From gas to grass— sustainability in Alberta

This week Justin Trudeau is in Calgary Alberta, meeting with politicians and Canadians alike, discussing a number of issues important to the province and Canada as a whole.

One of the issues I’m sure will come up, as it’s the constant elephant in the room, is oil and more than likely Mr. Trudeau’s previous comments about a future that no longer sees the need for the oil sands.

For those who don’t know, oil sand is a naturally occurring mixture of sand, clay or other minerals, water and bitumen, and produces a heavy and extremely viscous oil which has to be treated before it can be used by refineries to produce fuels such as gasoline and diesel.

Canada’s oil sands roughly cover 140,000 km2 and are located in Northern Alberta.

The current operation, according to the Syncrude website, employs 7,400 people both directly and through contracts, and produces roughly 2.3 million barrels per day according to the Government of Alberta’s website, dated 2014.

Living in Alberta I was not shocked by the outrage many people had when Trudeau raised the idea of moving away from oil sands, and I don’t necessarily blame them.

Moving into the unknown is a scary thing and since Alberta, and Canada for that matter, has relied on oil for jobs and economic “security” for so long, leaving it behind can be very emotional.

But is letting go of our addiction to environmentally unfriendly easy money so bad?

Let’s face it oil is not a reliable market. We have been in this current scenario before, although not quite as bad, and as anyone who knows the oil industry will tell you, in all likeliness, we will be here again.

Oil markets are volatile enough on their own, but now that more and more countries are beginning to cut their ties to oil, I believe it’s of great importance that Canada reflects on what an oil free world would look like for us.

After all, do we really want to be the last person to get on the green energy bus and lose any hope of creating a foothold in the market that could mean big things for all Canadians?

Luckily for us, we don’t need to necessarily rely on the snail speed of change seen in Ottawa, but rather the inspiring efforts of people who recognize the problem and are already moving towards change.

Even here in the centre of Oil Country Canada, there are municipalities, companies, and private citizens looking at better ways to do things, whether that’s through the use of solar energy and wind power or the cultivation and production of hemp in a wide variety of areas.

Although unfairly painted with a brush of ignorance, Alberta is making great leaps when it comes to sustainability and the elephant that is oil tends to overshadow the great efforts that people make every day.

Here in my own municipality, Brazeau County administration organized an information session evolving around harvesting hemp so that area farmers can see how big the industry is getting, what the demand for hemp is, and how it can be incorporated into their own farms.

I attended the information session because it excites me to be part of a municipality that encourages forward thinking and sustainability.

What was even more exciting was the fact that there were several other municipalities there, gathering information for their own constituents so that hemp might be a possibility for all Alberta farmers.

Currently, there are roughly 30,000 acres of hemp being produced here in Alberta, and that product is being used in a wide variety of ways from clothing, car parts, and recreation, as well as supplements and health products.

Despite the fact that 99 per cent of hemp grown is for use of the seeds, the possibilities for hemp are endless and we are only now at the beginning stages of making use of a product that is not only versatile and fast growing, reaches maturity every year, but is also a benefit to the environment as it has the ability to remove five times or more Co2 from the air as an equal parcel of trees.

Did you know Alberta is actually the top producer of hemp in Canada?

This is great news, but because the number of users outweighs the number of producers, especially when it comes to fibre, we actually see local companies having to go to Europe to bring hemp in so that they can continue to meet the demands of hemp use, not just here but in the United States as well.

Currently, Canada is the only country in North America that has legalized hemp cultivation, meaning there is a current market that can only be met by a certain number of countries.

This means Alberta is at the forefront of a growing market here in North America and it is the diversification that is greatly needed but is not getting the attention it requires in order to really take off.

The fact that we are having to access product from outside sources shows that there is a great need here in Alberta and an untapped, or should I say underutilized, resource for economic growth and job creation.

Tied up in the complications that come with medical marijuana, hemp is a misunderstood product that could hold the key to many issues being faced here in North America, and if Alberta and Canada as a whole want to make the most of what this market has to offer everyone needs to pay attention and work towards a greener future.

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