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Wise leaders go where the trends are

This post is also available in: French

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LOUISE COMEAU & MATTHEW ABBOTT COMMENTARY
(Published in the Nov 14, 2016 Telegraph Journal)

Matthew Abbott and Louise Comeau of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick use a hockey metaphor – and concerns about a changing climate – as a lens for the Energy East pipeline project. Photo: MiraMichi Leader archive

In a small part of the world like New Brunswick it is easy to think we are at the whims of bigger players, nationally and internationally, when it comes to large-scale issues like climate change. Getting our own house in order does, however, matter a great deal and, if we’re smart, we can step to the front of the pack as new global trends emerge.

Responding to emerging global trends to New Brunswick’s advantage will take wise, and nimble, leadership. To bring it home in hockey terms, how should our government make certain its economic development strategies take the province, our businesses and our workers to where the puck is going, rather than where it has been?

We start by acknowledging that we understand the full implications of the global response to human-caused climate change. It is now well known that carbon pollution is unbalancing the climate system and stressing the atmosphere, putting us all at risk of disasters like Hurricane Arthur, sea level rise, coastal flooding and erosion, and intense downpours. The increasing probability of these events intensifying with more carbon pollution is established. The only way out is to have zero carbon pollution, and fast, so that within 30 years we are running our businesses and our homes with renewable energy sources.

We cannot burn most of the coal, oil and gas available today, let alone expand production from locations like the oilsands, with their high carbon content and highly destructive effects. The puck is going into the renewable energy and efficient economy net, not the dig it, haul it, burn it net at the opposing end of the rink. There is more investment in renewable energy operating in the world right now than in coal-fired capacity, and that trend is accelerating, especially as the costs of solar and wind are now competing with coal. Electric vehicles are accelerating the off-oil trend. Natural gas is not cleaner on a lifecycle basis.

The old days of high fossil fuel energy prices – needed to make the oilsands viable – are over.

PipesWe put our people at higher risk of climate change, as well as deny them jobs growth in areas where the true and sustainable development will be. For example, the Energy East pipeline may appear on the surface to be a near-term job creator, but compared to the jobs that will be created in the new energy economy, and jobs that have sustained generations of citizens, like those in our fisheries and agriculture sectors, there is no contest.

The debate is not over price differentials, getting oil to tidewater, the safety of shipping by rail versus pipeline, or whether pipeline capacity is too tight to carry expanded oilsands production. The debate is over whether we pick the team playing with dreams of past glories or we pick the team playing to win for the glories of the future.

Team future is racing toward an economy that is run on clean electricity, where industries modernize their processes and manufacturing ties into a cool new electricity system managed by an energy internet that keeps new supplies of renewable energy humming along to meet all our real-time needs. Team future will be driving investments in the trillions of dollars and New Brunswick can be part of it. Or it can sit at the table hoping for a draft pick, while the jobs go elsewhere.

Louise Comeau & Matthew Abbott are with the conservation council of New Brunswick.

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