My name is Dr. Naomi Krogman and I am a professor in Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology at the University of Alberta. I am currently studying the future of sustainability sciences and scholarship in higher education. My past research has been on sustainable consumption, wetland policy implementation, social impacts of resource development and alternative institutions for resource management. I teach 300 and 400 level courses, such as RSoc 450 Environmental Sociology, RSoc 365 Sociology of Environment and Development and RSoc 555 Natural Resource Sociology.
I am also director of the academic arm of the Office of Sustainability. I became involved in the Office of Sustainability in 2012 because I care about how we prepare students to tackle the small and big problems of sustainability. I want to be involved in shaping our courses, programs, and learning experiences to foster courage and intelligence, passion and commitment for the common good.
Throughout 2014, the Office of Sustainability is focusing on energy issues. This is fitting for many sustainability-related reasons, given that energy sources are necessary for most everything we do in our Canadian context. Energy development and consumption has a myriad of social, environmental and economic consequences for people and ecosystems nearby and afar. Most significantly, the byproducts of energy production have disproportionately contributed to the climate changes we are seeing now, and will need to address worldwide for years to come.
This year’s energy theme is all the more fitting because our province has been deeply involved in energy resource development for over half a century. Our energy development is often controversial on the world stage. Recent criticism has focused on the extractive and processing impacts of Alberta’s oil sands projects as well as on the geographical reach and potential disturbance of the Mackenzie Valley and Keystone XL pipelines. Shale production could create a great deal more energy in Alberta, but also has the potential to have a number of negative social and ecological impacts. Many First Nations bands, for example, have already reported a number of negative impacts from oil sands projects.
Various interest groups and members of the public sometimes, and should rightfully ask, “Where do you stand, academics in Alberta, as you espouse the values of sustainability, and simultaneously participate in energy research?” We have a great deal of research at the University of Alberta, for example, that is supported by the oil and gas industries.
This is a fair question and one we can expect from our international and Canadian critics. Where do we stand, as academics, on the contribution of our energy research to the public good?
In my position as academic director of the Office of Sustainability, I have realized that there is no uniform consensus among my more than 1,500 academic colleagues. Some hope to mitigate damage, participating in oil sands research to figure out ways to extract more oil out of the bitumen, to lessen the water, air and soil pollution problems associated with oil sands production, and to reclaim oil and gas disturbed lands. Others study energy futures that move away from oil and gas altogether, researching the development of renewable and more decentralized energy deliver systems. I find that most academics, no matter what they study in relation to energy, often assert, “We are part of the solution, not a driver of the problem.”
Let me ask you: what is the highest calling of academics to contribute to a sustainable energy future, in Alberta, and beyond Alberta? What kind of ethical or principled guidelines might offer university researchers more careful selection of the research we do on energy, given that we are here to contribute to the public good?
Written by Dr. Naomi Krogman
She is professor in Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology and academic director of the Office of Sustainability at the University of Alberta.