If you read my last post on the Keystone pipeline (or lack thereof), you may have been thinking, “She hates Alberta! She hates the industry that paid for her upbringing and funds her mortgage!”
I don’t hate Alberta. I love Alberta. I love the generations of my family that have called this place home. I love Alberta’s hard-working, usually pragmatic people. I love the blue skies. And precisely because of all this love, I want us to be thinking of the future.
Similarly, I don’t hate the energy industry. It’s given me a lot. I do, however, hate some peoples’ inability to see that the industry must change – that it already is changing.
Some Alberta-based companies are studying and/or piloting all kinds of cool technology (adding to all the technology developed in the last decade or so). Even in these organizations, there’s a long way to go. It can sometimes feel like being at a boxing match between Past and Future: kind of exciting, but also painful.
Other companies – and, I would argue, our current government – do not acknowledge the need to adapt. They’re standing outside the boxing arena trying to divert spectators to an entirely different sport. And that bothers me for all the reasons that should be obvious when you consider that 9-year old me started a club about climate change and the environment.
But refusal to acknowledge the need for change also bothers me from an employment perspective.
So many people directly or indirectly rely on income from working in oil and gas, and seem oblivious to the results of automation. But let’s be clear: some heavy equipment is already being operated autonomously; trucks at mines don’t need drivers. New software for gathering and analyzing data eliminates a need for people to enter it. A consultant from one well-known firm said a few weeks ago that 30% of industry jobs will be eliminated due to automation by 2040 (again, that’s due to automation, not activists, and not Joe Biden). Pre-pandemic, data from the provincial government showed the province was seeing all-time highs in oil production, but had not replaced the approximately 200,000 jobs that were lost when the price of oil fell in 2014-2015. Even if the demand for oil rises (and as per my last post, it won’t – not for the long haul), there will be fewer jobs in this industry.
So, here’s a crazy thought: what if we had more than one industry?! While some politicians are trying to round up future votes by telling folks they don’t need to do anything different, we’ve got technology firms aching to thrive in Alberta. We’ve got Calgary Economic Development trying to attract new aerospace and agribusiness firms (among others). Banks and universities are hosting incubators for start-up companies. More and more people are seeing the benefit of buying and manufacturing locally. It seems like a good idea to support all those efforts.
Imagine, just hypothetically, what might happen if a virus arrived and threw everything into disarray. People would learn to adapt and adjust. But making those adjustments would be really difficult, and exhausting.
If I’ve learned anything in the last year, I’ve learned that people are adaptable when we need to be, but it’s more comfortable to change when we have some warning – rather than having it forced upon us. It seems preferable to prepare, have a sense of what’s coming, and choose our path(s).
I guess if you’re close to retirement and don’t have anyone younger in your life that you care about, maybe all this is easily ignored. After all, it’s probably true that things won’t change completely overnight. But I can’t help but remember: I once lived in a dorm and used dial-up internet. My friends and I could (illegally) download a movie online, but it was usually easier and faster to go rent one. Today, I can stream any movie I want from several devices in my house, and there are no more Blockbuster stores. A lot has changed in 20 years, but it doesn’t feel that long ago. The future is coming.