How to Create Positive Climate Action on the Prairies- the Regional Politics of Climate Change
My brother lives in Toronto. When he comes to visit here on the prairies, I am always shocked at how different he is from us prairie folk. He wears a tracksuit- not jeans. He is proud about a gold chain on his neck and he speaks a dialect of English that I can only describe as a blend of Drake lyrics and emojis. I love him, but he doesn't quite fit here.
He called me the other day. It was a video call and in the background I could see the big city as he casually chatted on the street car. In that setting, his odd fashion, and hollywood-esque demeanor made sense. He fit. I knew Canada had regional differences but I never realized how subtle and prolific they are.
There is no doubt that these differences affect our politics, especially politics around climate change. A research project out of the University of Montreal analysed attitudes about climate change across Canada. The results are unsurprising. 60% of people in Ontario believe that human activity is warming up the earth. Ontario matches the national average. Saskatchewan and Alberta scored the lowest in the country- 13% and 18% lower than the national average on the same question.
Here is another fun fact: Saskatchewan is Canada’s champion in per capita GHG emissions. Not only do fewer Saskatchewanians think that human activity is causing climate change but we seem to be doing our best at stopping the country from reaching our Paris targets. If you are in Ottawa or Toronto or Vancouver, I bet it is….frustrating... to say the least. I mean what are those backwards prairie folks doing to produce so much gas?
The prairies have a long history of conflict with eastern Canada. Maybe not as much as
Quebec and Ottawa or Ottawa and Indigenous Communities but the East versus West battle is a solid third place as far as regional conflict goes. It makes sense if you understand the nuance. The political east has Parliament, urban populations and a service and investment-based economy. You have heard of the TSX right? The prairie west on the other hand, specifically Saskatchewan, is largely rural, conservative and exports primary goods to keep the economy floating. Think of the difference between Jordan 11s and Cowboy boots.
It’s not that everyone in Saskatchewan drives trucks and hates taxes (we mostly do but that’s not the real problem). Saskatchewan is an exporter. In 2019, the Province produced $3.3 billion in food exports to the USA; $3 billion to China. It produced 60% of the world's lentil exports. Over 80% of the chickpeas and 55% of the Canola oil used in Canada was produced in Saskatchewan. So, while the Province emits more than its share of GHG, I would take a bet that it feeds more people per capita than any other province or any other country for that matter.
It is no wonder that the Saskatchewan Government launched a failed lawsuit against the federal carbon tax. Most of its industry is carbon intensive: agriculture, mining, gas and oil. A recession in these industries is a big hit for global production- not just for Saskatchewanians.
The most likely climate outcome is that Saskatchewan’s industry undergoes a low and slow transition. But don’t count the prairies out. Although Saskatchewan and Alberta scored last on believing that human activity is causing climate change, the same study shows them believing that, instead of trying to stop climate change we should focus on adapting to it. The future will tell, but this attitude toward climate innovation may be the best way forward for prairie people. It demonstrates adaptive capacity. Sometimes you need different perspectives to solve a wicked problem. Maybe the regional differences in Canada will give us that opportunity.