This is where we are and what we have to do


Below is the blog I was working on Wednesday while our building in Ottawa was in lockdown. It would not have been possible without the sacrifice and courage demonstrated in front of the War Memorial and in the halls of Parliament. I speak on behalf of the entire Sierra Club Canada community in expressing our gratitude, our sorrow and our hope this never happens again.

John Bennett, National Program Director
Sierra Club Canada Foundation


This is where we are and what we have to do

Next week I'll be attending the 25th anniversary meeting of the Climate Action Network Canada -- an organization I led from 1998 to 2007. I had no idea I’d end up with the job when Kai Millyard called me about forming the network back in 1989.

Twenty-five years is a long time to work on an issue -- especially one that has always required urgent action -- but this is where we are and what we have to do.

As part of the upcoming climate gathering, we’ll be meeting with some of the party leaders. With an election looming, you can imagine the buzz generated among particiapnts with a chance of influencing party platforms in the cards. So we had a conference call to discuss what to propose. I felt a real sense of nostalgia...there was hope in the voices I hadn’t heard in many years.

But as I listened, I grew increasingly concerned. The proposals centered on green energy, carbon pricing and international targets (what we like to call “high-level” issues). After the call, a new paper on incentives for green energy (electricity) was circulated and it looked like it might become the centre piece of our ‘ask’.

This paper does have good ideas for green electricity, and they should be part of an overall climate strategy, but for the purposes of the discussion – what to pitch to the NDP, Liberals, Conservatives and Greens – I’d rather talk about platform planks that are well within the federal government’s scope of possible immediate actions, have a large impact on emissions, and will get votes, of course.

The greenest form of energy is energy not generated. Conservation and efficiency should be in the forefront of the discussion and our ask.

Fundamentally, electricity is not really the GHG challenge in most parts of the country, so incenting a new green supply will not have a large (enough) impact on emissions.

Demand-side actions have delivered more than half of the work in reducing GHG intensity in our economy so far, and will be required to do more than half of the remaining work if we're to reach a low carbon future.

Electricity is a highly regulated provincial responsibility. If the federal government tries to play in this area, it will likely involve itself in a protracted quagmire and only reach a tiny portion of emission reduction goals.

Take rural Ontario, for example. Won’t any party that campaigns for green energy be targeted by the anti-wind fanatics, who can make it a wedge issue in many ridings? It's worth noting that it cost the provincial Liberals seats in the 2011 election.

Should we not be proposing policies that federal parties can quickly put in place, will be popular with the public, give us the biggest bang for the buck, and--most importantly--be easily communicated and have the potential to catch the imagination of voters?

Will talking about transmission lines, smart grids and storage inspire anyone to vote for a political party? I think not.

I’m concerned our affection (obsession) for policy continues to cloud our thinking. Hasn’t the research and our experience taught us to look for ways of making our demands relevant, positive and immediate? How does a clean energy infrastructure fund fit in this frame? Yet we continue to talk about carbon pricing and green energy as though we live in a separate world.

I reached out to one of Canada’s foremost authorities on energy and was urged to look at conservation and efficiency as primary solutions to climate change while addressing other societal challenges. Offer political leaders win-win policies, I was advised. Then he reminded me that we have a generation of educated under- and unemployed youth in Canada who need to be engaged.

Got Work?

How better to engage youth than by putting them to work with a National Climate Change Youth Employment Program focused on deep retrofitting of buildings, conservation, etc.? Thousands could be put to work in their own communities, tomorrow! It’s as simple and easy to communicate it as it is to implement.

To paraphrase former Prime Minister Jean Chretien: ‘People feel good when they see things being built and activity in the economy’.

Isn’t this the kind of idea a political party can get behind? Won’t it put climate change into the realm of top issues people care about today?

If you agree with me CLICK HERE and sign our petition for a National Climate Change Youth Employment Program.

On the other hand, we can keep talking about smart grids and transmission lines.

Thanks for your ongoing support and encouragement.

John Bennett, National Program Director
Sierra Club Canada Foundation
1510-1 Nicholas Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7
John on Twitter / Bennett Blog