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Rows of pump jacks stand out against the snowy landscape amidst flurries southeast of Waskada, a small town in southwestern Manitoba. (Tim Smith For The Globe and Mail)
Rows of pump jacks stand out against the snowy landscape amidst flurries southeast of Waskada, a small town in southwestern Manitoba. (Tim Smith For The Globe and Mail)

Canada Competes

What should Canada do to prepare for the day oil runs out? Add to ...

When we’ll hit peak oil – or whether we already have – is the stuff of hot debate. But no one’s questioning the ultimately finite nature of oil and gas reserves. So, what should Canada start investing in now, to prepare for the inevitable day that the wells run dry? We asked a range of creative Canadians for their ideas on how to plan for a post-oil future.

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Go green, go clean, and use our cool

Tzeporah Berman

Author, co-founder of ForestEthics, a non-profit environmental protection group, and the former co-director of Greenpeace International’s Climate and Energy program.

The world is moving quickly to a low carbon economy and Canada is being left behind. It is critical that we scale up our investment in renewable energy and clean technologies. This means not only investing in renewable power generation but also in related industries for the manufacture of components. In the past year, China has become the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. Even Canadian companies now have most of their operations in China or are opening factories in Taiwan, Malaysia or Thailand. We should be supporting these industries so those factories open here at home.

The other industry we should be courting is the IT sector. The IT sector is booming and Canada is the perfect place for the huge data centres that Facebook, Apple, Google and others are building. In Canada, our northern climate can keep them efficiently cool and we could provide renewable energy to ensure a clean cloud.

The other huge benefit to investing in renewable energy and clean tech is that we can create a diversified economy and jobs for Canadians where they live. The rapid expansion of the oil sands is resulting in a generation of Canadian children on both coasts who spend their days watching the sky waiting for mom or dad to come home from Fort Mack. Besides the obvious benefits of not relying on finite resources or threatening our climate and fresh water, these industries are safer. After one of the worst years on record for oil spills and leaks, it’s worth remembering that a solar spill is simply a sunny day.

Water: sell it or use it to grow food

Jeff Rubin

Award-winning author and former chief economist at CIBC World Markets.

With more than a million lakes, part ownership of the Great Lakes, as well as massive ice fields, Canada’s greatest asset is our fresh water supply.

Water is now subordinated to power generation, whether through hydro-electric, or for getting oil out of the oil sands or for fracking.

We’re going to find the use of water is increasingly problematic to support the use of energy.

Given what’s happened climatically [with drought in some areas], we’re going to see our water become more coveted and more valuable. As things are developing in the U.S. Midwest, American dependence on water may dwarf dependence on gas and oil.

We are going to find that, ironically, while environmentalists have been against putting a price on water, that’s what we’re going to have to do. If we put a meaningful price on water, oil and gas companies would figure out how to use less. While bulk water exports are currently taboo, pressure will grow and, ultimately, it will come down to a matter of price.

Even if we don’t allow bulk water exports, and I certainly wouldn’t rule that out, water is going to become key in driving a much revitalized agricultural sector. If there’s one area of the economy that will grow beyond many others, it will be a throwback to the past economy, with the agricultural sector playing a greater role. World food prices have increased. We have a rising world population with rising protein consumption.

I would also argue that those far-flung suburbs that surround cities may soon return back to the farmland that they were 30-40 years ago because of changes in relative prices. If you look at any real estate, particularly in southern Ontario, and we’re even seeing that out West, prices have doubled and tripled. At the same time, gasoline prices track world oil prices and commutes will become increasingly problematic.

Thinking beyond hydrocarbons, we’re going to find a more valuable use for water.

Stop investing in oil and gas

Karl Schroeder

Science fiction writer and futurist in the Toronto branch of Idea Couture, a global strategy and design firm.

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