But one common thread runs through much of our work: We tend to gravitate toward the thorniest challenges of our age, and bring together strange bedfellows to put in place the conditions needed to enable lasting solutions.
The approach has paid dividends over recent years via a number of big wins, such as B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest Agreement. We’re now bringing the same approach to one of the biggest conundrums facing social entrepreneurs, Canadian civil society, and our planet at large: energy. Energy is something most Canadians completely take for granted, and don’t generally notice unless it is unexpectedly not available, or if the price suddenly spikes at the meter or the pump, or if someone one day proposes to build a wind turbine or pipeline in our backyard.
But if we can transform how we produce and consume energy, we can solve so many problems at once—everything from slowing climate change, to reducing pollution, to reducing asthma rates and improving human health. We could close the book forever on events like last year’s BP disaster, or the recent devastating Rainbow Pipeline spill near Peace River, Alberta.
The good news is that many of the world’s largest economies are undergoing a tectonic shift away from hydrocarbons and toward clean and renewable sources of energy that are locally available and that will never run out. We call this the new-energy transition, and we believe it will ultimately bring a wide range of benefits to Canada’s environment, economy, and people.
But remember what I said earlier about thorny challenges? Energy is, to put it bluntly, a brute. The issues and questions raised by a transformation of this magnitude are nothing short of profound.
How can our country—home to the world’s second-largest proven petroleum reserves—prosper and remain competitive in a world that has sharply reduced its appetite for oil? What are our strengths and how can we build on them? How can we ensure that the more vulnerable members of our society have access to affordable and safe energy sources that do not threaten future generations? What do we need to do today, as a society, to start preparing for this new tomorrow?
Those are the kinds of questions that our energy initiative has been wrestling with, but we’re off to a great start. One of our team’s first projects has been A New Energy Vision for Canada—a vision of a prosperous Canada that has largely moved on from oil and embraced the challenges and opportunities of the new-energy transition, and a set of recommendations for a national energy strategy that might deliver such a future.
The document paints a picture of silent, pollution-free electric vehicles, and compact and efficient communities running on clean and unobtrusive neighbourhood heat and power plants. It imagines high-speed rail networks linking Canadian cities, and homes that produce more energy than they consume. It’s an exhilarating vision, and it’s generating a groundswell of buzz and support.
The document underscores that this future is not some naive and idealistic pipe dream. It’s all possible, provided we make the right moves today—starting with engaging the petroleum sector and many others in a collaborative, multi-party process to develop a national energy strategy.
To date, we’ve connected with leaders in the health, labour, environment, academia, faith sectors, among others. We’re also reaching out to social entrepreneurs from across the country, seeking endorsements of the vision. (If you’d like to take a look, you can view the paper at http://www.tidescanada.org/energy.) We’re taking a “big tent” approach with this project and welcoming sign-ons from a wide variety of organizations, companies, and local governments.
If you want to create deep change and lasting solutions, we’ve found, you have to dream big, reconsider the “impossible,” and roll up your sleeves and get started. That’s where the big wins come from, and energy is the next frontier. If you’d like to consider supporting our efforts, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Merran Smith is the Director of the Tides Canada Energy Initiative. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org