Donna Kennedy-Glans is co-founder of ViewpointsAB, a former associate minister for electricity and renewable energy, and former vice-president at Nexen.
For many Albertans, it is illogical that faith leaders, film producers and billionaires would converge to sound the alarm in the leadup to the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris this December. It's tempting to hit the mute button on these voices of catastrophe. With our can-do spirit, we would rather turn up the volume on the call to economic salvation through innovation and progress.
But deep down, most Albertans know, marginalizing those with whom we disagree isn't likely to lead to success. It's time to move beyond the polarizing debate on climate change.
We are listening to the larger dialogue, happening beyond our borders. We heard Pope Francis's pronouncement that climate change is primarily a moral issue. We discounted Hollywood stars lobbying to keep carbon in the ground, but it's harder to ignore the shards of truth when the call is from fellow Canadians such as James Cameron.
While the world is watching, Albertans know we need to answer this question: "How will we, as owners of energy resources, leverage our legacy as a leading non-renewable energy producer in a world where progress is measured in renewable energy capacity and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions?"
In preparation for the UN meetings, Albertans wade deeper into this question. An expert team has been tasked by the government of Alberta to bear our flag in Paris. Canada's Ecofiscal Commission is analyzing the competitive viability of a spectrum of carbon-reduction policies. The Natural Step Canada has partnered with Suncor, the Pembina Institute and the Banff Centre to speed up "fit for the future" energy systems in Alberta.
Moving forward must also include how we choose policies.
Taking a long view on energy research, collaboration across sectors has transformed Alberta's natural resources into the lifeblood of Canada's economy. Albertans like to plunge head-first into research. But it's unlikely that we will "innovate our way" out of the status quo.
Albertans recognize the power of charismatic voices advocating a vision – U.S. President Barack Obama's veto of the Keystone XL pipeline expansion being one of the most vexing cases in point.
What is limiting Alberta's potential is our tendency to rebuff these visionaries, even at home. We have mayors of Alberta's cities investing in district heat, compressed natural gas for buses, wind energy for light rail transit. We have communities across Alberta demonstrating the potential of off-grid electricity generation. We have discerning individuals, including Jim Gray, championing the transition from diesel to natural gas for trucks and trains. We must heed these voices.
In Alberta, top-down leaders have started to pay attention. Yet even deeper listening is needed.
Accessing the wisdom of community isn't a new approach. Crowdsourcing is commonplace in the world of finance, and in human resources, we've learned how to source talent from worldwide pools.
We can get to more sustainable energy policies when our decisions are non-partisan, reflecting the values of citizens and communities.
For example, how do we effectively invite opinions, on values-based climate-change choices, from First Nations elders, from youth, from mothers? First Nations have made choices outside government frameworks. How many of our youth are choosing careers in energy? And, as mothers, how do we feel about their future?
Beyond the ballot box, how do we assess public appetite for renewable energy options or acceleration of coal-reduction in electricity generation? Does participative engagement lead to shared decision making, or do governments, regulators and businesses continue to believe that these decisions remain fully within their authority?
Rather than deepening our textbook knowledge of the technical, legal, political and economic environments of these climate-change debates, let's spend more time understanding the world views of those affected. Let's appreciate how these diverse views shape resolution of issues and create new values. Alberta's ability to integrate scientific, industry, government, citizen and community voices on climate change will be our ultimate competitive advantage, especially in the flux of political and economic cycles.
In short, we can achieve more, if we choose to transcend differences.
A new climate-change strategy is one that allows competing beliefs to engage, thereby creating a new pathway that no singular approach would have envisioned.
If we can include the ideas, influence, passion and resources of all sides in these debates, Albertans and the rest of world can both be winners. Perpetuating polarity and marginalizing those with whom we disagree in no way will lead to success.
Donna Kennedy-Glans is
co-founder ViewpointsAB, a former associate minister for electricity and renewable energy, and former vice-president at Nexen.