Have a listen to this piece from a recent segment on CBC’s current affairs show “The Current.” It is a discussion about Canada’s commitment (or lack of it) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In it you will hear Keith Stewart from Greenpeace (Disclaimer: an old friend, by the way) arguing for a policy and fiscal framework that helps Canada make the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. You will hear him discussing the issue with Ron Liepert, who comes from the petroleum sector in Alberta and was the former Alberta Energy Minister. And who is running for the Conservatives in the next federal election, after defeating the Conservative Party’s most loony MP in recent years, Rob Anders.
The conversation is, in the parlance of my teenage kids, a shitshow. The first sentence out of Liepert’s mouth is full of accusations, unsubstantiated claims and he uses the word “extremist” to characterize Keith’s points and his character. Keith is one of the smartest energy policy minds I know and I daresay he has been at this work longer than Liepert has and for more honest reasons. What was going to be an interesting conversation quickly becomes sidelined by Annamaria Tremonti’s inquiry about Liepert’s terms. Liepert is campaigning for election. Keith is trying to get a conversation going.
That sideline was not helpful to my understanding of how we are going to need to use fossil fuels to create the new renewable energy system for the planet. There is a very important conversation here about policy, economic incentives and transformation and there are people in the fossil fuel industry who are capable of having that conversation. Liepert was a ridiculous and buffoonish choice to represent the status quo. He clearly doesn’t take the challenge seriously. I’m much more interested to see petroleum producers who do, and I know they exist because over the years I have encountered them. They work in the long term strategic planning units in the oil companies, and they are realistic about how to position their companies as energy companies who need to develop and active interest in creating and owning significant stakes in renewable energy if they are to survive and service the debt they will have incurred for a century or more of development of a resource that runs out, or becomes too pricey to use.
This is a conversation we need to have. Keith is inviting a 100 year view of how we are going to do this. There is no oil company out there that is not thinking about this issue too, and although they are also happy to have shills like Liepert doing their dirty work, they KNOW that we need to come off fossil fuels in this century. Scarcity, pricing and climate change will ensure this. Whether we can make this transition well will be the determinant of the quality of life humans will have on this planet when my kids are old people. Avoiding the conversation by these silly short term election tactics costs us all.