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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Green Tea Party, UNITE!

Why the Canadian government must listen to our voices on climate change

My head is exploding with new knowledge I gained this past week at two different conferences, both focused on social enterprise, sustainability, and all the other great conversations I like to cover here on Kaizen Crossroad.  With lots of different ideas and  opinions wafting inside, I will break the next few posts into themes I hope you will find both relateable and interesting.

I will begin with a feeling that has been irking in my gut for the last few weeks:

As an informed Canadian voter, I feel there is little I can do to make a large-scale impact on mitigating climate change.  I believe the change has to come from the government, and the government is simply not making climate change a priority despite the overwhelming and frightening proof of its importance.  Canada has the potential to make a significant difference; we have the potential to become a global leader on this issue.  But we're not, and I feel frustrated, scared, and to some degree, helpless.

I have expressed this uneasiness to several Canadian experts on the topic and have become increasingly heated by some astounding information.  In this post, I'd like to share 5 of my learnings from both Ivey's Innovation Day and Schulich's Net Impact GreenEdge Conference:

1. China plans to cut its emissions by 17% between 2011-2015, and 40% by 2020. The US military views climate change as  the #1 security threat, Saudia Arabia is building four new zero-footprint cities, India is providing tax incentives for green car purchases, and Canada falls in last place in the G20 on this issue.  Why aren't we taking leadership?

2. The solution to clean energy will come through a combination of wind, water, and solar energy (WWS).  However, as citizens we must realize that it's not just our sources of power that require reformation, it is our every-day, taken-for-granted behaviours toward food, mobility, and industry that will also need to shift.

3. Ron Dembo, founder of Zero-footprint, said that governments don't use appropriate decision-making tools when making decisions.  For example, we know that CO2 is at its highest level ever, but we don't know how exactly it will take effect.  So, the rational government would choose to err on the side of caution and invest in the worst-case scenario.  The rational government would hedge against the uncertain outcomes of CO2 emissions.

So, It's not whether we can live with the effects of climate change, the question is how much can we live with?  And in making these decisions, Ron says you must always hedge the impending risks (Bankers, I know you master the hedging craft...).

4. We are choosing to be energy inefficient in North America.  According to Jim Harris, one of North America's leading management consultants and former leader of the Green Party of Canada, if you add the total market cap. of GM, Ford, and Chrysler and multiply that number by 3, Toyota has a larger market capitalization and is the world's leader by far in energy efficiency.

(GM + Ford + Chrysler) * 3 < TOYOTA

Toyota Prius
5. There is an economic argument for mitigating climate change. While Jim Harris had a lot to say about this, I will share a couple of examples that stood out to me:

As you might know, most vending machines have a light that brightens up the front to make them look super flashy.   Well, I learned that the heat from that light necessitates the use of more energy to cool the drinks.  Walmart has several of these vending machines in each of their 9000 stores globally. So what did they decide to do to cut energy usage and costs?

Walmart decided to take out the lights of their vending machines and saved $1 million dollars.  Maybe just a small ripple for Walmart, but think about the cumulative potential of this by corporations globally! 

And just to prove the economic argument a little further, when GM went bankrupt a few years ago, they actually turned off the escalators at night to save costs. And I think we can all assume now that GM is back hot and heavy, those escalators are rollin' all night long. 

So let me get this straight. GM saved energy during difficult financial times in order to save money, but the second they are out of the red the energy waste begins again.  Unbelievable.

Alright, I will stop the facts there.  

When Nicholas Parker, co-founder of Cleantech Group and sustainability guru in North America, addressed my question of, "What can we, Canadian citizens, do to get our voices heard in the government", his answer had the whole crowd laughing:

"We need a Green Tea Party." 

No, not the ever-so-popular Japanese drink, and not the Boston Tea Party-like revolution... I don't even think he means a political party.  The point I took away was simply that we need a stronger and larger group of people to vocalize their concerns about climate change. The more people we have on board, the more tea we can throw off the boat.  (That's my terrible metaphor for "the bigger our chances are of getting heard and changing policy").

I've been taught recently the importance of leaving an optimistic tone when concluding a presentation or composition.  And so, I will say that we are reaching some positive milestones provincially.  

From a personal perspective, I have seen examples of progress both in British Columbia while on the Social Finance Tour and here at home in Ontario with the Green Energy Act.  And while I do see climate change as a responsibility and absolute priority at the federal level, I am encouraged by the advances of these two provinces.  Let's keep building this momentum.

I welcome your thoughts on how we can get our voices heard.  For now, I encourage you to fill out this survey to contribute your values and priorities to the Declaration for Change.

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