It’s with us when we stick our keys into the ignition, when we turn up our thermostats and when the fridge light comes on. It’s in the clothes we wear and the food we eat.
It’s there whenever we do what we do in our lives.
This carbon companion makes it clear we’re energy-gorging citizens. It’s a constant reminder that the cost of our lifestyles is paid in hard carbon currency.
The carbon shadow concept is perhaps more useful than that of a carbon footprint when it comes to contemplating individual energy accountability.
A carbon footprint has a notional beginning and end. It defines a process where carbon is produced and consumed through a life cycle of a product or service.
But a carbon shadow is fluid and dynamic. It accounts for the fact we’re in a constant process of often-mindless energy consumption. We can’t shake it. Only one thing ends it and by then, we are inert carbon.
Our carbon shadow remind us that virtually everything we do, asleep and awake, is a variable in the carbon consumption-and-production equation.
Two things are certain in Canada today.
First, the current climate change/greenhouse gas emissions/carbon debate is one of the most important socio-economic and political conversations Canadians will ever face. It trumps poverty, health care, education and the range of other issues. Because if we don’t get it right – if we can’t establish a balanced energy-economic engine that pays the freight for our life aspirations – we can’t begin to truly address those other issues.
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Second, and paradoxically, too few Canadians participate in how these dialogues are shaped and driven by the various vested interest groups that have already defined their carbon positions – and whose voices threaten to drown those of ordinary folks.
Part of the problem is that we have allowed carbon to be demonized as almost exclusively an environmental problem. That permits everyday Canadians, who often believe they’re good stewards of the environment, more or less, to define carbon as someone else’s problem: say an oilsands producer or a coal-fired power generator.
The reality is that there are producers and generators because there are consumers. Us.
And the reality is that carbon is as much a social problem, and an economic challenge, as it is an environmental quandary.
Recasting carbon into societal and economic contexts encourages average Canadians to understand they are both problem and solution.
Just as we are constantly shadowed, we are in a perpetual mode of energy consumption. There are peaks and valleys, to be sure, but there is never really a moment when we are not sipping or gulping energy.
Why aren’t we more conscious of that? Why are we not more aware of the accountabilities that the privilege – not the right – so much energy abundance brings with it?
Our political leaders provincially and federally should shift their focus from pandering to the loudest carbon voices (who are a significant minority) and pay more attention to what the average Canadian might think.
The belief that Canadians want carbon taxes shouldn’t be predicated on election results that had to more to do with parties being voted out than ringing endorsements of vague and euphemistically-framed climate ambitions.
But the onus isn’t just on politicians to be more attentive; it’s incumbent on everyday folk to be far more engaged and, perhaps more important, far more responsible when it comes to understanding the true costs of energy abundance.
Our failure as voters to deal with our carbon shadow means we have only one messy means to vent: at politicians. Those same elected officials need to comprehend they have misread their mandates and need to spend more effort building carbon connections with ordinary Canadians.
We all cast a carbon shadow. Give yours a voice.
Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group.