“We are not doing this because we want to. We aren’t doing it because it’s fun.”
Those series of words from 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg elicited thunderous applause and shouts from the crowd gathered at the Alberta legislature Friday afternoon.
It resonated strongly with the young people in attendance — one of them being 18-year-old student Abigail Thomas.
“I want a world to live in when I’m older and the same for my kids,” she said.
Thomas was one of about 4,000 people of all ages who packed the legislature grounds to hear Thunberg speak, an opportunity she and others in the crowd were anxious for.
Edmonton marked Thunberg’s second stop in the province this week; she also visited Calgary.
“We’ve known for a long time that climate change is a real threat to humanity and it’s time for governments to take action,” said Lisa Budney.
Several protesters carried signs depicting oil being kept in the ground, with chants erupting for immediate climate action.
While Richard Knack agrees with the latter statement, he’s not so keen on the former.
“Climate change is very important,” he said. “We know that there’s 20 to 50 years left with oil energy, we can’t stop it. Yet, we’re trying to so quickly and that’s getting people upset on both sides.”
A counter-rally was also planned in Alberta on Friday.
United We Roll led a truck convoy of supporters of Alberta’s oil and gas industry, with stops in Red Deer, Nisku and downtown Edmonton to coincide with the climate strike at the legislature.
Zachary Neufeld, 18, works in Fort McMurray and went to the rally with a few friends carrying signs that read, “I Love Canadian Energy.” They said they believe in climate change, but there’s a way to make fewer emissions while keeping jobs.
“It’s really important that we keep those jobs, especially in Alberta, because that’s a lot of our economy,” Neufeld said.
Oil and gas has been central to Alberta’s economy for generations, but the debate has become increasingly divisive in recent years. Demand for action on climate change is increasing while a sluggish petro-economy has seen thousands of Albertans thrown out of work.
Kenney won the spring election, in part, on a platform that paints Alberta as being victimized by a federal Liberal government determined to gut the industry through inaction or harmful regulation.
Kenney has also launched a $30-million war room along with a public inquiry to root out what he says are foreign interests pulling the strings of climate activists to keep Alberta’s core industry down. And his government has gutted a climate change program launched by the previous NDP government, including a consumer carbon tax.
Kenney had said his government didn’t plan on meeting with Thunberg and, during the rally Friday, he visited a power plant near Edmonton that’s switching from coal to cleaner natural gas.
“This is the kind of real, practical, technological solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Kenney said.
One thing most people agree with: Thunberg is igniting discussion.
“She’s sparking a conversation, getting people to start to take this seriously across the globe,” said Budney.