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Thousands of climate strikers gather at legislature in Edmonton

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Climate strike in Edmonton. Image: David J. Climenhaga

I don't know if the thousands of young Climate Action Strike protesters who gathered on the frigid doorstep of the Alberta legislature yesterday frighten Premier Jason Kenney and his angry fossil fuel warriors, but they ought to.

Yes, the fired-up but well-behaved crowd of truants and their supporters in Alberta's capital, estimated by its organizers from Climate Justice Edmonton at 4,000 people and probably considerably bigger, was dwarfed by the multitudes of climate-change protesters elsewhere in Canada -- 20,000 in Victoria, more than 100,000 in Vancouver, and well over 300,000 in Montreal.

And, yes, none of this is particularly good news for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his ridiculous "war room" strategy and belligerent defence of doing things the way we've always done them in Alberta, which is to say, without much consideration for the planet.

But it seems probable that in the long term the concerns of these soon-to-be voters have the potential to be the worst news for Kenney and his party, if not an impediment to his immediate plans.

Certainly one would have thought the UCP would take note, regardless of the party's undeniable success in last April's provincial election, and treat the concerns of such a large group with a little respect.

Nevertheless, UCP ministers and MLAs seem to have all taken a powder yesterday, trailing impolite tweets from their online rage machine.

The boys in short pants, the party's sophomoric political staffers and paid social media trolls, plastered I-[HEART]-[MAPLE LEAF]-Oil+Gas placards in the windows of their bottom-floor offices in the stately and historic legislature building. Remember, these are supposed to be the grown-ups with jobs.

Contrast this with the previous government's reaction to the glowering crowd of 1,000 or angry and sometimes threatening farmers protesting the NDP's farm-safety legislation at the same address in November 2015. NDP ministers went outside and worked the crowd, respectfully listening and arguing their case.

UCP MLAs and political staffers may have truck-nuts on their pickups, but when it comes to going out in the cold and talking to folks who disagree with them, there's not much sign of the real thing.

Seeing George Clark in (climate) action

It was interesting if not particularly instructive to hear George Clark, best known in Alberta as the #Kudatah Guy who back in 2016 promised to magically remove the NDP government without an election, in a "debate" with energy journalist Markham Hislop attended by about 40 people in Edmonton Thursday.

Hislop took what might be called the Notley position: More pipelines are needed now, but we also need counterbalancing action to reduce carbon emissions and a plan for the day folks won't want to buy our fossil fuels. He relied on arguments and statistics mostly gleaned from interviews with academics and fossil fuel industry executives.

Clark took a modified Kenney position that I would characterize as, drill, baby, drill; the world will always want our oil. He seemed to rely mainly on anecdotes about what real Albertans think and outlandish claims like the notion large oil and gas companies favouring carbon taxes are run by "environmental socialists."

I'm simplifying, but you can watch it yourself if you have the fortitude. However, you'll have to look it up since I've long been banned from Clark's Facebook page.

There was nobody there to offer the argument made by 4,000 or more protesters at the legislature yesterday, that we'd better have climate action right now or we soon won't have a planet to live on.

That said, it's my considered opinion Hislop mopped the floor with Clark, as far as it went.

Additional entertainment was provided from the floor of an east Edmonton private school gymnasium by the well informed and always argumentative Joe Anglin, former Green Party leader and Wildrose Party MLA turned dissident.

A note on crowd sizes

Crowd sizes are always hard to estimate. Mainstream media are notorious for seriously underestimating them.

The CBC put the size of yesterday's Climate Action Strike protest at about 2,000 people, ludicrously low. The event's organizers said about 4,000 people attended, which is clearly more accurate just by eyeballing photos of the crowd. This estimate seems to have been accepted by most reporters.

However, given the number of people coming and going and the huge area in which the crowd was gathered, I would estimate it as much higher, with participation probably closer to 8,000 people throughout the four-hour event.

I've been going to these things and taking photos for more than 20 years. I was certainly not alone yesterday in thinking this was the largest crowd in front of the legislature I've ever seen.

Moreover, it was also the only really large crowd that didn't have participants bused in by deep-pocketed organizers from other parts of Alberta. No, this was made up mostly of high school and university students who walked or took public transit to the protest.

So this represents real commitment by a large community of like-minded people, and hard work by talented young organizers. If I were a UCP strategist, I'd give that a more respectful and serious response than a few snotty, misspelled tweets and sticking signs in some windows.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: David J. Climenhaga​

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