July 18th, 2024

SACPA hears talk on energy transition


By Steffanie Costigan - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on November 17, 2023.

Herald photo by Steffanie Costigan Melanee Thomas, professor of political science at the University of Calgary, speaks on energy transition during the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs.

A professor of political science addressed the topic of energy transition outlining public opinion and how it connects to politics at the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs (SACPA) on Thursday at noon.

The presentation discussed Alberta moving away from coal-fired electricity by the end of 2023, the idea of energy transition being politicized by elite and partisan political actors which impact public opinion.

Professor of political science at the University of Calgary Melanee Thomas shared the data behind her presentation.

“The data that I’m going to be mostly presenting is from a baseline that we took in 2019. In Alberta, we have updated it with a, like BC, Alberta, Quebec, and Ontario, kind of treat them like countries, and we’ve updated the and we’re finding pretty similar sorts of things. So we’re gonna go into the field a bit later to just try to confirm and see how these things get politicized,” said Thomas.

Thomas explained in gathering data, that as far as she knows, her team is the first to collect public opinion on energy transition and from the data it was discovered the public views renewable sources of energy as two separate categories.

“It’s a larger project on understanding the politics of energy transition. As far as we can tell we are among the first that’s explicitly asking regular folks to tell us what they think about actually moving away from fossil fuels and moving towards renewable sources of energy. We’ve got a good reasons to think that those are not on a spectrum, that people actually see them as two separate kinds of things. Which means that lots of people really like renewables actually, is one of the things that comes out.”

Thomas said she acknowledges her approach to this study has been to identify the issues first by understanding public reaction.

“My approach is very much if we want to understand the issue, we have to understand how people react to the issue and spoiler alert, the way that Albertans think about this is quite different than how government talks about it,” said Thomas.

Thomas said transitioning energy is twofold and in order to progress she suggests moving away from fossil fuels and resorting to renewable sources of energy.

“When we talk about low carbon economies, we talk about energy transition. And energy transition has a very simple definition. It’s twofold. It’s moving away from fossil fuels and moving towards more renewable sources of energy.”

Thomas said moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy is nothing new and the threat is not renewable energy but rather climate change.

“When we talk about energy transition, about moving away from fossil fuels and towards more renewable sources of energy, it queues to existential terms. For folks paying attention to Alberta politics, this is not news.

The first existential threat is from climate change. And we have seen this every time we get the smoke from a forest fire, or it’s not been minus 30. I find a bit disorienting, and if I’m being honest, isn’t very good,” said Thomas.

Thomas said she is not trying to pick on any political party, but she feels the UCP is creating a threat narrative on the idea of moving away from fossil fuels.

“It’s a political issue. That is one that makes a lot of hay for what we call party families on the political right. So as political scientists, when we talk about this, we want to generalize about political parties.

“I’m not picking on any particular party family. But it’s not lost on me that when we talk about this in Alberta, it’s the UCP that talks about this in that kind of existential threat narrative.”

Thomas shared her weariness of the Alberta government’s expression of energy transition being a threat to the province.

“I’m skeptical about the best of times, but suffice it to say, I think it’s easy to demonstrate that the Government of Alberta the past few iterations of it, wants to say that energy transition is something that’s bad for Alberta. It’s something that’s threatening for Alberta. It’s something that we should not do,” said Thomas.

Thomas, in closing, posed a question to the audience whether energy transition is beneficial to Alberta.

“The lead message can be reasonably interpreted as something like energy transition is an existential threat to Alberta because it is an existential threat to oil. Our question is, how many Albertans actually think about it this way.

What I’m trying to do in this context, as we’re trying to describe what it is, we’re trying to get our best estimate of what’s actually happening. And then the next step would be, do we think that this is a good thing, the normative evaluation.”

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