Starting June 11, Calgary plays host to the five-day long World Petroleum Congress. Much has been said about the WPC in the local media--not so much about the congress itself, but about the expected protests and civil disobedience that might reach a scale most mild-mannered Calgarians have only seen before on TV.
Few are predicting another "Battle in Seattle." While recent police actions against protesters in Windsor, Ontario are far more brutal than this city has ever seen, it will take more than a few dozen protesters--dripping tear-gas with hands outstretched to the camera--on the front page of the paper to wake this sleepy town from its complacent middle-class slumber.
This is one of the downsides to living in Calgary, a city literally and figuratively built on oil. Calgarians owe a lot of their wealth, both personal and civic, to the oil industry. Thus, despite the efforts of protesters, it is hard to believe this week that the average Calgarian is going to seriously question the industry which butters his or her bread--for a number of reasons.
Mass media will not likely give fair coverage to both sides of this complex issue. Both the Calgary Herald and the Globe and Mail are sponsoring the WPC and one might legitimately question their impartiality as a result. Also, their coverage leading up to the congress has largely focused on the security risks protesters pose, and not the protestors' causes. Of course, the media in Calgary owes much of its recent financial success to the strength of the Calgary corporate community, not to the oil industry's detractors.
Mass media is also responsible for polarizing this issue--you're either in the oil industry and thus support it, or opposed to the oil industry and thus a misguided radical. Most mass media talks about the WPC--and indeed Seattle, Washington D.C. and Windsor--in terms of a dispute of left versus right. Mainstream media describes the "leftist" protests largely in terms of its marginalized components: the looting, the vandalism and the outrageous dress of the protesters. They selectively quote protesters talking about "the suits inside the compound,"--as if all protesters believe all oil executives are right-wing power-barons chuckling as they plot the death of another Guatemalan villager.
The unfortunate aspect of this scenario is it's probably about time this city took a long, hard look at the industry on which our gleaming glass and steel metropolis is based.
The truth is the oil industry has a lot of answering to do. They're one of the largest industries in the world. As such, they're subject to more scrutiny than others--and they haven't held up well to that scrutiny.
They're allegedly among the worst industries in terms of environmental degradation and human rights abuses. The mass-consumption of fossil fuels is largely blamed for global warming. Shell and Talisman are two of the companies (with offices in Calgary) accused of profiting at the expense of the third world. Oil is an unsustainable and inefficient resource compared to the alternatives--the painfully undercelebrated solar, wind and geo-thermal energy possibilities.