I once interviewed former Edmonton mayor Steve Mandel, just as he was considering running for mayor. It was a ho-hum interview, not much to remember. But he made one point I will never forget. “Doesn’t matter how much the city’s economy grows,” he said, using his hands to make a widening circle. “If there’s any contraction,” he said, bringing his hands closer together, “no matter what, it’s going to hurt like hell.”

No truer words have ever been said. Which is why most of us are mystified by the non-negotiable, end-of-fossil-fuel stance espoused by many in our midst. These environmental “progressives” are willing to risk a major drop in Alberta’s standard of living by ending our major industry … no matter how minimal its contribution to global warming may be.

Here we are, celebrating 50 years since the opening of the first commercial oilsands mine in Fort McMurray. The Sun’s excellent six-part series on the oilsands caps off Saturday.

Raise a glass to the oilsands! Nobody can question the economic wealth that has flowed into Greater Edmonton since that first Great Canadian Oil Sands plant began producing 50,000 barrels of “synthetic crude” a day by 1973.

With Suncor’s latest Fort Hills mine now starting to produce oil, total daily oilsands production is inching up from 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) to 3 million bpd, where, with current day prices, it’s likely to stabilize for some time.

How has the oilsands helped the local economy? In 1976, the populations of Greater Winnipeg and Greater Edmonton were neck and neck, about 500,000 each. By 2016, 40 years later, thanks mainly to job opportunities created by the oilsands, Edmonton’s population has grown to 1.3 million, more than 50% bigger than Winnipeg’s 811,500 residents.

University of Alberta School of Business Dean Joseph Doucette points to the scientific and research expertise around the energy sector: The industry has supplied challenges, and the resources to solve those challenges, in dozens of academic fields, he says. “The university would still be here without the oilsands. But certainly not with this expertise.”

Of course there’s a trade-off between industry and environment. Extracting and processing Canada’s natural resources — mining, forestry, hydro-electric dams – requires some environmental compromise.

But the most beautiful and greatest story of the last 50 years has been the continuous environmental improvements in and around the oilsands. Atmospheric emissions and water use have dropped dramatically. Tailings ponds will eventually disappear thanks to new technologies enforced by strict regulation. Underground oilsands extraction, with far less impact than surface mines, is taking over from open-pit mining. The new underground extraction technologies minimize water use and drop emissions down to near zero.

The chief economist for the International Energy Agency famously said a few years ago that, on a world scale, CO2 emissions from the oilsands were not a problem. All the additional oilsands CO2 emissions for the next 25 years, he said, would equal a single day’s worth of emissions from Chinese coal plants and industry.

How astounding that even Albertans benefiting so much from oil and gas have been so brain-washed as to simply refuse to accept evidence that clean oil from Canada’s oilsands can be part of the SOLUTION to global warming, that from our oil and natural gas we can produce some of the cheapest energy in the world with minimal environmental side-effects.

How ironic that while Burnaby, B.C. and Montreal are up in arms about theoretical oil spills from new or expanded pipelines, Edmonton has never had a major pipeline rupture or accident in its 113 years, and only one evacuation when a backhoe hit a Will Woods gas line in 1979.

Yet Edmonton’s residential neighbourhoods are riddled with major pipelines! One of the biggest oil pipelines in Canada runs through the neighbourhood of Lansdowne, then under the Whitemud Creek, through the neighbourhoods of Brookside and Riverbend, under the North Saskatchewan River then through the city’s west end.

As a nature lover, canoeist and backpacker, I don’t particularly like big industry barging in on the pristine beauty of the wilderness as does oilsands development.

I’m surprised and disappointed that Teck Resources would even think about — way off in the future — building yet another $20.6 billion open-pit mine north of Fort McMurray. Even more surprising, most of the surrounding First Nation bands and Metis groups support the project. Why would we even think about building more open mines, when underground extraction is so much cleaner?

But, overall, I accept the trade-off: A wilderness area the size of Toronto has been industrialized in return for the material benefits that have accrued to all Albertans and Canadians … especially with the land being returned to a natural state once the mining is finished.

To the oilsands! Cheers! Another 50 years at least! But all new oilsands projects should be underground, okay?