Make an Impact
My story: Oil and gas, environment and climate change
November 30, 2021 | Brent Kelly
"Alaskan Pipeline" by U.S. Geological Survey is marked under CC0 1.0. To view the terms, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/cc0/1.0/
Any meaningful action on climate change in Canada will affect the oil and gas sector – and in turn the people who depend on the sector for their lives and livelihoods. I am familiar with these concerns and would like to share my story. I grew up in an oil and gas household in Calgary, the oil headquarters of Canada, became involved in social justice and environmental advocacy in my university years, and now work on climate change and environmental issues for the provincial government. Along the way I had to confront many challenging truths and difficult questions, and I’d like to share some of what I learned here.
My childhood and adolescence spanned the 90’s and early 2000’s in Calgary. Most of that time was boom time in the oil and gas sector – or as we called it: the patch. For as long as I can remember discussions of pipelines and oil prices were common dinnertime topics. As I got older, other topics cropped up too – global warming, ozone depletion, environmental degradation, oil spills, and more.
Oil and gas has always been a part of my life. Realistically, I owe many of the comforts I grew up with to the oil patch in Alberta.
My dad, now retired, was a geologist whose entire career spanned major oil and gas companies in Calgary. A scientist by training, and a lover of nature, he did not shy away from conversations about the negative impacts of resource extraction and new developments in the science of climate change. Plus, with his love of nature and the outdoors, we spent a lot of time in mountains growing up. On trips and hikes that included glaciers I can remember my dad telling me to appreciate their beauty – since some of them might disappear within our lifetimes due to climate change. Or, at least, they certainly wouldn’t be what they used to.
When I earlier asked my dad about opportunities in oil and gas, he half-jokingly advised me not to pursue a career in the field. The ups and downs in oil prices made the path a risky one, and that was besides the looming threats of climate change and the non-renewable (i.e. finite) nature of fossil fuels.
In the late 2000’s I left to pursue studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do but I knew that oil and gas didn’t interest me much. I tried a few different things before finally settling on the study of politics.
Coming from a relatively conservative environment in Calgary, my studies introduced many new and challenging ideas. Over time, exposure and involvement in social justice and environmental advocacy changed my values and helped me see what was previously unknown to me. My undergraduate and graduate studies and involvement in progressive political parties, social and environmental justice organizations, and grassroots activism and political organizing eventually led to my working in the provincial government on environmental issues and climate change. My dad working in oil and gas, and me working in climate change – when I visit my parents there are always interesting conversations.
I’d like to share my story because the challenges and issues my family and I have grappled with are the same for many other Albertans and Canadians – and I think when we tackle these issues together we are more likely to see the longer-term solutions needed to address the climate crisis.
My upbringing and life experience have taught me the importance of one-on-one conversations about resource development and its impacts, both positive and negative. And, importantly, I’ve learned that most people who work in resource development care deeply for the environment too – and that conversations about how we can tackle the climate emergency need to include the workers in those industries. When we take the time to genuinely connect with others, I’ve found most people, regardless of background, generally care about the same things: they want to protect the environment, provide for their families, and ensure a healthy and prosperous future for their children. Focusing on this common ground and building from a place of shared concern can help pave the way for greater understanding and buy-in – particularly among groups that may not be so receptive. I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on these and other related matters in future articles.
Brent Kelly holds a BA and MA in Political Science from the University of Alberta and works at Alberta Environment and Parks. In his spare time he enjoys volunteering for different social justice and environmental initiatives, spending time online and in-person with friends and family, and hiking in the mountains. The views expressed on this site do not reflect those of his employer.