A wind farm is shown near Pincher Creek, Alta., in March 2016. JEFF MCINTOSH / THE CANADIAN PRESS

by Veronika Bylicki and Tesicca Truong, The Vancouver Sun

March 06, 2017

Opinion: 150 years forward — Canada's role in the world

As Canada turns 150, it’s high time for our country to have a national conversation about our identity and our role in the world, both in the past and moving forward. Canada has long been seen as the hewers of wood and drawers of water. While parts of the country have benefited greatly from our abundance of natural resources, it has also crippled other sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture in a textbook case of Dutch disease. Meanwhile, indigenous and rural communities have often disproportionately paid the environmental and social costs of such intensive resource extraction.

As millennials having grown up in a new reality/world, one that has more disparity than ever before, is more digital-based and faces challenges that threaten our society, we see the writing on the wall. Climate change is real, isn’t a debate and we must act now to both mitigate further climate emissions, but also to adapt the changes that are coming as a result of it. In this time of instability, we also have an incredible opportunity to intentionally transition our society toward one that isn’t only more sustainable, but also one that is more equitable, just and resilient.

Canada has been seen as a global leader in peacekeeping and in embracing diversity. In our 150th anniversary, Canada is ready to shine again as a global leader. This time, we should focus our energy on leading in the development of our renewable-energy sector, building our reputation as the Silicon Valley of the North and showing the world how to build diverse and inclusive societies, where people from all walks of life and corners of the world can thrive together, peacefully and in strength.

We can’t simply close down the tar sands tomorrow without thinking about the lives, the families that will be deeply affected. We can place a moratorium on growth and expansion of its operations. We can retrain workers to work in other industries. We must determine a plan to phase out our dependence on fossil fuels and build up the infrastructure, social will and economic capital in order to be able to operate as a renewable-powered, low-carbon economy. 

We often hear our political leaders saying that we need to build pipelines and other fossil-fuel-based infrastructure to “fuel and finance the green transition.” While some may see this need to transition as an excuse to delay, stall, not act, or even to continue to expand carbon-intensive industries, we know that this isn’t leadership. As a generation who is going to be left with the infrastructure and decisions of the present, we know that building this fossil-fuel-based infrastructure isn’t necessary for this “transition.” This “transition” doesn’t and can’t take the lifetime of this infrastructure to complete. 

Researchers, think-tanks and other global leaders have made road maps on how different jurisdictions can transition to 100-per-cent renewable energy by 2050. This is no longer a far-fetched idea, but a reality with a comprehensive plan. Already, our jobs in the renewable-energy sector in Canada have surpassed those in the fossil-fuel-based industry, and with more investment and true leadership in this sector, we can leverage this opportunity to step ahead of the game.

We should have begun this transition out of the fossil-fuel-extraction industry yesterday. Now we are playing catch-up and our transition needs to be as rapid, but ethically and humanely, as possibly. As a young person who will be disproportionately affected by climate change, we aren’t concerned with what is politically palatable, we want only what is morally right.

Let’s throw this challenge to ourselves Canada, and to the world. When we hear that “Canada is back,” we want to put our money, energy and decision-making where our mouth is, and see true leadership on the global stage in leading this transformation. How equitably and rapidly can we transform our nation to be more sustainable, renewable-powered and resilient? Let’s show the world, Canada.

Veronika Bylicki and Tesicca Truong are sustainability strategists, engagement innovators and co-founders of CityHive, a Vancouver-based social enterprise on a mission to transform the way that youth are involved in civic processes, planning and decision-making.

This article was published originally on The Vancouver Sun on March 6, 2017.