CALGARY — Realtor Cody Battershill has heard the stories of Calgarians travelling abroad being met with disgust when they tell people where they’re from. He’s watched a parade of celebrities — Neil Young, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Redford — come to Alberta to denounce Alberta.
The oil and gas industry has a lot more money than the environmental activists, Mr. Battershill says, but the activists appear to be winning the PR war — as witnessed by the decision Monday of the Rockefeller family, which made a vast fortune on oil, to sell all their oil assets.
“Those attacking and opposing the industry, they’re quick and nimble and can get things going quickly. Industry might take 10 times as long to reply,” he said.
“When people are calling Fort Mac — calling a city in Alberta — an open sewer, ground zero for climate change, or they’re calling it Hiroshima, that adds a lot of fear and emotion to the argument that’s not supported by the facts, but industry can’t respond the same way. The industry has to respond with facts and it takes them a long time to do so,” he said.
So Mr. Battershill has become a one-man oil sands advocate. His organization, Canada Action, received not-for-profit status on Friday — an accomplishment he marked with a 600-person party in Fort McMurray on the same day. Canada Action sells sweatshirts, t-shirts — even a black-and-white onesie — all proudly proclaiming: “I love oil sands.”
Despite the unabashedly pro-oilsands mantra, Mr. Battershill insists he’s seeking only a more balanced conversation on bitumen.
“I think a lot of the people I’ve talked to in the area are tired of seeing celebrities come and basically smear the community. It’s a great place to live, it’s a vibrant city and people are tired of the rhetoric. They want a balanced conversation, and a more inclusive conversation,” he said.
Mr. Battershill — the creator of a popular blog called Calgaryism — decided to start advocating for Alberta’s oil and gas sector in 2010 after a cosmetics company began campaigning against the oil sands. Mr. Battershill said he felt the activism was one-sided.
“It got under my skin and it bugged me, so I started a Twitter account and I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said.
Mr. Battershill maintains no direct connections to the industry itself; he’s been a realtor for 10 years. His advocacy is still fledgling. Only about 2,500 t-shirts have been sold so far — most of them to himself and his volunteers for handouts.
Mr. Battershill said he is cognizant of the real environmental concerns with the oil sands, and concedes that the industry “not perfect.” He does not deny climate change.
However, the hype about Canada’s oil and gas industry often doesn’t match its actual impact, he said.
“If we burned every single barrel in the oil sands reserve, it would increase global temperatures by 0.02C,” he said. “Even figureheads, [such as] Bill McKibben have been quoted as saying that the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline is symbolic. As Canadians, if we’re going to make decisions that have vast impacts on the future of the economy and our children, we need to have those conversations based on facts, not symbolism.”
Much of Mr. Battershill’s activism seems to stem from a deeply rooted patriotism. Those stories of Calgarians being insulted while travelling abroad fill him with defensiveness and dread: “This has become an issue of pride for me, for Calgary, Alberta, and Canada.”
Indeed, along with the oil sands t-shirts, his online store also sells t-shirts expressing affection for each of the provinces, mugs extolling B.C. liquid natural gas, as well as bandanas and baseball caps.
He hopes to start a national movement.
“I’m speaking at conferences this fall. I want to continue to grow this, I want to see Canadians join the conversation and I want to provide a vehicle to the silent majority so they can feel like they can speak up.”
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