This week, the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada is partnering with the University of Alberta to host a two-day conference titled PetroCultures: Oil, Energy and Canada’s Future.

On Thursday and Friday, academics, industry, journalists and activists will gather to discuss and debate the social, cultural and political implications of Canada’s most controversial natural resource. Équiterre’s Steven Guilbeault will precede Sun New’s Ezra Levant while former Oilsands Developers Group Chair Ken Chapman will speak alongside lawyer Katherine Koostachin, specialist in Aboriginal, environmental and natural resource law.

The safety, health and environmental concerns surrounding the extraction and transportation of oil and gas has made for some bleak headlines these past few months. The Keystone XL pipeline project and the Lac Mégantic train disaster show the perils of having to move immense amounts of energy resources. Alberta’s landscape can attest to this and now we’re even talking about a Quebec petrol manifesto.

Conflicts over energy sources are of course not new; my generation grew up with wars being fought over the stuff. But with environmental disasters not only stemming from the production but also the use of fossil fuels, the repercussions go beyond our borders and are no longer a cause célèbre only for the left.

Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, one of the US’s top military officers, believes that climate change in the Asian-Pacific region poses the biggest long-term security threat to the area. Similarly, experts believe that sustained droughts exacerbated the underlying problems leading to Syria’s bloody civil-war.

Canada is not there yet, but our energy consumption and production habits are rightfully at the center of ongoing social debates.

Petrocultures 2014: Oil, Energy, and Canada’s Future runs Thursday and Friday at the McGill Faculty Club (3450 McTavish). For tickets and other information, see the Facebook event page or visit

Woman in green t-shirt

Despite the fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster and renewed fears about the safety of nuclear power, almost no country has taken a position against the controversial energy source, except one.   Europe’s economic engine and most populace country, Germany, has bucked the global trend and announced it will shut down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022, at the latest.

But ask Jana Wiechmann, Greenpeace coordinator for the northern German city of Bremen, if the battle over nuclear in Germany is won and the answer is simple: no.

“We think we can get out of nuclear energy even quicker, as soon as 2015,” said Wiechmann in an interview a week after the German government made its announcement.

Woman in green t-shirt

Wiechmann and her Greenpeace colleagues have been at the forefront of perhaps the world’s strongest anti-nuclear movement, and though their work has been instrumental in mobilizing the German public against nuclear power, she says abandoning nuclear by 2022 is not nearly soon enough.

In a document Greenpeace Germany calls Der Plan (The Plan), the organization details how the country can wean itself off nuclear power by 2015, seven years earlier than the current government commitment.

Nuclear power provides about 25 percent of Germany’s current electrical supply and in order to get off nuclear, another power source will have to replace this supply.   Greenpeace’s recommendation to decommission all nuclear plants by 2015 makes this a tall order, so much so that the environmental organization is recommending increased use of fossil fuel power plants to make it possible.   And what of the global warming problem or the pollution coal-fired plants create?

“If we have to choose between the risks of nuclear energy where we could nuke the area for thousands of years if I compare that with only the heating of the atmosphere then we choose coal because there is no better alternative,” said Wiechmann.   But she specified that, “coal can only be the bridge from nuclear power to renewable energies.”

The idea of increasing fossil fuel use may seem counterproductive when it comes to other Greenpeace priorities such as battling climate change, but this is an indication of the vehemence of the anti-nuclear movement in the country of nearly 82 million people.

The Greenpeace plan lays out on a year-by-year basis how Germany’s nuclear power plants can be shut down within four years.   Though coal- and natural gas-fired power plants are proposed by Greenpeace to help Germany move away from nuclear, renewable energy is what they see as the long term solution.

maps of Germany with energy icons

Germany is already a leader in renewable energies like wind, solar and biogas, but Der Plan takes the country even further.   “Other countries look at what we are doing and we have the responsibility to show the world what’s possible,” said Wiechmann.

She thinks other countries can watch the German example and use it to decide if they want coal power or if they want to import German technology, since German companies are also leaders in the manufacture and design of wind turbines and solar panels.

Critics may point to the plan to use coal to help fill the supply gap left by the absence of nuclear.  The organization’s plan intends to begin phasing out coal starting in 2016 and to go coal free by 2040.