On Energy, we are what we think

We’ve all heard that old saying “you are what you eat.” The remarkable transition in our economy over the last century has dramatically changed our food choices. Without initially understanding the impacts, sugar, fat and processed food has caused major health concerns to many groups. Statistically, diet change of native people has led to high rates of diabetes and a high fat diet leads to heart disease in the general population. Everywhere we see experts talking about what we need to do to change our lifestyle. Over time we absorb some of this knowledge and eventually we begin to believe that “good food leads to good health” and we have to change. It is very tough to do on our own.

But we have trouble connecting all the dots and changing our behaviour on a consistent basis. There is some good news from New York City where “trans fats” will be banned from restaurants by June 2007. They aren’t good for us but to avoid them we have to examine every food label where we buy groceries and actually understand what it says. What New York City has done is structurally change the playing field so that it is easier for people to eat better at restaurants where the ingredients are not readily available for us to see. The ripples from this leadership are spreading everywhere.

So what does energy or environment have to do with food? The process of change is the same in both cases and just as difficult. If we want a better environment and less energy used, we have to go back to the very beginning of the process – our education and thought processes. We might paraphrase the expression to be: “we are what we think.” Our thoughts are formed by the information received from friends, the media and schools. For example, a simple film by Al Gore called “An inconvenient truth” has had a dramatic impact on the amount of interest in global warming. I rented the film recently and found it to be both entertaining and very informative. I would recommend it to anyone who is curious about the future of our planet and would like to know what each of us can do to improve our environment.

When I talk to people about energy problems or resource depletion that is coming in the near future, I get several reactions. The first is denial. Denial is a natural defense mechanism in which a person is faced with a concept or idea that is difficult or “inconvenient” to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite evidence to the contrary.

Other people take refuge in a technological solution that will solve our problems related to energy, and that the ingenuity of man will triumph over adversity. These people believe that Exxon Mobil will come up with a way to squeeze more oil out of existing oil wells or discover the next big supergiant oilfield. Or an inventor will revolutionize the solar cell or hydrogen will power cars. They don’t have a clue how or when it will happen. Certainly, I hope so but am I willing to bet my future and those of my children on mere threads of possibility.

So our first challenge is changing our thinking about energy and the environment. Often we are told: it is either jobs or the environment. It is clear to the Danish people that being green by building windmills is good for their economy. Over 11,000 people are employed by Vestas, the largest wind turbine company in the world. The Europeans have developed a carbon-emissions trading system that allows them to control and gradually reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in a fair way. What is New Brunswick’s plan? What is stopping us from beginning an emission trading system in New Brunswick?

Steven Harper’s recent cabinet shuffle brought in a new Environment Minister to replace Rona Ambrose. He had no choice. Canadians are miles ahead of his environmental delay tactics and the Prime Minister realized that he had to change course or sink into the abyss charted by Joe Clark and others. Will his actions be enough to save his government? The new environment minister has a window of opportunity of perhaps three weeks to provide concrete evidence of a serious plan.

Locally, New Brunswick’s new government has a clean slate to work with. Everything is possible. Energy has been touted as a pivotal issue. Will the government take the NYC activist route and ban the energy “trans fats” that will eventually kill us prematurely. Will Shawn Graham and Jack Keir note the desire of Canadians for concrete action? We can individually do our part to decrease our energy footprint, but we need our government on board. Leadership can be contagious!

Alternatively, those who fail to plan for the future will have their future arranged for them but they may not like it.


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