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On Canada and Climate (In)action

Derick Ajumni on behalf of GreenPAC sat down with Tom Rand from MaRS Discovery District, a leading expert on low-carbon technologies and the supporting infrastructure, such as renewable energy and energy efficiency to talk about the role the Government has in building a more sustainable future. Read more about Canada’s cleantech industry in parts one and two.

Derick: What role should Canada be playing to curb climate change?

Tom Rand: First of all; it is a moral issue to lower our emissions, to do the right thing regardless of the economic upside. Canada needs to stand up and take the lead on this issue as we have done in the past. We don’t take the lead anymore—but we did on CFC’s, our Blue Helmeted Peace Keepers, World War I, and World War II. We were there; we did our fair share but we have not done so on climate. We need to review our position and think about climate as a moral question and ask what kind of position Canada takes on this moral question.

So we need to step up, commit to lowering our own emissions, it’s the best way to convince other people to act. You can’t ask China, or India or Bangladesh, to lower their emissions if you are not going to step up and do it yourself. Even Ethiopia has a stronger target of emission reduction than Canada. Isn’t that reversed? Shouldn’t we be leading the way and demonstrating to countries like Ethiopia that we are serious about this? That’s why it’s not only a moral question to do it ourselves—but it’s how we get the rest of the world to act too. We earn good faith, show them we are at the table and we are going to solve this problem. We are going to do our fair share.

Derick: What role can Canada play with its less than 2% of global carbon emissions?

Tom Rand: The percentage of our global emissions is irrelevant. It is a per capita issue and everyone has to do their fair share. The fact is that we are 2% emissions, but we are far less than 2% of the population. This is a collective active problem, we all have to do our piece.

By that argument I shouldn’t vote, my vote doesn’t make a difference right? I’m only one person in millions, do we ever make the argument you shouldn’t vote? Of course not! It is disingenuous and totally devoid of moral leadership. It’s not about whether we are 2% of the global emissions or not, it’s everyone doing their share. Is there an economic upside to this? I keep arguing that if we get 2% of the global clean energy economy, our cleantech energy sector would be bigger than our automobile sector. So there is an argument from economic positions alone that depend on our 2%. This is a big market, let’s go after it.

Derick: I know you developed Planet Traveler, North America’s lowest-carbon hotel in downtown Toronto, and made a number of private investments in the cleantech sector. I also know you are the author of Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit (2009) and Waking the Frog: Solutions to our Climate Paralysis (2014). But can we learn a little more about Tom Rand—how did you get here? What inspired you?

Tom Rand: I grew up in a scientifically literate household. My father is a professor of biophysics and we have had countless table pounding discussions around climate change since when I was a kid. This issue has been around for a long time and I have always been worried about it.

I had a software company and sold it in 2005; I met some very influential people at that time, people that were very encouraging of me getting into the climate game. But then I think there are a lot of really smart people who get this issue. However not everybody who works for a big company can speak publicly the way I speak about it. People don’t want their brands associated with this kind of apocalyptic talk. So I think many of our businesses are handcuffed, that they can’t really speak openly in public because of the brands they are associated with, and there is a little bit of constraint around helping them to speak. I don’t have that constraint; I am independent to some extent.

Derick: As a speaker, how is the reception of this ‘disruptive’ message? Where do we go from here?

Tom Rand: The biggest problem with climate is that to accept the truth of climate disruption means that we have to rethink most of our world views which are neurology embedded, unconscious, and endemic to our brains. The way we make sense of the world. All that stuff sits unconsciously in our brain and it encodes things like; the future is better than the past, the economy can grow forever, and human ingenuity knows no bounds. Especially in the Western world, there are a lot of these culturally embedded notions of progress.

Climate disruption runs counter to all these notions of progress. What we really need to do, is we need to find a way to talk about climate that speaks to our world view. That’s why it is really important to talk about the solutions to climate change because it involves innovation, it involves human ingenuity, it involves forward thinking, it involves progress. We have to talk about solutions to climate change at the same time we talk about the problem of climate change.

If all we do is talk about the problem of climate change, people’s mental defenses will not let in that belief and that’s why we have been collectively sleepwalking for so long on this issue. The truth of climate disruption runs counter to our implicit unconscious deeply held view of ourselves and we need to change that in order to ensure a sustainable future.

Derick Ajumni is the Founder and Managing Editor of PVBuzz, an online platform showcasing developments in the solar photovoltaics field. Derick’s interest and ardent support for the solar industry began after he completed his Masters Degree in Environmental Policy from Clark University in the United States.

This ends our three-part series with Tom Rand — you can also read the interview in its entirety on PVBuzz.


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