Getting to grips with climate change

Posted on Monday, November 13, 2017

Panel sitting in front of the crowd.

Calin Rovinescu, Annette VerschurenTzeporah Berman, Monica Gattinger and Stewart Elgie. Photos: Bonnie Findley

Chancellor Calin Rovinescu engaged four thought leaders in a lively conversation on the theme of “Climate change in the age of Trump: How should Canada respond?” Hundreds of students, faculty, alumni and members of the community attended or tuned in to the Chancellor’s Debate on November 6, 2017. A few quotes from a stimulating discussion:

Stewart Elgie

Professor, Faculty of Law; Founder and Chair, Smart Prosperity Institute and Director of the University of Ottawa’s Institute of the Environment

Stewart Elgie.

We have to build an economy for a carbon-constrained world. The question is, how do we get there? I’m not convinced that trying to choke off oil supply is the most effective strategy — driving down demand seems vastly more promising. It’s not hard to imagine a world, within 20 years, where we’ve virtually eliminated gas-guzzling cars and trucks — and that will do much more to kill demand for oil than trying to choke supply.

We need massive public investments to support clean innovation and unlock the technologies that are going to shape the next half century. But they need to be smart ones and focus on areas where Canada has a real chance to be a global player, such as advanced biofuels and biochemicals. Or how do you make solar, wind and building technologies that work in cold northern climates?

Innovation involves risk, but if we don’t make these big bets, other countries are going to make them and they’re going to eat our lunch.

Annette Verschuren

Chair & CEO of NRStor Inc. and Chancellor, Cape Breton University

Annette Verschuren.

It’s right to price carbon – I think it’s probably the only way we can move forward as a society. And whether the United States is doing that or not, Canada has got to determine its own destiny.

Efforts aimed at clean technology and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions accelerated when Donald Trump became president. In places like California, New England, New York…there are all kinds of local people taking action more aggressively.

The markets are changing the decisions today throughout North America and the world, so one political leader does not represent everything that’s happening in the United States. I see the US going forward faster — as a matter of fact, their level of greenhouse gas emissions is going down much faster than Canada’s today.

Monica Gattinger

Director of the University of Ottawa's Institute for Science, Society and Policy, Associate Professor at the School of Political Studies and Chair of the Positive Energy project

Monica Gattinger.

Energy security is extremely important. One of the reasons we have affordable, reliable energy in this country is because we have a multi-fuel system, with energy coming from a variety of sources. As we move toward greater electrification of the system, we’re going to need to look at resilience and security much more carefully.

Was anybody here during the ice storm? Imagine if you couldn’t drive your car at that time. This is not a reason not to move in that direction, but it definitely underscores the importance of thinking about how we move forward in a way that ensures we have security of energy supply.

We need systems that will be resilient in the context of much more frequent severe climate events — which notably have a way of cutting off electricity.

Tzeporah Berman

Energy and Climate Campaign Strategy Consultant and Adjunct Professor in Environmental Studies, York University

Tzeporah Berman.

The time for approving big fossil fuel projects is over. The time for figuring out how to plan for our economy and for a just transition of this [oil and gas] industry is now, if we’re going to meet our climate targets.

We need to move toward more distributed power systems, in every sense of the word power, and that’s why this is so hard. There are lots of people and companies who stand to benefit from the status quo, and they don’t want thousands of people to be producing energy instead of a couple of companies.

These are difficult culture and political shifts, and they’ll only be made if we ensure that decision makers have the social licence, the political space, to do the hard stuff. They’ve heard from me enough — make sure they’re hearing from you! We need to make sure they know they have support for these difficult policies — that we’re going to applaud them when they do the right thing and hold them accountable when they don’t. History is made by those who show up, and we all need to be showing up.

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