In the last decade, most policy makers came to accept – in theory – that rich countries such as Canada must cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% over the next 40-50 years, to try and avoid catastrophic climate change. But in practice, hard realities, often paralyze even the best intentions. Switching to renewables on a large on a large scale carries publicly unpopular costs, from higher electricity bills to flooding for new dams, even as the country’s regional tensions pit so-called “hydro” provinces against “hydrocarbon” provinces.
Looking for a way through this deadlock, Michael Cleland sees the problem in our fixation on how energy is produced, rather than how it is used. This is especially perverse for anyone who cares about the environment, he argues, since Canada’s biggest green energy opportunities lie in cutting consumption and waste. Our per-capita energy use is the 3rd-highest in the 34-member OECD, but Canadians already have many ways at hand to reduce both energy demand and its environmental impact, from new heating technologies to planning cities differently – big opportunities that don’t set province against province, and would allow the breathing room for a transition away from high-carbon energy.
Michael Cleland is Nexen Executive in Residence at the Canada West Foundation; Secretary/Treasurer of QUEST; former federal Assistant Deputy Minister for Energy; and former CEO & President of the Canadian Gas Association.