Towards a “carbon-lite” future?

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As the government of New Brunswick’s Brian Gallant earnestly attempts to deliver the spirit, if not yet the reality, of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate-sensitive, clean-technology economy, the obvious question is: How will the former make nice with the latter without dismantling what remains of the provincial economy?

Certainly, the speculation mills now grind. According to a Brunswick News Inc. report earlier this week, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters is now questioning the motives of the provincial government concerning gas taxes. “I think a lot of people were wondering,” said the organization’s New Brunswick vice-president Joel Richardson.

“A gas tax wasn’t even part of the (provincial budget) conversation. . .I think it was off the table because the provincial government was in collusion with the federal government to wait until (the) Paris (climate) talks happened and Vancouver happened and then gas taxes are going up.”

All of which points to a public policy framework that is likely to become every bit as fraught with controversy as was the recent tussle over hydraulic fracturing. Then again, how could it be otherwise?

Transitioning traditional economies to a “carbon-lite” future is extraordinarily tricky business. On the other hand, it can be done. Consider, for example, Finland, which the CleanTech Finland website states, “tops the  that ranks the greenest countries in the world. Finland is followed by Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Slovenia.

“EPI ranks the performance of 180 countries on high-priority environmental issues in two areas: protection of human health and protection of ecosystems. The index is created by Yale and Columbia universities along with the World Economic Forum. EPI is constructed through the calculation and aggregation of nine categories that include more than 20 indicators: agriculture, air quality, biodiversity and habitat, climate and energy, fisheries, forests, health impacts, water and sanitation, and water resources.”

The 2016 report says that “Finland’s top ranking is mostly based on country’s societal commitment to achieve carbon-neutral society that does not exceed nature’s carrying capacity by 2050. The report indicates that Finland has actionable goals and measurable indicators of sustainable development. Finland performed well especially in the areas of health, water categories, air quality, and climate and energy. In the forests category, measuring tree cover loss, Finland has its lowest ranking.”

Finland’s experience suggests that only a concerted effort to coordinate and impose specific measures on the New Brunswick economy will effectively align the province with Ottawa’s climate-change targets and policies. Is one of these measures a gas tax or some other clutch of responses?

Mr. Richardson has a point when he notes that the best way to change people’s behaviour is offer them incentives for doing so.

Still, whatever approach eventually surfaces, a new type of logic must begin to take root here. If we can’t quit fossil fuels altogether, and we soon won’t be able to live with them as we do today we should stop thinking about them as commodities to burn and begin to appreciate them as strategic assets to employ in the effort to build a largely clean, broadly renewable future?

In other words, if we train ourselves to use them as inputs for new manufacturing technologies that more effectively capture and distribute in-situ wind, solar and tidal sources of energy, we might just start the long, arduous process of diversifying the economy.

Use them to power research into cleaner forms of short- and long-range transportation systems. Use them to, in effect, evolve away from them as anything but the necessary evils they are for advanced research and development and clean-technology commercialization.

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