Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg marched into the middle of Canada’s oilpatch Friday to urge people to stop fighting each other, focus on the science and take action.
“We cannot allow this crisis to continue to be a partisan, political question,” Thunberg said in a speech before thousands of people on the steps of the legislature.
“The climate and ecological crisis is far beyond party politics and the main enemy right now should not be any political opponents, because our main enemy is physics.”
Edmonton police estimated the size of the crowd at about 4,000, but organizers said more than 10,000 people jammed the plaza, parks and empty fountains of the legislature grounds.
The 16-year old from Sweden has taken her protest against climate change into a global movement that has seen her speak plainly to world leaders and forums, chastising them to do something before it’s too late to reverse catastrophic weather changes caused by global warming.
The crowd included children and teens who skipped school.
Thunberg said students want to be in class, but the climate crisis is an emergency that doesn’t allow for the luxury of time.
“We teenagers are not scientists, nor are we politicians. But it seems many of us, apart from most others, understand the science because we have done our homework,” she said. “And if you think we should be in school instead, then we suggest you take our place in the streets.
“Better yet, join us so we can speed up the process.”
The event was a cacophony of sights, sounds and smells.
There were thousands of climate change supporters, waving handmade signs ranging from personal (“We Love You Greta”) to profane (“Frack off Gassholes”).
They chanted “Greta! Greta! Greta!” and argued with dozens of counter-protesters, who in turn held up signs proclaiming love for pipelines, oil and gas and a desire to see Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau turfed in Monday’s federal election.
A convoy of pro oil and gas truckers passed by as Thunberg spoke, with the sound of their horns echoing through the plaza.
No politicians from Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government were spotted. Some windows in the legislature still had “I Love Canadian Oil and Gas” signs posted inside from a previous rally, while windows facing the plaza had the blinds shut.
There was the smell of burning sweetgrass as several Indigenous speakers banged drums and denounced the degradation of the environment.
And there was a heavy police and legislature security presence. A police helicopter also circled overhead.
After the noon-hour speeches, dozens of supporters on both sides squared off in the plaza’s empty wading pool to shout at each other: the climate activists telling oil supporters that their ignorance won’t save them; the other side yelling to stop living in a fantasy world of no conventional energy.
There were earnest talks and a few middle fingers flashed before police waded in to gently break up the standoff.
On the way to the rally, a crowd of people stretching two city blocks first marched with Thunberg through part of Edmonton’s downtown.
At one point three young men tried to rush the teen, but organizers kept them back, said Joe Vipond with the Calgary Climate Hub. Several climate activists locked their arms around Thurnberg.
“We just want to make sure she’s safe,” said Vipond, who travelled to Edmonton with two busloads of Calgarians to support Thunberg.
“She’s the voice of this generation,” he said. “She’s put herself out there. Can you imagine as a 16-year-old taking all this on? She needs all the support she can get.”
Others involved in the rally said they like Thunberg’s message.
“We’re so big on oil, gas and pipelines and stuff like that,” said 11-year-old Ingrid Fredrick. ”It’s going to be hard for her to convince a lot of people here like she convinced me.”
Zachary Neufeld, 18, works in Fort McMurray and went to the rally with a few friends carrying signs that read, “I Love Canadian Energy.” They said they believe in climate change, but there’s a way to make fewer emissions while keeping jobs.
“It’s really important that we keep those jobs, especially in Alberta, because that’s a lot of our economy,” Neufeld said.
Oil and gas has been central to Alberta’s economy for generations, but the debate has become increasingly divisive in recent years. Demand for action on climate change is increasing while a sluggish petro-economy has seen thousands of Albertans thrown out of work.
Kenney won the spring election, in part, on a platform that paints Alberta as being victimized by a federal Liberal government determined to gut the industry through inaction or harmful regulation.
Kenney has also launched a $30-million war room along with a public inquiry to root out what he says are foreign interests pulling the strings of climate activists to keep Alberta’s core industry down. And his government has gutted a climate change program launched by the previous NDP government, including a consumer carbon tax.
Kenney had said his government didn’t plan on meeting with Thunberg and, during the rally Friday, he visited a power plant near Edmonton that’s switching from coal to cleaner natural gas.
“This is the kind of real, practical, technological solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Kenney said.
Dean Bennett and Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press