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But politicians are fiddling while Canada combusts

Bill-WhitelawHave you heard about Canada’s unjust energy transition?

Better pay attention: it’s unfolding before your very eyes.

The unjust transition will cost people jobs, create new and more insidious types of energy poverty, and accelerate negative environmental impact – the very opposite effects of what the putative notion of a just transition is intended to achieve.

We’re in an alarmingly unjust phase of energy transition now for many reasons but looming large among them is the petty politicking between Alberta and Ottawa. It’s dressed up in sovereignty sound-bite feel-good platitudes and the like, but in reality, it’s a semantical tug-of-war between the uber-woke and the uber-unwoke. It’s not about finding common ground at all; it’s about a startling amalgam of profound myopia exacerbated by ideological dogmatism.

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Meanwhile, Canadians who occupy some sane middle ground between those two polarizing extremes are being shortchanged out of direct involvement in what is the single largest collaboration challenge of their lifetimes.

It’s also the single largest economic opportunity ever – one that will continue to roll out over decades – if it’s led and managed correctly and maturely.

In a nutshell, if we don’t get energy transition right – as a Canadian collective – to be colloquial, we’re screwed six ways to Sunday.

And it’s all because politicians want us to believe in their overwrought faux earnestness about the importance of people and their energy lives.

Talk about fiddling while Canada combusts.

If Canadians are to “get” energy transition, we must figure out how to move beyond “just” and “transition” as words of mass destruction and reimagine them as words of mass (and collaborative) construction.

We won’t get there with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau poking at each other about things neither really understands well enough to make a difference; their general ignorance about the nuts and bolts of transition makes them more dangerous than useful to the cause. An energy-illiterate media compounds the rancour and animosity and plays a major role in fanning the flames of adversity.

It’s common in “oil and gas” these days to hear the rallying cry: “We have to change the narrative.” That belies a fundamental ignorance about what narratives are and how they’re built. Nobody gets to construct a narrative; rather, narratives are self-forming phenomena generated from discourses – how people talk about things and make their meaning about them shape perceptions that politicians all too often misinterpret as mandates.

Right now, the energy transition discourse is reeling and caroming around society like a drunken sailor, thanks to political jousting.

So, here’s a sanity solution: find someone who knows a little bit about discursive change and invite them to the party.

Take an organization that sits and thinks right in that middle ground, one which is sufficiently pragmatic, but simultaneously just a tiny bit woke. An organization whose ethos is all about constructively radicalizing that middle ground to engineer an approach to our energy future in which all Canadians can see themselves making a difference.

Come on down Energy Futures Lab.

The Energy Futures Lab is a social innovation lab built around the passions, talent and experience of about 45 women and men bound together by a common set of values and visions. It has just announced its new fellowship cohort, which now includes bright and creative minds like Marie Sereneo and David Ghoris. They’re ready for the challenge.

Then take a brilliantly perspicacious individual with no dog in the Canadian energy transition fight; someone who can dispassionately but authoritatively advise Canadians about their energy transition conduct in a global leadership context.

Come on down Tisha Schuller of Adamantine Energy.

Schuller is an energy-transition thought leader in every sense of the term. Her firm, U.S.-based Adamantine, is all about shifting perspectives on the processes we need to ensure a successful – and de-risked – transition. Schuller herself thrives on deconstructing – and then reconstructing – the paradoxical idea that two seemingly opposing notions can both be simultaneously true.

Here are two things that are both true: the world will be using fossil fuels and their product derivatives for decades to come. But the terms and conditions of those various uses will be fundamentally different than they are even today – and that includes oil and gas becoming increasingly integrated and interlocked within a system-of-systems approach to energy supply.

If the Alberta premier and Canadian prime minister were authentically invested enough in getting transition right, they might invite the Energy Futures Lab and Adamantine Energy teams together on this premise: Create a multi-dimensional transition framework that accounts for all the things we ought to worry about, including but not limited to the following.

  • An ever-healing environment
  • Indigenous reconciliation
  • Future employment and skills development
  • Clean technology innovation
  • Global sustainability leadership
  • Energy prosperity and economic stability
  • Regulatory tools that protect environmental integrity while supporting economic competitiveness
  • Well-defined milestones and related objectives by critical timelines out to 2050 and beyond
  • Perhaps most important: A guide to energy transition civics and literacy that helps ordinary Canadians step up, be heard, be seen and be active.

Political posturing and ad hominem attacks will do nothing to advance these dynamics, so politicians ought to just get out of the way of doing “just” the right way.

The power of conjoining EFL and Adamantine perspectives rests in a pragmatism inspired by a passion for change and an ethos for effectiveness – apolitically.

Indeed, their collaboration might also produce another semantical shift: one that transforms “just” from a fuzzy, poorly defined adjective into an active and inspiring verb – a variation on the Nike theme: JUST DO IT.

That’s something Canadians can countenance.

Bill Whitelaw is the Managing Director of Strategy & Sustainability with Geologic Systems.

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