Eighty per cent less carbon: the logistical equivalent of war

Eighty per cent less carbon: the logistical equivalent of war

This phrase leapt out at me as we worked on messaging for the release of the Trottier Energy Futures Project’s Low-Carbon Energy Futures: A Review of National Scenarios in late January:

To reach a target of 100 megatonnes in 2050 (20% of the 500 Mt we produced in 1990), Canada would require a boom in clean-energy technologies and low-energy practices on at least the magnitude of the post-Second World War boom in fossil fuel consumption.

The message hit home for two reasons: First, because there’s little other peacetime precedent for the scale of industrial transformation that the climate challenge demands. Second, because it isn’t the only war metaphor in the swirl of commentary on climate solutions.

We’ve seen climate change described as the greatest challenge humanity has faced since the Second World War. And in June 2010, the UK Green Investment Bank Commission reported that “the scale of the investment required to meet UK climate change and renewable energy targets is unprecedented—and of a size not seen since the post second world war reconstruction.”

Then there was the April 18, 1977, speech in which then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter described the energy crisis of the day (anyone remember the first OPEC oil shock?) as the moral equivalent of war.

“With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes. The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly,” Carter said.

“We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren. We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us.”

I grew up with stories of how the “greatest generation” mobilized to win a war that at one time looked desperate. (Although journalist Tom Brokaw’s characterization referred to the U.S. war effort, I also grew up knowing that Canada joined that fight more than two years earlier.) Those stories show that humanity is capable of massive transformation to confront a common challenge, and that rapid industrial transformation is an essential piece of the winning equation.

The National Scenarios report is the first hint at the pathways the Trottier Project is developing to guide Canada’s drive to a low-carbon energy future. As the plan takes shape, we would do well to bear in mind the moral courage and determination that past generations brought to their own defining challenges.

Click here to download a copy of Low-Carbon Energy Futures: A Review of National Scenarios.

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