Local governments should have our backs on energy security

May 14, 2016


I am in the final stages of a project for a client.  It is a toolkit for local elected leaders to build more resilient, sustainable and prosperous communities for all Canadians by taking action on climate change.

I had the good fortune of talking to a friend about this work who pointed me to the work of George Marshall.  I have been reading his book – Don’t Even Think about It: Why our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change.  Turns out, our brains are not well adapted to tackle a challenge like climate change and the way we have been talking about it often makes matters worse – dividing us when we desperately need to come together.

I am about half way through the book but I couldn’t resist flipping to the end where he sums up his best communication advice.  The chapter begins:

“Climate change is a scientific fact. Scientists have become so bruised by their political battles that they have come to use much weaker language, declaring that climate change is “very likely” or “unequivocal.”  Let’s just call it a fact, because that is what it is.  There is plenty of uncertainty around how the climate is responding to these enormous changes, but being uncertain is not the same as being unsure.”

Ouch.  Guilty.  One of the introductory sentences in my toolkit is: “The science is unequivocal.”

Marshall is not advocating a closed mind on climate change – quite the opposite. He cautions climate change advocates to be alert to their own biases and the tendency of all people to select information that confirms their existing views.  The very nature of climate change is ambiguous and open to many interpretations.  Be honest about your bias is his strong advice.

My personal bias is definitely the importance of local solutions and the opportunity to build better lives for people.  When I look to the federal government for energy security it comes mired in geopolitics, conflict with First Nations and arms deals that turn a blind eye to human rights.  When I look to my provincial government, I see Bay Street making a lot of money from the sale of Hydro One but I struggle to see how I am more energy secure.  Perhaps that is why so many Ontarions remain opposed to the sale.

Yet when I look around the globe, I see local governments that have the backs of their citizens.  They are showing how the sun, wind, water and sustainable forms of bio-energy can be readily embraced while at the same time rapidly increasing the energy efficiency of homes, buildings and transport.  This makes sense to me.  Shouldn’t the level of government that is closest to us, and our families and friends, have our backs?  Not that this urban energy transition is easy work but it is necessary.

Climate change has left our communities more vulnerable – less secure.  Getting that back – and preventing it from getting worse –  will the need the cooperation of every sector to focus on what we have in common: “a better life for our children, health, security and thriving communities”.

And yes, the offending sentence will be cut.