A New Energy Policy for Canada

There is more and more conversation about a national energy policy for Canada.  We will likely have one in the not too distant future.  The debate and outcomes will be important to all Canadians.  On our way to such a policy, a number of questions suggest themselves for careful consideration.

Since energy production and consumption has such a powerful impact on the condition of our environment, one question would be — should energy policy be nested inside our environmental policy, or should our environmental policy be nested inside our energy policy.

It seems reasonable to conclude that energy policy should be nested inside environment policy, for at least five reasons.

1.            Almost everyone in the world is being impacted by environmental degradation and instability, and so far there appears to be more downside to the environmental instability than there is upside.  (The environment has a bigger and more enduring constituency than does big energy.)

2.            The environmental problems associated with energy are not primarily related to energy per se; they are primarily related to the inefficiency and waste arising from energy production, distribution, and use (and the deferred accruals associated with these).  There is going to be more attention and sanction focused on “dirty oil” and “net energy” and “energy to outcome” returns (and accounting that is more respectful of the future).  It is plausible to speculate that no matter what those terms mean today, the standard is going to be tougher tomorrow, and the day after.

3.            Most of the world uses far less energy per capita than Canadians do (regardless of the explanation), and there is no plausible scenario in which global per capita consumption of energy would rise to the Canadian level.  (Ultimately, there is a bigger constituency on the side of the environment than there is on the side of North America’s current level of energy consumption.)  To whatever extent global accords are negotiated or imposed, the environment is ultimately going to have the higher priority, at the expense of energy consumption.  The significant manifestation of that may be 5 years away, or 30 years away, but the trade-off seems inevitable.

4.            Our economy is driven by the search for substitutes.  In the current situation, the search for alternatives to oil, and gas, and bitumen is likely to be fierce, global, and persistent.

5.     The primary advocates for, and beneficiaries of “big energy” (to cast a broad net) are corporations.  Since they have been so closely tied to energy, the displacement of corporations by emerging political models, which is just beginning, will tend to label energy as a corporate issue secondary to the environment, which is treated as a political issue.

It appears that oil, gas, and bitumen are a temporary tactical advantage for Alberta/Canada but, at least as energy, they are not an enduring or strategic advantage.

The strategic question is simple.  Is our strategy, and then are our tasks and tactics, based on a wise consideration of the future, or a simple and selfish one?  Is our strategy aspirational, or fatalistic?  As political decisions move beyond provincial borders and national borders, and continental borders, would we carry an ever larger constituency of support into an ever larger decision-making agora?

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