We stayed in Canmore and visited a local museum about the history of the town as a coal mining center and then a cement-producing one. It included a virtual reality trip through a coal mine that was pretty cool and gave me an appropriate sense of claustrophobia. The coal mine closed down in 1979. The cement plant still operates, digging into a mountain of pure limestone, and even though the company destroyed half the town to expand its operations, people quoted in the museum all seemed to think it was worth it to preserve jobs. The man who drove us to our hotel from the Calgary airport said the company is very environmentally conscientious and donates to things like Little League baseball. Sounds like greenwashing to me.
Along the hiking trails in town are many exhibits explaining what’s happening there, and they all mention the negative impacts people have on the environment, including other species. It’s kind of a different take than we usually see in the U.S.
Another day we visited the Canadian Rockies Earth Sciences Resource Center. There were three young PhD student geologists there who all talked to us about the history of oil, gas and coal in the region. They said that the oil we’re drilling for is the result of fish (and plant life, I later learned) that decomposed in the water way before the dinosaurs and the creation of oil deposits had nothing to do with dinosaurs, which was news to me. They were gung-ho on continued fossil fuel development, which they said could be done safely for the climate, and added that there are “two sides” to the issue of such development warming the climate. I think Rob and I were both a little shocked, or at least disappointed, but I guess we shouldn’t have been, as they know what side their bread is buttered on. They, of course, hope to see the Keystone XL pipeline built, which would bring 800,000 barrels a day of tar sands from Alberta into the U.S. I mentioned I’d been arrested trying to stop it.
The lead guide on our Road Scholar program was a guy in his mid-60s who wasn’t exactly a climate change denier but had an interesting take on the issue. He said the glaciers – which are currently receding – have always advanced and receded over millennia, so he downplayed the human-caused heating that’s happening now. No sense of urgency.
We drove to Lake Louise (pictured above) and as I was standing looking out at the turquoise water and the glacier behind it, I remembered standing in the exact same place in 1961 on a trip out west with my family. I imagine the glacier was smaller this time, but I really couldn’t say. (Photo below is of Moraine Lake, which was much deeper turquoise. We learned the color comes from refraction of light on the "glacial flour" or finely ground particles that come off a melting glacier.)
It was tough to make the decision to fly, since that contributes so much to CO2 emissions. We might not do vacations that way again.