Are ‘energy-entitled’ Canadians shirking their duty?
An open plea to Canadians: get more interested in energy matters that shape your lives
Are ‘energy-entitled’ Canadians shirking their duty?
By Bill Whitelaw
Oct. 17, 2016, 2:58 p.m.
Civics is the study of the theoretical and practical aspects of citizenship, its rights and duties; the duties of citizens to each other as members of a political body and to the government.
So says Wikipedia. And whatever you may think of the online encyclopedia, that definition is one that would accord with most Canadians who take more than a passing interest in their relationship to the affairs of government and politics. In other words, what they would take to be their “civic duty,” however loosely defined.
Two words stand out: rights and duties .
Canadians are prone to squawk loudly about the first and remain curiously silent about the second.
Yet rights and duties are inextricably bound up with each other; they are in fact simply opposite — not opposing — sides of the same coin. They work together because in many respects one requires the other to function in a self-fulfilling reciprocal relationship.
Here’s the puzzling energy paradox: Canadians will argue that they have a right to clean, abundant and low-cost energy; rarely will they be curious about the duties required to support that right. Put bluntly, and no one is brave enough to say this out loud: Canadians in reality are “energy entitled.” They really have no clue about the real costs — social, political, economic and even moral — of a sustainable energy economy.
It’s downright confounding.
That’s why in Canada we need a thoughtful dialogue on the notion of energy civics — the notion that Canadians need to be far more actively involved in the way energy policy is shaped and grounded in everyday life. Indeed, the lack of focus on this aspect of civic life in Canada more generally is what has landed us, as civil society, in what is a most decidedly uncivil approach to energy discourses. A civil society, of course, is one in which citizens are bound together — and function together — based on common interests.
Energy in theory should be one of those collective interests. But in practice, it’s not.
Canadians for the most part do not understand they have a duty to be informed about energy dynamics. Politicians, media, industry, NGOs — all the actors in our energy drama — have done an incredibly abysmal job in pressuring Canadians to be more energy literate and energy fluent and therefore more active actors.
The consequence of that ignorance is manifold; the most obvious symptom is the prevailing polarization in important discussions that should be binding Canadians together — not tearing the nation apart.
Take the carbon dynamic. If there ever was a conversation Canadians should have knowledgeably and rationally, with each other, it is about how best to work through the challenges (and opportunities) of creating a sustainable low-carbon economic model.
As Canadians we clearly think we have a right to a healthy environment. But turn to talk about the duties required to make that happen and things become a little murkier. The dynamics of duty are complex, to be sure, and there is no simple prescription in a one-size-fits-all model for all Canadians.
But there is one common foundational plank. At its most basic level, and in a civics context, that baseline obligation of duty is to be somewhat informed, certainly at a level above what most Canadians could legitimately claim to be currently in regards to energy.
But here we are, embroiled in carbon conflicts with 95 per cent of the population functionally illiterate on the topic. The result is political polarization (think federal-provincial tensions and industry-NGO divisiveness as but two examples) and an ignorant populace whose views ought to be shaping the discussions.
Instead, politicians move forward on sometimes fallacious assumptions of what voters ought to want. Activists do exactly the same thing: agitation on a belief system of what folks ought to want.
That oughtness flows directly from a lack of duty, for that lack of duty to be informed, and to participate in civil society, creates a civics vacuum. And we all know politicians and activists abhor such vacuums. And in industry, we rarely recognize the vacuums proactively and typically show up late to the party and are surprised to find the dance card full.
The result is an industry proclivity to lecture Canadians on how a robust energy sector facilitates and enables high-quality standards of living. It does little to compel Canadians to be more energy conscious — and to activate their consciences to be more dutiful in claiming the right to access energy.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has in place a terrific program that focuses this idea: Canada’s Energy Citizens. It’s the perfect platform from which to continue and enhance the conversations that continue to compel Canadians to take a far more active role to be engaged than they have to date been.
Canadians need to know that citizenship around all aspects of life — not just energy — provides rights only when duties are fulfilled.
If not, we can only expect an energy future exponentially more miserable than we’re experiencing now.