Social License

By Matt Palmer


I have been fortunate in the course of preparing my project to have gained support from some excellent institutions. These include the University of Calgary Institute of Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy, the University of Waterloo Institute of Sustainable Environment and the Canada West Foundation. The Canada West Foundation is a Calgary based think tank, and they were a partner on my 2005 oil sands documentary “Pay Dirt”. They are a great organization doing important work about the future of Western Canada and Canada as a whole. I was honoured recently when they included me as an interviewee in their book “Catching a Rising Tide”.


They have a valuable website was launched last year called “Let’s Talk Energy”. ( On this website they publish regular blogs and opinion pieces about energy and energy policy. It is a great resource. I do lots of reading about energy, but there is so much to read and think about, it is impossible to get to it all. However, there is a great piece today on Canada West’s site about the importance of social license in energy development written by Michael Cleland and Dr Roger Gibbins. The link to this piece is below and I highly recommend it because it highlights a very important issue about the future of energy development.


Most of us are aware of the current waves of discontent that have been gaining momentum over the last few years. It began with the rise of the Tea Party Movement in the US and then last year with he Occupy Movement. What is fascinating to me, is how quick people are to dismiss or make fun of these movements. Yes they do have elements to them that are easy to make fun of, colourful characters and ridiculous rhetoric, however to ignore what is at the core of these movements is politically and socially dangerous.


I find it fascinating that more has not been said about the commonalities in what these two seemingly disparate groups are talking about. The Tea Party is a group of right-wing crazies, and the Occupiers are left-wing radicals, right? At the core of what both groups are concerned and fed up with though are issues like unfair distribution of wealth, ineffective government, and corporate malfeasance. They may not express these in the same way, but many of the core issues are similar, but they have very different thoughts about how to solve them. Now some may point out that the Occupy Movement never really expressed what they care about or any solutions – but there are discernible messages if you look.


What it comes down to is that corporations, governments, and the elite in society have lost the trust of the public. We have allowed democratic processes and institutions to be controlled more by special interests than by the people. Society has become polarized. Liberal, Conservative, NDP, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Anarchist – these are the titles we ascribe to ourselves to define who we are or how we see the world. It has become more challenging to find true debate (where people listen and think not just scream opinions), and a large part of this problem can be ascribed to the mass media’s obsession with conflict. But that is an easy explanation, because in the end we are the consumers of what the mass media produces, the ones who watch or read what is put in front of us. We love to watch the train wreck that is the Republican Primary process right now, for example. It entertains us because we can sit in judgment. Judgement is easy and doesn’t require much challenge to your own status quo. We seem to be afraid to turn off the tv or search for more depth in our news. We want the easily digestible sound bites because they fit into our fast paced world. And, all the better if those sound bits fit our intellectual paradigm, and even easier to dismiss and deride opinions that don’t fit our model. It’s even fun to mock differing opinions.


Take a moment to read the following article. It’s a great read and brings up some interesting items to think about and discuss with others. When we look at what is happening in the world, and especially at what is happening in the current iteration of energy debates whether it is pipelines or wind farms, how easy it is to label opposition groups as radicals, or government policies as fascist. Real change comes from challenging ideas, choices, and providing constructive feedback and ideas.



About Unintended Consequences Documentary Project

I'm Producing and directing a multi-platform documentary project on global energy called "Unintended Consequences".
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