Bill WhitelawCanadians need to keep calm and carbon on.

It’s sound guidance even for those who want to engage more deeply in the critical conversations around carbon that will be so key in shaping Canada’s economic and energy future.

But how long Canadians can remain calm is uncertain.

Right now, many are legitimately frustrated by the various echo chambers surrounding Canada’s carbon conversations.

Echo chambers? Essentially social constructs in which like-minded people talk to each other in a self-reinforcing and self-fulfilling way. If your perspective isn’t shared or is untenable in some way to the prevailing sound, you’re not part of the echo effect. You’re just ignored.

It’s a lot like a hamster wheel: lots of momentum but energy wasted.

Provincial climate leadership plans are echo chambers of sorts. So are independent commissions and think-tanks with carbon perspectives. Carbon tax proponents reinforce their belief systems, as do cap-and-trade proponents.

It amounts to a whole lot of ambiguity and complexity if you’re on the outside looking in. And while average Canadians may not know a lot about carbon dynamics, they know this country is rapidly nearing a critical carbon crossroads.

At that crossroads will be tough choices.

But rather than being ready to be constructive participants in important dialogues on those choices, Canadians are caught in carbon crossfire of the echo chambers. A bewildering swirl of headlines, soundbites and tweets each extols a particular perspective. Politicians, bureaucrats, policy wonks, economists, industry leaders and environmental non-governmental organizations are doing what they do best: talking to (and shouting at) each other rather than to ordinary Canadians.

Canada has two clear choices: the path clearly marked Carbon Coherence or Carbon Conflict, which is pretty much an extension of the road we’re on.

Carbon Coherence presupposes a commitment by all stakeholders to be more inclusive. That means a processes that includes anyone with a reasoned opinion. It also presupposes that Canadians commit to learning.

Carbon Conflict is merely an extension of the current state – but one that promises a future exponentially more divisive.

It’s lamentable that carbon stakeholders are losing teachable moments for all Canadians. But it’s particularly egregious that we have failed to think about next-generation carbon conversations. In 2030, say, do we want the dialogue to be as polarizing and non-productive as it is now? Or do we want it conducted in a way that allows society to constructively shape policy, taxation and regulation? Do we want it to occur in a way that the Canadian economy remains as robustly driven by new energy systems as it was by previous energy systems?

Constructive conversations, to be sure, are not always amicable or collegial. They can be tough and tense. But they’re driven by the spirit of reaching a common truth. That’s how you achieve consensus – not compromise masquerading as consensus.

Canadians need to be granted their own carbon voices – and soon. And their role in the process must be more engaging and inclusive than just showing up at the ballot box once every four years. That’s just putting a tick against an echo chamber box.

The more Canadians are listened to, the more the nation can calmly find energy and carbon strategies that satisfy all our future needs – so we can carry on with an assurance of prosperity.

Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group.

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