A Post-oil Newfoundland and Labrador?

Sure, the province decided to double-down on investment in oil in its last budget. That doesn’t change the fact that we’re heading toward a world with a lot less oil. There’s a lot of ink that could be spilled here about the various failures of leadership, citizenship and the media in getting us to the brink of a post oil-dependent world without any thought (never mind planning). But we want to focus on talking about what a future without oil might mean to us here. We’re not delivering solutions. We’re not prescribing tough medicine or pretending we know what medicine is the right kind. We are asking questions about what our future is going to be like and opening a dialogue. We’re hoping that, as a result, a few good ideas, some change-making energy, and some broader good comes of it all. We’re trying to move a mountain with a teaspoon, I know, but when a teaspoon is the only tool available to make change, you do what you can.


Asking the Big Questions

We  started with a set of discussion papers organized by Memorial University sociology professor Barb Neis in 2016, called Asking the Big Questions: Reflections on a Sustainable Post Oil-dependent Newfoundland and Labrador. Then we built a bunch of stories around the issues we read about in the papers: audio stories, flash fiction, opinion, and essays. We’ll drop new content every two weeks. 

You’ll read a flash fiction series by Bridget Canning, who wrote an incredible series of short fiction that grapples with our unhealthy relationship with oil and with our province. Are we looking to break-up with oil? With our province? Can we?

We recruited audio storyteller Rebecca Nolan to produce short sound stories from our interviews with people in the province who are thinking about the pervasive culture of oil, about Muskrat Falls, about food sustainability, about alternative energy and the economy, about design and art. Bridget Canning and I introduce each audio story. The first sets up the series in discussion with Barb Neis. 

We asked artist Katie Vautour to create stunning visual art in response to what we’re doing, and cartoonist Kevin Kendall is responding in cartoon illustrations. Hans Rollman is writing opinion and news stories that primarily focus on the economy and policy issues. We brought students on board over the summer. Stacey Seward, a journalism student at the University of King’s College and Dalhousie, wrote about wind energy. Olivia Robinson, a graduate student in English at MUN, focused on food security and the future of work. I’ll be writing about energy, food, design and about the important role of Indigenous resistance in shaping our possible futures. It’s been a lot of work, but here we are. 

Post-Oil or Post Oil-dependent?

Nobody could really agree about the hyphen, Neis told me when I sat down with her first time. That little detail always stayed with me. Post-oil or post oil-dependent? One little hyphen makes a big difference. Are we ever really going to be post-oil? Is that too idealistic a goal? Will the oil we’ve spilled into the world in various forms—from plastic to fuel—ever really go away? Or, should be be more practical and admit that we’re looking to become post oil-dependent first, that it’ll be generations before we can ever be something approaching post-oil? 

It’s an important question in a world where oil is the centre of current and future global power struggles. Some countries and regions are organizing to build alternative energy systems that provide jobs, build the local economy, and do not rely on global energy supply and demand fluctuations, systems that are gentle on the environment and on the people who create the energy and use it. Other counties and regions are finessing power tactics that will allow them to get the last most-valuable drops of oil and sell it for the highest prices, environment and people be damned. 

How will Newfoundland and Labrador react to a scarcity of oil? There are so many possibilities. That’s what we want to start talking about. We’re not going to find all the answers here. We’re not going to cover every topic. But we want to spark an imaginative response and get people thinking about the future of the province, a future that does not rely on oil. 

So here we are, launching our Post-Oil project. If you like something you’ve read, let us know. If you’d like to write for us about an oil-related topic, send an email with your idea. If you agree or disagree, let us know. 

I’d like to thank Barb Neis and the authors of the sixteen discussion papers for starting this discussion and for talking to us about their visions (or nightmares) for the future. 

Title: Oil and Ice by Katie Vautour Description: This work is meant to be a visual response that draws upon the timely and thought-provoking post-oil podcasts and writings, and hopefully strikes resonance with the listeners and readers.

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ABOUT OUR AUDIO STORYTELLER: Rebecca Nolan has always loved stories. Raised on a strict diet of fairytales and greek myths as a child, she decided to pursue a degree in folklore at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Through her degree, Rebecca fell in love with interviewing people from all walks of life. Now she spends most of her time making radio and trying to bring people’s stories to life. 

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