CALGARY, Alta. May 25, 2016/ Troy Media/ – Anti-oil, anti-pipeline advocate Naomi Klein has a platform to speak at the University of Calgary on May 29. Who invited the bearer of this extreme viewpoint to Calgary, the heartland of pro-pipeline, pro-energy thinking?
Klein is one of six big-name speakers invited by the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences to their 2016 “Big Thinking” program.
Climate change and Alberta’s role in advancing a carbon-reduced world are serious questions. Most Albertans do “think big” about these questions, and want to engage in a discourse that helps us find the closest approximation of truth or best discernible choice in a highly complex and often fluid circumstance.
Extreme views, including the opinion of people like Klein, can be valid but must be recognized as extreme. How can Albertans ensure that extreme views help define the polarities, but are not allowed to constrain true dialogue or shut down discussion on a full range of choices?
Many Albertans are aware of Klein’s views. Her current polemic, [popup url=”http://amzn.to/20BBO4o” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”1″]This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate[/popup], promotes a post-carbon world. She co-authored the Leap Manifesto. And she has an essential role in [popup url=”http://business.financialpost.com/fp-comment/rockefellers-behind-scruffy-little-outfit” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”1″]350.org[/popup], a global movement advocating to leave hydrocarbons in the ground.
In fact, Albertans probably have a clearer idea of what Klein will say at the University of Calgary than what we can expect to hear from the other keynote speakers: Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi; Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin; journalist Chantal Hebert; Blackfoot educator Leroy Little Bear; and Canada Research chair in Global Food Security and Sustainability Jennifer Clapp.
I’ve had calls and emails asking who invited Klein, even from professors and students at the University of Calgary concerned about being tarred as academic elitists out of touch with the economic downturn affecting hundreds of thousands of Albertans. Others are disappointed at another level: “We’re paying her to come out here and sell more books. She is a marketing machine peddling populist claptrap against capitalism while benefiting immensely from the system she decries.”
The hoopla about Klein’s visit to Calgary reminds me of the visit, six years ago, by right-wing Fox News commentator Ann Coulter. In March 2010, I stood in line outside the Red and White Club (a University of Calgary-owned venue) with a friend to get a ticket to hear what Coulter had to say to Albertans. Regrettably, we were turned away when the nearly 1,000-seat facility filled to capacity. Yet, standing in that line – talking with fellow Albertans about why they wanted to hear Coulter, and later talking to protestors who wanted to block Coulter from speaking – was far more interesting than anything Coulter had to say.
Certainly, there are people who want to hear from Klein directly, and an academic crowd may well be interested in a stylistic critique of her body of written work. Lots of people don’t care for her hyperbolic composition, her resolute commitment to her adopted premise or the provocative framing of her arguments.
But for most, this opportunity for engagement with Klein is not likely to be about literary criticism. Some will want to decry her speech at the University of Calgary because they believe her message is actually dangerous. If, in their opinion, Klein is either carelessly misguided or intentionally fraudulent, there will be people who see it as their civic duty to meet fire with fire. Simply pick a side, take a stand and allow half-informed action to prevail over critical thinking.
There is, however, a much more interesting dimension available in Calgary’s invitation to people like Klein or Coulter, the bearers of extreme viewpoints.
In our invitation to Klein, we can choose to focus on the most effective qualities of discourse on climate change and energy policy in Alberta. Specifically, how do we identify, decipher and balance extreme views and their impact on the wider dialogue required to make progress in the long and arduous path towards building solutions?
This approach may not be as thrilling as waving pitchforks and fear-mongering, and won’t attract the instant audience of controversy. But it may be deeply satisfying to invite fellow Albertans to consider the role of extreme views, including Naomi Klein’s, in our province’s evaluation of climate change and energy choices.
Donna Kennedy-Glans, QC, a Calgary lawyer and businesswoman, is a former Progressive Conservative and independent member of the Alberta legislature. @dkennedyglans.
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