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Toward a green economy

Op-ed in today’s Telegraph Journal (Saint John, NB) by Julie Michaud the Climate Action Coordinator with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, and myself.

The world is at a crucial moment in the battle against runaway climate change. Entire populations and ecosystems The world is at a crucial moment in the battle against runaway climate change. Entire populations and ecosystems are threatened by climate change impacts including drought, heat waves, fires, floods, storms and rising sea levels. World leaders will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark this December to negotiate the next phase of a global climate agreement. This must be a strong, equitable agreement based on recent science which indicates that deep emission reductions are needed.

Addressing the climate crisis requires a profound shift in how we produce and consume energy.

According to Environment Canada, 80 per cent of national greenhouse gas emissions are predominantly associated with the production or consumption of fossil fuels for energy. In New Brunswick, the production of electricity and refining of petroleum accounts for just over half of all greenhouse gas emissions.

The conventional approach to job creation favours the development of polluting and export-oriented energy megaprojects, but these have significant environmental and social impacts. They have also tied N.B. to foreign markets and locked the province into a fossil-fuel-dependent economy that will be uncompetitive in the 21st century as carbon emissions come under constraints.

In contrast, the creation of an energy system based on local renewable resources offers a wealth of job creation possibilities without adding to the atmosphere’s carbon burden. Luckily, there is an abundance of renewable resources that can be put to good use reducing the province’s greenhouse gas emissions, increasing energy security and creating decent green jobs. These include wood, wind, biogas, solar and energy efficiency.

Energy conservation is by far the most cost-effective method of reducing our dependence on polluting sources of energy. Measures to increase energy efficiency are also a greater source of net job creation dollar for dollar than investments in traditional fossil fuel industries, tax cuts or investments to boost consumer spending. Though New Brunswick is a leader in energy efficiency, more can be done.

When it comes to green energy, so far, all major wind energy developments in the province have been by large foreign multinationals. These public-private partnerships carry with them all the usual risks of other P3s: over the lifespan of the project, they cost taxpayers many times more than would publicly owned projects, and they keep essential pieces of infrastructure out of public control.

At the recent Conference of the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, the premiers reiterated their desire to export green energy into the U.S. market. Will this mean that New Brunswickers will continue to bear the impacts of polluting energy while the benefits of new renewable energy projects get shipped across the border? New Brunswickers won’t reap maximum benefit from renewable energy unless the province turns away from this privatized model of development and returns to the public model.

Already, New Brunswick sends around $500 million out of the province for purchases of imported fuels each year. In return for this, it gets high levels of greenhouse gases, air pollution, radioactive wastes and an increasing dependence on imported energy. Consider also that NAFTA’s proportional sharing rules oblige Canada to continue exporting energy to the U.S. in the same proportion of total supply sold over the three previous years. Once energy exports start, they are hard to stop.

The climate crisis demands that all levels of government take seriously the imperative to transition away from fossil fuels. Not only is this feasible, it’s preferable. An energy system based on local renewable resources has enormous potential to ignite local economies. Public and community ownership of green energy production provides the means to prioritize local green job creation and provincial energy needs. It also offers opportunities for enhanced accountability and retaining economic revenues for public purposes.

For these reasons, New Brunswick should establish a new renewable energy public utility or create a renewable energy arm of NB Power. The utility could provide logistical support and funding to renewable energy projects, making direct investments in publicly owned wind, solar, biomass, and tidal developments. Community and cooperatively owned renewable energy developments can also play an important role in ensuring an emphasis on local and democratic governance of a renewable energy system. This, accompanied by plans for a transition to sustainable transportation, vastly increased conservation as well as energy efficiency, will create a low-carbon future.

Efforts to reach a strong climate deal in Copenhagen must be matched by solutions at the local level with commitments for deep emission reductions.

Thankfully, this needn’t imply economic sacrifice for New Brunswick. If anything, it’s a golden opportunity to revitalize our communities and lead the way to a green jobs revolution. It’s also a central theme of the upcoming Council of Canadians national annual general meeting, “Turning the Tide: a just economy for people and the planet,” which will take place at the Hilton Saint John from Oct. 23-25. To register, call toll free 1-800-387-7177 ext. 333 or visit www.canadians.org.

Andrea Harden-Donahue is the Energy Campaigner with the Council of Canadians. Julie Michaud is the Climate Action Coordinator with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.