Tuesday 25th June 2019

Resource Clips


Reason over emotion

Resource Works marks five years of fact-based activism

by Greg Klein

One sign of encouragement for British Columbia’s embattled resource industries came in the province’s February throne speech, when the New Democratic Party government declared that B.C.’s “traditional industries—forestry and mining, oil and gas, fisheries and farming, and renewable electricity—power our economy and form the bedrock of our communities.”

Many saw the statement as a long-overdue acknowledgment, but Stewart Muir also sensed evidence of his organization’s success. “A few years ago people weren’t saying that,” the executive director of Resource Works points out. “People were saying, ‘We want a tech economy, we want to get Facebook and Microsoft jobs, because that’s our future.’ Now it’s becoming more common to hear recognition that many of our most innovative and high-tech jobs, also the best-paying ones, are in resource-related fields.”

Resource Works marks five years of fact-based activism

If public awareness has shifted, he and his group can take considerable credit. As Muir looks back on five years of activity, he can contrast then and now.

The genesis was actually 2013, when a provincial election campaign seemingly made an NDP government certain. That brought fears of another “dismal decade” like the NDP administration of 1991 to 2001, when B.C.’s economy sank despite robust performance in other parts of Canada. A group of people connected with resources looked for ways to express their industries’ message in the face of the official indifference, if not outright hostility, that they anticipated.

They recruited Muir, a journalist and historian who was then a director of The Nature Trust of British Columbia, and put together a board and advisory council. Resource Works formally began operations in April 2014 with the publication of its first economic study. The NDP victory, surprisingly, didn’t happen until May 2017. And that was a minority government propped up by the Greens. Nevertheless the last throne speech clearly sounded a positive note, much to Muir’s delight and the industries’ relief.

It’s hard to overlook Resource Works’ influence. After five years Muir and his group can point to numerous research reports, a great many media articles, media interviews, public appearances, rallies, a growing social media presence and ongoing consultations with first nations and other communities across the province. Through all that the organization encourages respectful dialogue backed up by objective, verifiable facts.

Resource Works marks five years of fact-based activism

Stewart Muir: Bridging material
necessity with environmental realism.
(Photo: Resource Works)

A fifth anniversary luncheon featured a speech by Vivian Krause, who has traced the American sources of hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for Canadian environmental activists.

As for his group’s sponsorship, it initially consisted of a three-year commitment from “25 or so funders who came together through the Business Council of British Columbia,” Muir tells ResourceClips.com. “That made us essentially an industry-funded group but it was important to show that we were doing something that was responsible and accountable. So we created a non-profit society and appointed a board of directors. We have our advisory council from communities, we have mayors, first nations, and that helps validate our work. I think that’s what makes us different, and we’re doing something that’s based on research.”

Along with wide-ranging support, the group stands on its credibility, he emphasizes. “I’ve spent decades in major newsrooms where anything we published had to pass the test of being true and I don’t see that the movements opposed to resource development apply those tests. They seem to just drive what they think they can get away with, and they create a lot of alarm and confusion that isn’t based on facts.”

The group’s biggest challenge is countering emotion with reason, he says. With social media, “everything is reduced to a meme or a six-second audio or video clip, or an animation…. People are retreating into these small information bubbles that are driven by emotion. At the same time, the people who have influence over voters and decision-makers have changed a lot. Politicians, business leaders and academics used to have more influence. Nowdays one person talking to another is almost the most powerful influence in how people make decisions. That’s what polling research that I’ve reviewed says. So I think we need to provide something that will make people successful in having conversations with others…. It’s about one-to-one relationships and social media.”

According to online poll results commissioned by LNG Canada and released earlier this month, 79% of respondents across Canada and 71% of those in B.C. support resource development. The findings “broadly support” those of previous polls including a February 2017 survey for Resource Works, the group stated.

What we’re hearing from is a small group who are very vocal, who are very good at engaging with emotion and who, as we learned here today, are very well supported with money to do their work.

But such sentiments get relatively little media coverage, Muir says. “What we’re hearing from is a small group who are very vocal, who are very good at engaging with emotion and who, as we learned here today, are very well supported with money to do their work. They’ve been disproportionately successful in swaying not just the public but also politicians who tend to err on what they see as the side of caution, which is: ‘No, let’s not risk a noisy protest against us. So we’re not going to build that pipeline, we’re not going to allow access to that land base, we’re not going to allow that mine to proceed.’”

Yet Muir remains optimistic, partly through a global perspective on the future. An estimated 10 billion people by 2050 will need ever more resources for energy consumption, not to mention food and other necessities.

“If we have a new generation that’s being told in school we can’t harm the earth, I’m glad they get that message. But if the next step is we can’t do anything to extract resources, how is that generation going to live the life that they think is coming? I think it’ll be a very disappointing time if all these prescriptions that we have to radically change society take place…. There’s no solution there that doesn’t involve an enormous amount of human misery.”

As for his group’s future, “what I heard today is Resource Works has to keep going. We need to enlist more people to share our information so we want to have more gatherings and reach more people. I feel really good that we have got through what is a very difficult space. We want to continue with that because something’s working.”

Read more about Resource Works.

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