Moreover, it’s in conflict with the growing recognition Alberta must develop a post-carbon extractive economy as global demand for it’s bitumen export shrinks, said Adkin.
“I wanted to come back to questions of what this all means for the future of Alberta and also for the social functions that is the mandate of our universities through the public interest, what are the consequences of this type of innovation model for the universites and for Alberta.
Adkin pointed out this innovation is market-driven rather than research-driven and that research follows the funding opportunities.
“It’s shaping, to a great extent, what people are choosing to do because they go where the money is and they train students in their labs in the same areas and this has a big impact on the types of programs the universities are offering and the opportunities provided to graduate students,” she said. “The model privileges technocratic approaches to complex problems over inter-diciplinary approaches and this conception of innovation clearly dovetails with the comidification of education and the corportization of universities. It downplays the urgency of the climate crisis and, in my view, fails to prepare young people to deal with complex social-ecological problems that will define their future because to do that, they need inter-diciplinary knowledge.”
They also need social and cultural knowledge, not only technical knowledge to deal with these types of problems,” said Adkin.
“We see that social-cultural and indigenous knowledge are marginalized in this model. Community-based research is not happening, valued and rewarded in this model. We could have a focus with academics working with their surrounding communities, whether it’s the city level or the regional level, to come up with alternatives to fossil fuel development and ways of adapting to the climate crisis. But that is not what is driving this model of research.”