The world is running out of time to avert a climate catastrophe, but businesses have the technology to lighten our carbon footprint, and young people have the political will to make that happen. Does Canada have the courage to act?
Our scientists tell us that human-induced climate change brought on by the burning of fossil fuels has taken the human race and our fellow species into the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth. While the Trump administration is at least up-front about its avowed commitment to exploit every possible opportunity to bring fossil fuels online for both domestic consumption and export, the Canadian government uses every public opportunity to flaunt its leadership in decarbonizing Canada and its prominent role in rallying the world to address climate change.
But when it comes to issuing permits and underwriting fossil-fuel projects, the Canadian government has missed no opportunity to be at the head of the pack. On the other hand, more than 460 Canadian municipalities have already called for urgent action to address climate change. The negative economic consequences of those misguided federal policies to keep the fossil-fuel spigot wide open are ominous, for both Canada and the world.
Facing a global climate emergency, younger generations of millennials and Gen Zs are spearheading an unprecedented planetary mobilization in support of a global Green New Deal to save life on Earth, and they are setting the agenda for a bold political movement with the potential to revolutionize society.
Let’s be clear about what is happening. This is the first planetary revolt of the human race in the 200,000-year history of our species on Earth. There have been untold social, political and economic protests throughout human history around religious differences, economic issues, governance and social grievances. Yet, the current uprising is of a different ilk.
Gen Z and millennial protesters have now walked out of classrooms and offices and onto the streets in the millions in approximately 150 countries in planetary strikes, marking the first time in history that a global cohort of human beings has identified itself as an “endangered species.” And this is the first generation that has begun to think of our fellow creatures as part of our evolutionary family and the biosphere as our indivisible community.
While the Green New Deal has become a lightning rod in the political sphere, there is a parallel movement emerging within the business community that will shake the very foundation of the global economy in coming years. Key sectors of the economy – information and communications technology; power and electricity; transportation and logistics; real estate – are fast decoupling from fossil fuels in favour of ever-cheaper solar and wind energies and the accompanying clean technologies, green business practices and processes of circularity and resilience that are the central features of a Green New Deal.
The levelized costs of utility-scale solar and wind installations have plummeted and are now below the cost of nuclear power, coal and natural gas. They are continuing to plunge, and the marginal cost of generating green energy is near zero: The sun and the wind do not send a bill.
New studies from across the financial sector are sounding the alarm that upward of $100-trillion in stranded fossil-fuel assets could create a carbon bubble likely to burst by 2028, causing the collapse of the fossil-fuel civilization. Already, more than $11-trillion has been divested or is in the process of being divested from the fossil-fuel infrastructure and related industries in what has become a stampede unparalleled in economic history.
Canada, currently the fourth largest producer of crude oil in the world, will be caught in the crosshairs, between the plummeting price of solar and wind, the fallout from surpassing peak oil demand and the accumulation of stranded assets in the oil industry. The marketplace is speaking, and Canada needs to establish a bold new economic vision if it is to adapt and prosper.
Every major economic transformation has required three elements, each of which interacts with the others to enable the system to operate as a whole: a new communication medium, a new power source and a new transportation mechanism to manage, power and move economic activity, social life and governance.
In the 19th century, steam-powered printing and the telegraph, abundant coal and locomotives on national rail systems meshed in a common infrastructure, giving birth to the First Industrial Revolution and the rise of urbanization, capitalist economies and national markets overseen by nation-state governance.
In the 20th century, centralized electricity, the telephone, radio and television, cheap oil and internal combustion vehicles on national road systems converged to create an infrastructure for the Second Industrial Revolution and the emergence of suburbanization, globalization and global governing institutions.
We are now on the cusp of a Third Industrial Revolution. The digitized broadband communication internet is converging with a digitized renewable energy internet, powered by solar and wind electricity, and a digitized mobility and logistics internet of autonomous electric and fuel-cell vehicles, also powered by green energy.
These three internets are continuously being fed data from sensors embedded across society that monitor activity of all kinds in real time, from agricultural fields, warehouses, road systems, factory production lines, retail stores and especially from the residential and institutional building stock. This technology is allowing people to more efficiently manage, power and move day-to-day economic activity and social life from where they work and live.
This is the Internet of Things (IoT). Buildings will be retrofitted for energy efficiency and then embedded with IoT infrastructure, allowing the habitats to serve as widely-distributed edge data centres that will increasingly replace today’s giant big-data centres. Smart buildings will also serve as green micropower-generating plants, energy-storage sites and transport and logistics hubs for electric and fuel-cell vehicles, all in a more inclusive zero-emission society.