Canadian teens think fossil fuels are vital, but it’s an uneasy relationship

Canadian teenagers from coast to coast are in an uneasy embrace with the country’s fossil fuel industry: They think it’s important for the economy but comes with potential environmental and economic risks.

Eighty per cent of Canadian high school students said the production of fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas is important for Canada’s future economic health, as part of a national survey conducted by Civix and meant to gauge what more than 4,400 teenagers want to see reflected in Thursday’s federal budget.

Not surprisingly, fossil fuels’ relative importance was greatest in such resource-reliant jurisdictions as Alberta, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, where 88 per cent of respondents said fossil fuels were important. Even in Quebec where support was the weakest, 66 per cent conceded the industry was important.

Close to half of the respondents in most provinces think Alberta’s oilsands benefit all Canadians, with the feeling being strongest among teens in Wild Rose Country at 60 per cent.

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That reality wasn’t lost on Farhia Hassan, a Calgary teenager, who participate in the survey.

“It’s more important to us as Albertans than it is to them, but at the end of the day, they need oil to get to school too,” she said of her peers across the country.

Western provinces were the most likely to agree that the oilsands tide lifts all boats. Quebec was the outlier with only a third of the province’s teens saying they see a benefit from Alberta’s resources.

Whether or not the oilsands actually do benefit Canadians, more than two-thirds of respondents said they should.

Calgary student Safaa Jeha is among them.

“I feel like it should be more distributed to the provinces that don’t have what we do,” she said.

But these students don’t necessarily think the oil and gas industry can make it on its own: Almost half said they wanted to see Flaherty help the fossil fuel industry with tax credits or other incentives. Again, Quebecers were the least likely to advocate more breaks for the fossil fuels industry.

But this relationship’s complicated: Forty-six per cent of students said they were at least a little uncomfortable with the country’s reliance on fossil fuels. Just one quarter felt good about how much Canada depends on the industry, while the rest were neutral.

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Pipeline projects also proved divisive. Forty-one per cent of Canadian teens said the environmental risks of pipelines don’t outweigh the economic benefits (29 per cent argued the opposite; the rest didn’t know).

British Columbians were the most decisively opposed to pipelines at 50 per cent. But even Albertans weren’t totally gung-ho: 37 per cent said go for it, and 35 per cent give environmental concerns more weight.

And as Canadian politicians stream across the border to boost TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, these students aren’t so sure that’s the way to go: The plurality of teens (41 per cent) wanted to see the oil stay in Canada; 29 per cent would prioritize American markets (the poll’s creators have admitted that question should have been better phrased: Canadian refining appears to be implied, but it isn’t entirely clear). Albertans ranked Canadian and American markets on par when it came to priority markets at 34 per cent and 32 per cent respectively.

Hassan wants the oil to stay north of the border: “It will create more job opportunities and help our economy too, maybe help us get out of this deficit we’re in.”

The implicit uneasiness students have with the country’s reliance on fossil fuels is reflected in their spending priorities: Environmental protection was among the issues they think are most in need of a funding boost.

Lachlan Thomspon, who attends Forest Lawn High School in Calgary, may have a way to reconcile them.

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“I think we should find a better source than fossil fuels and sell it to everyone else,” she said.




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