UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The cultural politics of a just transition in the Canadian Oil Sands Muzzerall, Parker


In order to prevent the most severe impacts of climate change, we must transition to a low-carbon energy system. However, the process of decarbonization faces significant cultural and political barriers, especially within fossil fuel producing regions where the impacts of decarbonization policy are felt most directly. To overcome these barriers, both scholars and policy makers have begun to call for a just transition for affected communities in an effort to centre justice and equity concerns in the process of decarbonization. While the limited attempts at implementing a just transition program have largely been confined to the coal sector, the Canadian Federal Government has started to develop a more expansive just transition framework for the entire fossil fuel sector. Little is known, though, about how those living and working in the Canadian Oil Sands, home to 97% of Canadian fossil fuel reserves, feel about this proposal. To address this gap, I orient this study around the question: how do those living and working in the Canadian Oil Sands interpret the proposal for a just transition? Using data collected through 18 semi-structured interviews with industry and community members in the Oil Sands town of Fort McMurray, I show how the cultural and political conditions endemic to fossil fuel producing regions are largely incommensurate with a just transition program as it is currently conceptualized in the scholarly literature and materialized through government policy. Drawing on my participants’ perspectives on climate change, low-carbon energy alternatives, regional politics, and the proposal for a just transition specifically, I offer evidence for this conclusion while also advocating for the continued development of just transition programs, albeit ones that center the localized cultural conditions and concerns of the communities for which they are intended to serve.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International