Rethinking how we power our homes, cars and economy

It’s Environment Week, but what does that mean beyond community and school clean-ups?

We are continually told by the powers that be that we must balance the environment and the economy. Which I have come to understand means accepting widespread collateral damage to our climate, to our soils, to our oceans, to our forests, and to freshwater and air in order to grow the economy. The problem is we are fully embedded in and dependent on the environment. Undermining the environment to grow the economy is a fool’s errand, but we continue to tolerate this.

Consider plants. They definitely are part of the environment. Plants soak up energy from the sun and turn it into food. It’s really quite astounding when you think about it. Sunshine is converted into food by plants. I think it was Johnathon Swift who said pickles are really just bottled sunshine.

But there’s more. Plants scrub carbon dioxide out of the air and give us oxygen. Some plants even provide us with wood to build our homes. Many plants lift our spirits, whether it’s the beauty of blooming flowers or the majesty of towering trees. Plants are indispensable to life, and with the right growing conditions they bear food to eat, air to breathe, wood for shelter, and balm for the soul. And if that’s not enough, they also support our entire food chain.

Given the indispensable role of plants, you would think that our societies would be mindful of their growing conditions. Good soil, plenty of bees for those plants which need their assistance to reproduce, and a climate conducive to growth. In other words, we need to protect their environment, which we have failed to do.

The increasing production and use of oil, gas and coal is a case in point. We ran out of space to put the pollution that results from burning these fossil fuels a long time ago. The ever increasing amount of fossil fuels we dig up and burn have swamped the ability of nature to recycle this pollution, allowing it to build-up in our atmosphere and ocean waters, destabilizing the climate and acidifying the sea on a global scale.

This is why it is urgent to lessen our need for burning oil, gas and coal by consuming less and by switching to enduring and renewable energy sources such as the sun, wood fibre, wind and tides.

While Premier Gallant released a strategy to do this last December, we have yet to see any concrete measures. The Department of Energy and Resource Development has neither a renewable energy development branch, nor a section dedicated to energy efficiency and conservation. There is no one in the Department of Energy to champion the development of renewable energy.

Government hasn’t moved the bar for renewable energy, whether for space heating, water heating, electric power generation, or fueling vehicles since the Shawn Graham years of the last decade. Young entrepreneurs and some cooperative enterprises certainly have been trying, but the public policy environment is unsupportive.

There are a remarkable number of start-ups where New Brunswick entrepreneurs are building low energy homes, looking to generate solar and wind power, manufacture and market wood pellets, supply energy storage systems, develop innovative tidal power technologies, and create clever controls to run these systems.

It’s time that government catch up and establish helpful policies to support the development of the renewable energy sector, but to do so we need people in place who have the responsibility to do so.

The federal government is championing the development of renewable energy across Canada. Our renewable energy resources are abundant. Their development will enable us to reduce our consumption of coal, oil and natural gas so we can do our part to reduce carbon pollution.

Premier Gallant has set a target of cutting carbon pollution by 4 million tonnes over the next dozen years. He needs to make the development of renewable energy a priority if we are to ever achieve that target. I introduced a bill in the Legislative Assembly to help achieve this, but it was defeated.

It’s time to be bold and build the economy of the 21st century, which must be powered and fueled by enduring renewable sources of energy. That’s something worth thinking about during this Environment Week. Plants can turn sunlight into food. It’s time we use it to power and warm our homes, fuel our cars, and run our economy.

David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party and the MLA for Fredericton South.