Organizations and initiatives that rely on government funds are bound to suffer 

It may cost less to fill up the car, but the price of oil has far-reaching and detrimental effects.

With the Alberta government and economy so dependent on oil revenue, local environmentalists are worried that their concerns will be a low priority as the government focuses on reducing budgets.

“At a time when people are really having to look at resources and where to allocate resources, the environment will be seen as a luxury that we don’t really have to invest in,” said Danah Duke, executive director of the Miistakis Institute.

Conservation, stewardship and monitoring initiatives offered within the government are probably going to be reduced, Duke said. She said she is worried that these responsibilities will fall on the environmental sector when they don’t have the resources to take on the extra work.

Many environmental groups in Alberta are run by volunteers, or only have one to two staff members, said Duke. “Meanwhile, we are seeing the services required by those environmental groups increasing,” she added.

Duke is also the environment grant review committee co-chair of Alberta Ecotrust. She said she is“Sometimes the best changes that happen in systems, happen after a crisis because it forces us to respond.”

–Michael Quinnworried about what will happen to the trust. 

“Ecotrust follows this unique partnership model between the corporate sector and the environmental sector,” Duke said. “The financial support for Ecotrust comes from industry.”

Duke said she is concerned that the smaller environment organizations that rely on Ecotrust for funding will suffer. “There is a big concern there that falling oil prices might have negative consequences on resources available to Ecotrust,” she said.

Gassing up is cheap, but overall there is a bigger cost to the system. “Our health care system is going to suffer, our education system is going to suffer, there’s an overall cost of this current decline,” said Michael Quinn.

Photo by Jocelyn DollEnvironmental groups in Alberta are used to being creative when looking for funding, Duke said. Of the money granted to environmental groups in Canada in 2012, 4.9 per cent went to Alberta, compared to 45.2 per cent in British Columbia, according to a report released in 2014 by the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers’ Network.

Duke predicts that with the drop in oil prices, the Miistakis Institute will have to further diversify their funding sources.

Without funding for staff, reliance upon volunteers will increase, said Michael Quinn director of the Institute for Environmental Sustainability at Mount Royal University.

“It’s pretty hard to be in the volunteer sector, and be excited and ‘rah rah,’ trying to protect a particular place if you are trying to deal with all of these other pressures,” Quinn said. “It comes down to an overall societal moral.” 

On the other hand, this crisis might be just the time to push alternative energy sources.

“Sometimes the best changes that happen in systems, happen after a crisis because it forces us to respond,” Quinn said.

jdoll@cjournal.ca