Alberta protects its environment

June 09, 2005, vol. 33, no. 4
By Howard Fluxgold

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Which province is doing a better job of protecting the environment: beautiful British Columbia or Alberta?

Rosalind Greenwood's research surprisingly concludes that it is Alberta.

Greenwood, who graduats in June with an honours bachelor of arts in criminology, says her thesis, Cowboys and Eco-Freaks: a comparison of the structural factors influencing the environmental protection strategies of Alberta and B.C., indicates that Alberta has "one of the best environmental protection programs in Canada."

Greenwood studied environment protection programs in both provinces finding that "B.C. has cut funding and resources to their enforcement division. This surprised me because you would think it would be the opposite based on the stereotypes we have of each province."

Her thesis supervisor, John Lowman, agrees. "The thesis is striking because it presents a counter-intuitive finding," Lowman, a criminology professor, points out.

"You expect right-leaning capitalist Alberta to be not as good at enforcement as sometimes left leaning, or left of centre, healthy, fit, environmentally conscious British Columbia."

Greenwood says she found that the literature on environmental protection strategies indicated that "jurisdictions that were dominated by powerful industries, fiscal conservatism, strong capitalist values and little social concern for the environment would have lax environmental protection programs."

However, she discovered this wasn't the case when it came to Alberta and B.C.

Greenwood, who recently won the Robert Brown award for academic achievement and community leadership, says her study turned up two basic themes:

• The state of the economy appears to play a crucial role in determining the priority given to environmental issues, regardless of the political party in power. "A healthy economy appears to be necessary for environmentally sustainable practices to be adopted, not because such practices require a healthy economy, but because of values placed on each," she explains. "Basically you have to establish the economy first because the public thinks the economy is most important."

• An emerging environmental conscience on the part of industry plays an important role in environmental sustainability.

"Industry in Alberta is becoming increasingly aware of the symbiotic relationship between it, the economy and the environment," notes Greenwood, who interviewed officials in government, environmental groups and industry.

The research suggests that a carrot and stick approach to regulation and enforcement works best. "The research warns against just the co-operative approach which produces the poorest compliance rate with environmental regulations," she says.

In Alberta, where the economy is stable, a co-operative approach combined with regulations that are enforced has produced a workable protection strategy. "It appears that industry in Alberta has adopted the theory it must embrace environmentally sustainable practices to continue being prosperous over the long term," Greenwood suggests.

B.C., on the other hand, has adopted a co-operative approach in which industry is given incentives to follow the regulations.

In B.C., the government is asking for industry's co-operation because "it requires a lot less money and is also less invasive," Greenwood says.

"In addition to an economic turnaround in its early stages and an apparent lack of environmental conscience on the part of industry, B.C.'s inferior environmental protection program may also be explained by the government's approach to enforcing environmental laws and regulations."

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