Rating: High school and post-secondary
Summary: Markham debates climate activist and academic Seth Klein about his new book, “A GOOD WAR: MOBILIZING CANADA FOR THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY,” which argues that governments should direct economic activity to lower greenhouse gas emissions just like Canada did to support its military commitment during World War II. Markham argues that abundant and cheap low-carbon electricity combined with batteries, electric vehicles, and other new technologies – and supportive climate policy – will achieve the objective quicker and more efficiently than a top-down, command-and-control approach.
This Energi Talks podcast has been lightly edited.
Markham Hislop: Welcome to another episode of Energi Talks, the podcast where we discuss global energy issues and trends with experts from around the world. In this episode, I’ll be talking to climate activist and academic, Seth Klein about his new book, a Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency, published by ECW press and available at independent booksellers across Canada or online from sethklein.ca in print, e-book, or audio formats.
This is going to be a very interesting episode because you wrote a book that I agree with a lot more of it than I thought I was going to, and we’ll get into that in a minute, but I don’t agree with all of it. And I disagree with your basic thesis. So we’re going to have a little bit of an argument, but respectful and friendly, which is good, the way it should be. Let’s start with a two or three-minute overview of the argument in your book.
Seth Klein: I set out to write this book with two opening premises, really. One was, what do we do about this harrowing gap between what the climate science says we have to do and what our politics seems prepared to entertain. And secondly, my opening premise really was that everything we’ve been doing for the last 30 years isn’t working. I know your listenership is all over the world, but this is a very Canadian book.
I opened by looking at Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions for the last 20 years and what you basically see as a flat line. We have managed to flatline our emissions, they’re not growing, that’s the good news, but neither are they in decline. So where it matters most, what we’ve been trying to date is not protecting our children from a horrific future.
I was always going to have a chapter on lessons from the Second World War. In the original outline, it was just going to be one chapter because I had long been intrigued by the example of World War II as this experience we had of rapid economic transformation. So often we have in our head, you know, can we really do this in time? And I think the answer is, “yeah, we can because we have done it twice before.” Once to ramp up military production, another time to reconvert to peace time.
But the more I delved into that work, the more I started to see more and more parallels – and not just economic, but political – around how public opinion is marshalled. What did we do for returning soldiers as a model for just transition for energy workers? How did we navigate Confederation? And I ultimately decided to structure the whole book around lessons from the Second World War as this reminder that we’ve done this before we have.
We have mobilized in the face of an existential threat and undertaken a massive transformation. Hence the title, A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency.
Markham Hislop: I want to say to listeners that having read the book, it’s very readable. When academics write for popular audiences, that’s not often the case, but this is a good read and so kudos to you. (SK) I’m glad you think so. (MH) I most certainly do. And I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t, as listeners know. And I want to say that even though this book is very specifically Canadian, I think that the issues it grapples with are universal, you can apply then to if not all countries, most of them.
And the solutions that you propose also could be applied to other countries that are grappling with climate policy and how to get their emissions down in a timely fashion as per the Paris agreement. I think that listeners outside of Canada shouldn’t just think of this as a local thing. It’s just a Canadian example of bigger trends and bigger issues.
Here’s where we differ. I should start by saying that you did not write the book that I was expecting when I first picked it up. And what was different is the number of chapters you’re leading up to this grand chapter where you lay out what the Canadian government of William Lyon, Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest-serving prime minister and how basically his government transformed the economy from 1939 to 1945 to produce tanks and ships and all of the material and ammunitions. Canada was a major supplier to the allied war effort. (SK) Absolutely. (MH) Probably not appreciated outside of Canada. (SK) Absolutely. And from a base of almost nothing
Markham Hislop: From a base of almost nothing, and there was one individual who stood at the centre of that, that many Canadians will recognize the name and that CD Howe, who was the, I forget his title, exactly, but minister of everything, I think pretty much covers it.
Seth Klein: Formally, it was the Minister of Munitions and Supply.
Markham Hislop: You explain in the book how CD Howe basically ran the economy, like a one man show. He had a big team of dollar-a-year men from the corporate world, or some in some cases from the academic world. And, and it was an amazingly well-oiled machine and very successful, which is why you think it’s a model for our current climate crisis. But then you did something very curious in the chapter, right after where you said, “I’m writing about this argument or this historical event, not to suggest we should do exactly the same thing this time but to explode thinking about our limitations.” That we can marshal our resources to do something, to meet an emergency in a different fashion, mobilize at that level and do great things in a short period of time when we need to. And there are lessons to be learned from that experience.
Is that a fair characterization?
Seth Klein: Mostly. I actually think we should do a bunch of the things that CD Howe did, but it’s not a perfect template. Obviously, we need to modernize it.
But my contention is when I say, as I did off the top, that all we have managed to do is flatline our emissions. And I ask myself why is that? And my answer is that because so much of how we have approached climate to date is through the prism of, and constraints, really the straight jacket of neoliberal thinking. We make everything voluntary. We incentivize change, we rebate, we send price signals, we incentivize. But what we decidedly don’t do is require.
What I marvel at when I look at that world war II history, and in particular CD Howe was his flexibility? Like this guy was no lefty, right? This guy was firmly on the right-wing of the Liberal government cabinet. He came from the private sector. He’d made a lot of money building all the grain elevators of the 1920s that dotted our country.
But he was seized with the task. And so anytime the market and the private sector couldn’t quickly do what needed doing, he created another crown corporation to try to get the job done. So my point is when I wonder “why aren’t we spending what we need to spend to tackle this climate crisis? Why aren’t we using the regulatory power of the state to drive change? Why aren’t we creating new crown corporations to get the job done?” It’s because our politicians across the political spectrum – incidentally from Conservatives on the right to New Democrats on the left – are still trapped in this neoliberal thinking that considers all of those things off-limits.
CD Howe to his credit wasn’t constrained that way in the face of an emergency.
Markham Hislop: Let me now give you my counter-argument. And I want to preface it by saying to the listeners that Seth and I agree on climate science, we agree on the urgency of reducing emissions. On the fundamentals of this argument, we agree.
The only thing we will disagree is how to get there in a timely fashion. (SK) That’s a fair disagreement. (MH) As I often do when we talk about energy technology, which I do often on this podcast and in my interviews, I go back to the thesis I wrote in the mid-1980s about the transition from horse-drawn technology to power farming in Saskatchewan from 1900 to 1930. It nicely illustrates the energy transition. This one and others have been driven by often by technologies and they follow the adoption S-curve.
They generally last 50ish years, as Vaclav Smil is fond of reminding us. And so let me describe what happened in the mechanization of farming on the Canadian prairies. So in the late 19th century, we have the emergence of the steam tractor, great big steam engine, basically on wheels that was very expensive and not very practical. And on the Prairies it was basically used for breaking new land, with lots of roots and trees and it was difficult. Then it was, it was adapted to what they call threshing machines, which is basically an old combine. It would be attached by a, pulley or a belt. And then before the great war, so since 1910ish, you have the introduction of great big gasoline, internal combustion engine tractors, and these were about the same size as the steam tractors.
And they could do more, but they still were required big farms, big corporate farms. They weren’t very good for the quarter section farmer that was common at the time. And then after the great war, 1918, 19 you have the introduction of the Fordson. And basically, Henry Ford took all of the technology and his ideas of assembly line manufacturing of automobiles. And he applied them to tractors and they were cheap, and they did the job for these quarter section farmers. And then in the mid-twenties, you have the introduction of what’s called the combine, which we see a hundred years later is still used. They cost $300,000 and they’re vastly bigger, but essentially the same thing, right? You separate the wheat from the chaff and collect it so that you can send it off to market.
And then the twenties was the disruptive decade in that industry and that technology, that was the decade in which, from 1920 to 1930, there was a substantive difference in the technology that was used, the way farms were organized and all of the trends accelerated. So if you look at it from a technology adoption point of view, the technology spent the first 20 ish years going from the beginning of the S curve hitting up to the inflection point. and then in the twenties, it hit the inflection point and when zooming up the curve and spent the Thirties during the Great Depression, there was necessarily a bit of a lag. By the end of the forties, you could not find a horse in a field in Saskatchewan, Alberta, or Manitoba.
And I’m sure the same was true in the Dakotas and Wyoming and other places where they grew wheat. And what we’re seeing today is that exact same process at play with clean energy technologies. And you can think of wind and solar and lithium-ion batteries and electric cars really got their roots go back to the 1990s to the late 20th century. And they have spent the last 20ish years improving, falling in cost, climbing up that S-curve. And now here we are, literally a hundred years later, that new set of technologies is ready to hit the inflection point. Wind and solar are already cheaper than any other form of electricity. Lithium-ion batteries are falling off a cliff, electric vehicles are going to the same price as internal combustion engine cars.
Seth Klein: I take your thesis, I get it. You’re saying that left to its own devices, these technological innovations hit a certain tipping point and then they don’t really need state intervention, they’re just going to take off. And that was the historic example out of agriculture. There is an interesting irony in your example, by the way, which is those same technologies destroyed the soil and undermined the capacity of the soil to store carbon in agriculture.
Look, you and I can agree, there are many historical examples that one can draw on how change happens and at different rates. And in some ways, I hope you’re right in this case. And, it really comes down to a question of, do we have time? Because my contention in the book is that we have run out the clock with so many distracting debates about incremental changes.
And now the IPCC has given us this very short window and maybe you’re right, that we’re right on the cusp and now the change is going to become exponential, but maybe you’re wrong. And in the end, I’m actually prepared not to roll the dice on the future of all of our children that change left to its own devices will occur.
Let me give you a counter historic example based on the analogy I’m using in the book. In the Second World War, Pearl Harbor happened in December of 1941. In February of 1942, two months later, the last civilian automobile rolled off the assembly line in Detroit. Did that happen because the automakers appreciated the moment – that historic moment we found ourselves in? No, they were ordered to change their production lines. They continued to serve an important role. I think the private sector, then just as now, has an important role to play, but in an emergency, this is the point
In an emergency when you are at the 11th hour, and time is short, you don’t leave the allocation of scarce resources to the market. You have to drive change. And there are other examples of where we use the regulatory power of the state to drive changes, right?
You and I are similar age, I think, judging from our beards, so we can remember when seatbelt laws were made mandatory, we can remember when smoking was banned from restaurants and bars, and the industry said it was going to be the end of them and these were terrible infringements on our civil liberties. It took enough pressure for governments to require the change, and then they just become the new normal in a remarkable short period of time.
It’s the interplay between the market and the state. But what I appreciate in my study of the Second World War is that while there was an important role for the private sector to play, the truly amazing thing about those business leaders at the time is that they understood that in the face of an emergency, it actually had to be state-led. And, they recognized it, they appreciated it, and they went along with it, and in fact, they helped to lead it and lent their business talents to it.
Markham Hislop: I’m going to give you an example drawn from our home province (Seth and I both live in British Columbia). And the, one of the points that you make in your book is that electrification of the economy needs to happen yesterday, right? So, we’re agreed on that.
I have done a great deal of reporting and research on electrification and electrical markets and power generation over the last six months, including BC, whose public electrical utility is a crown corporation, the very thing that talking about, And you have written in other fora about BC hydro, and saying that it is the preferred method, this is how we’re going to electrify. And I would argue, sir, that in fact, BC, hydro and the NDP government will screw it up. The unintended consequence of sticking to crown corporations in this instance will, in fact, lead to the opposite result that you were looking for.
And I’ll tell you why. The electrification studies in BC suggest that by 2050, at least two times more power will be required than is currently used. And that’s about 55,000-gigawatt hours a year. Most of the power in BC right now is produced by hydro dams. And that’s kind of BC’s claim to fame. You cannot build enough hydro dams to double the electricity output of British Columbia. (SK) I agree. (MH) It cannot be done.
Wind and solar are the only sensible economic options at this point in the game. Now you have a crown corporation that’s been around for 60 or 70 years, that does nothing but build hydro dams. And in the case of the Site C project, doing it very, very badly. And so how are you going to expand wind and solar with a crown corporation has no experience in it.
So now you’re going to have to look out to communities and First Nations and independent power providers and if the crown corporation has a not very stellar record of playing nice in the sandbox. (SK) We’re agreed about that. (MH) Right. And so what you need now, and I have interviewed probably 20 economists and engineers and power administrators across North America about this, and given where electricity technology is going, market-based systems work. And right next door in Alberta, they say, is the best designed independent operator system, probably in North America.
Seth Klein: So first of all, I share with you many of the frustrations about BC hydro and where I think I concur is that the public sector, including crown corps, need to be transformed. I say that in the book that we need to transform the public sector, including bringing in new people and new ways of thinking to shake things up in an interesting way, that’s sort of what CD Howe did, right? He didn’t just create all of these 28 crown corporations during the war, but he didn’t trust the existing public service to run them. He brought in all of these outside people and their new ways of thinking to actually lead those crown corporations. And I think we need to do something similar to that again.
But let me quibble with a couple of things.
First of all, I don’t actually think our little province here needs to double its electricity output. It is going to need new capacity. And I agree with you that it can’t come from big hydro dams anymore. But for a number of reasons, even as we electrify everything, I don’t think we need to double just because of time-of-day strategies at peak demand. The fact that so much of the electricity we’re already producing is just to service the fossil fuel industry and fracking and all of this stuff that we need to stop and all of the other efficiency gains that are going to come with the transition. I’ve seen stuff that convinces me we don’t have to double, but we do need more. And I would like to see BC hydro approach that differently than we have, but let me give you another example about why I see the need for this role.
I don’t have faith that these independent producers alone will do what we need to do with the speed and scale of what we have to do in the next 10 years.
But also on the demand side, I went through the exercise in the past year of getting my own home electrified. I’ve turned off the natural gas, I’ve switched to an electric heat pump. And let me tell you, it was a very frustrating and expensive exercise. You have to turn to the private market. Now, even though the province gives a $3,000 rebate and the city, another $6,000 on top of that, it’s still super expensive. It costs me more than double and it was complicated.
There’s nobody who imports a heat pump that’s HFC free, even though they exist. They’re no one imports it to this market. I had the city’s top engineers and contractors in my living room, trying to help me figure out how to do it. And even though you will not find a more highly motivated person than me, I still wanted to run away screaming. I did it. But I came out of the exercise thinking that if we are hoping to achieve this at a voluntary level, offering people rebates we’re fried, Markham, and we’re going to still have more buildings tying into natural gas faster than we’re going to convince people to switch to electric heat pumps.
I come out of the experience thinking this is only going work if the switch was mandated. That’s the regulatory power of the state.
If we had a subsidiary of BC hydro or some other new crown corporation that was mass-producing or importing HFC-free heat pumps, got the economies of scale, took the profit margin out of it, eliminated the gap between the rebate and the cost of doing this and with an army of installers helping people do it – unlike when you take your car to the garage, you’re not always wondering if you’re being bilked – then it might work. But the two have to partner up.
Markham Hislop: Fair enough, but let’s not beat this topic to death. We’ll move on.
I’ll just finish by saying my attitude towards crown corporations, I think was best articulated in 1995. I was chair of the Prince Albert regional economic development authority in Saskatchewan. The NDP government of that time came around and had a consulting session. And I remember standing up and saying that while public ownership is a very useful tool to spur economic development and build infrastructure into a whole bunch of things, and we should not be afraid to let crown corporations be privatized if it’s demonstrated that co-ops or communities or private sector, whoever can do it better. And nor should we be afraid to create new crown corporations to accomplish goals that we think the private sector can do in a timely fashion.
Seth Klein: So, it’s basically the logic CD Howe brought to it, right? He was happy to give contracts to the private sector, but there were certain times by which he went a different route.
Markham Hislop: I’m merely arguing that a crown corporation in some of these areas is not necessary. It may be for the example of the heat pumps that you just mentioned.
Let’s move on to another topic – fossil fuels and oil and gas in particular. And this is applicable to many, many countries across the world, in particular for our European and American listeners. So you contend in the book and I’ve listened to you your famous sister, Naomi Klein, for many, many years saying we should leave it in the ground.
And I would argue that that would be a significant mistake in the case of the Alberta oil sands. Now, who can defend the oil sands with its 200 kilograms of CO2 equivalent per barrel, one of the dirtiest oils on the planet. That seems completely and utterly counterintuitive, except that that carbon-intensity, if you can make precursor for carbon fibre out of it, then becomes a competitive advantage because now you can make carbon fibre at half the price in enormous quantities.
And which industry needs carbon fibre more than any other you ask? It is the automotive industry, which is busy electrifying, and is trying to reduce the weight of its vehicles because the lighter the vehicle, the further your range.
There’s a provincial agency in Alberta called Alberta Innovates that’s leading this research. They say they’re five to seven years away from being ready to do this. I’ve interviewed the VP of sales for one of the big carbon fibre manufacturers in Missouri. He says, there’s no reason why we can’t build carbon fibre plants right in Alberta close to the resource. And I have argued in The Hydrocarbon Vision that it is time for the industry to begin pivoting to a post-combustion future.
Seth Klein: So you think it may have a role, but not in combustion, but actually in production material. Look maybe, and maybe you know, I could probably convinced of the same thing around metallurgic coal and some role that it might have, in non GHG emitting steel infrastructure. But in some ways you’re making my previous case, which is you don’t in the face of an emergency let the market determine the allocation of scarce resources. If there is to be a limited role for metallurgic coal and for Canadian oil in the, in the production, as you say of GHG free materials that we’re going to need as we transition, then we have to ensure that that’s in fact what it’s used for. We actually have to direct those markets to make sure that that and that alone is what it’s used for.
Markham Hislop: See now I would agree. In fact, I have been arguing that for quite a while. You’re a bit of a newcomer to Energi Media, but for the veterans out there, they’ll know that I’ve been a very loud and to some ears, an obnoxious voice, calling for these things for a while. And one of the things that I think we need to do, in order to get to where you and I both agree, we need to get the world needs to get to, Canada needs to get to, is that the governments need to push harder. Now, you know, the federal government, I know you would say that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate policy is inadequate because, look, it hasn’t done anything, right. We’re still no different.
Seth Klein: That’s very much what I think, that’s exactly it.
Markham Hislop: What you think and what you’ve said here. And I would argue that all of the policy tools, and there are three policy levers that any government can pull. And in Canada, that means climate-carbon pricing. That means regulations. And that means subsidies. And this particular government is pulling all of those leavers and sometimes they are pulling them without much authority.
And they’re letting provincial governments who have constitutional authority over some of these sectors, they’re letting them weasel their way out of serious commitments. Like in Alberta, for instance, where methane emission regulations have been weakened, where the large emitter of carbon tax has been diluted by the conservative government, instead of being as robust as it should be.
But there is a study that just came out, and I interviewed the author, Michael Bernstein who’s an economist with Clean Prosperity, who argues that 50 per cent of our climate commitments can be met with carbon pricing if we increase it $10 per tonne, every year to 2040.
Seth Klein: Your list of three, I don’t object to, I just think it’s incomplete, right?
You’re saying pricing, subsidize, regulate. I completely agree that all three of those should be part of how we make this leap. However, the pricing has sucked up so much oxygen at the expense of other things. I agree that there’s a price point considerably higher than the one where we are right now at which it can drive some important changes, but I see no political appetite to actually go there.
Subsidize, yes. I particularly would like to subsidize lower-income households who are going to need help through the transition. And regulate. That piece has been severely underemployed, even though the most significant actual GHG reductions we’ve seen in Canada have been from those provinces that are actually getting rid of coal electricity production and that is a clear regulatory move.
So I want to see more of that, but I think your list is missing three points to add to your three points. Spend, create, communicate. Okay. So when I try to summarize my takeaway from this World War II experience, how do you know when a government is actually in an emergency mode? I have these four markers. They spend what it takes to win. That’s what CD Howe and McKenzie King did during the war.
Two, you create new economic institutions to get the job done. That is my point about crown corporations, or I argue for a new federal transfer to the provinces for just transition. In the war, we created crown corporations, we created the Wartime Crises Board and the Production Board and, and the Wartime Information Board, right, to actually get the public onside.
So the third marker is you move from voluntary to mandatory. There’s your regulatory point. And the fourth marker is you tell the truth, you communicate the urgency of the task at hand. And that’s what we remember most about the key leaders from the second world war. They were forthright about the nature of this task, and they were coherent in their messaging. Whereas what I find objectionable from many of our current leaders, whether it’s Justin Trudeau, or frankly John Horgan, or Rachel Notley, is when they say, “yeah, we have a climate emergency, but yeah, we’re going to double down on fossil fuel infrastructure,” they are sending a confusing message. They are undermining their own case, and the case that has to be made at this late hour that we face an emergency.
Markham Hislop: I can actually address that because I wrote a book last year called the New Alberta Advantage: Technology Policy and the Future of the Oil Sands. And I interviewed Rachel Notley for half an hour. We talked about this very thing. My experts from 2015 when Notley was elected until 2019, when she was defeated by the current premier, Jason Kenney, said that her climate and policy and energy policies were excellent. And these were not lefty the think tank economists. They covered the across the spectrum. They all said this policy is needed, it’s well-designed, and it should be supported and continued.
But here’s the problem. Rachel Notley lost that election in part because she had a terrible, terrible energy narrative. When I was sitting there in the Premier’s office in Calgary, and I was asking her questions about climate change the energy transition and where her policies fit into them, she could not articulate to me a coherent energy narrative. How all these pieces knitted together, how the dots got connected and why they should be connected. And I’ve come to the conclusion that she is not alone. There are very, very few politicians, maybe none in Canada who can articulate a coherent energy narrative.
Seth Klein: We agree about that, but on the substance of the Alberta plan too,I think you’re too generous. There were parts of the Notley plan that I laud in the book that, where she went with coal and, in particular, and she grabbed the bull by the horns on a few points. But overall their plans saw no decline in GHG emissions before 2030. It’s an emergency. We gotta have our emissions by 2030, so it doesn’t add up.
Markham Hislop: That criticism is absolutely accurate, I acknowledge that. And, that was one of the deficiencies in her plan that could have been addressed, by just simply pushing harder on the accelerator pedal, because all the big oil sands companies that account for most of those emissions actually have the technology to get to net-zero far quicker than they’re promising. But I want to point now down into the US, Seth, because I have read and interviewed experts about Joe Biden’s clean energy plan and his climate plan. And I don’t think for a moment that Joe Biden sat in his study and wrote that wrote that plan. But I can tell you that whoever did knows what they’re talking about. Joe Biden’s team understands that Europe Asia and the United States are in a race to see which area is going to dominate the clean energy technologies, just as the US dominated internal combustion engines and petroleum.
Seth Klein: I agree with you. I like a lot of what’s in the Biden climate plan. I think a lot of good people had their hand in it.
Markham Hislop: It’s a very, very good plan. And Canada in particular, has to figure out where it fits into it because Canada can’t do all this stuff on its own.
Seth Klein: During the war, we cooperated on a whole bunch of the production that I talk about in the book, but let’s look at Biden’s plan. Take my first marker – spend what it takes to win, like it’s an emergency. Now he has to get it through the Senate, and that’s a big open question. But that Biden plan called for $2 trillion in spending over four years. So half a trillion a year, convert that to Canada. Cause it’s like a 10th, the size, it’s still 50 billion a year. Justin Trudeau is spending 2 billion a year, not a little bit less, but less by a massive order of magnitude.
Markham Hislop: But then if he spent more, he would simply be doing the kind, in your words, neoliberal approach, and which you still fundamentally disagree with. Even if he was spending more, though he would have covered one of your points.
Seth Klein: I think, and this is what I say in the book. It’s primarily infrastructure that is needed to make this transition. I think Justin Trudeau should bring in a just transition climate emergency transfer to the provinces, and it should be a 20 to $40 billion a year for the next 10 years. And it should be spending on all of the things that, that we need to do to expedite that transition. But it’s mostly on, on different kinds of energy infrastructure, retrofits or so on, but it’s sort of one-time capital spending most of it.
And then I also think we need a new generation of crown corporations. By the way, to your earlier point, I’m quite open and flexible about what form that takes, you know, whether it’s a municipal social enterprise or, or an Indigenous one, the point is, is that the profit margin is not there, it’s driven by community need.
Here in Vancouver where I live, a huge change is being driven by a municipally-owned public utility where all of the new buildings in False Creek are heated through a heat exchange from wastewater. It’s fantastic. And that’s a municipal public entity. So it can take many different forms, but right now what Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley and John Horgan – how many new public entities have they created to drive the energy transition zero? That’s what I mean by getting trapped in neoliberal thinking.
Markham Hislop: We’ve come to the end of the podcast episode. And I want to circle all the way back around to the beginning and why I liked your book. It was well-written and entertaining and, and it was clear. It was well-argued. And again, that’s not something we see every day in this subject matter, but here’s why your book is really important. Seth, if you needed somebody to tell you. (SK) Please. (MH) We desperately need new energy narratives in Canada, desperately need them. Biden and his team, and not just Biden, because if you look at American scholarship and American thinking, they are so far ahead of us. The Europeans are so far ahead of us. The purpose of this podcast is to interview global experts outside of Canada and bring those ideas into Canada.
Seth Klein: We need it. Yeah. A bunch of folks are kicking our butts.
Markham Hislop: We’re very provincial here. (SK) Yep. (MH) And so when you look outside, you see all kinds of competing narratives that are very sophisticated and well-researched and well-argued and they’re sitting in the wings. This discourse has been going on for years and decades in the United States, and in Europe. Where in Canada, it’s almost stillborn. And so your book, I don’t have to agree with everything in it to say that this is a very important book because it advances a narrative for tackling climate change and accelerating the energy transition. (SK) Thanks.
Seth Klein: Can I say something about narratives because I really appreciate your saying that. And you know, when I think about the most insidious legacy of 40 years of neo-liberalism, it isn’t the spending cuts and the tax cuts and the deregulation, all these things that annoy me, it’s the sapping of our imagination and our belief in our capacity to accomplish great things together. That’s the main barrier we have to overcome.
That’s why in the book, it’s really this historic excavation of a story to remind us of how quickly and brashly we’re able to move when we set our minds to it. And, When I, when I say that I went into the exercise looking only at the economic transition and realized that there was a much more significant story there that actually is much more rooted in narrative, as you say around public opinion.
So many of us assume that right at the outset of the Second World War, everyone was there, everyone was ready to rally, we declared war good to go. Not true. This was a very divided public, wary and weary public. It took leadership to get the public there. And it took narrative. We had a wartime information board. We had, thankfully just created another crown corporation called the CBC three years before the war. And so there was a vehicle for presenting a shared story every night, as people gathered around the radio, the same was true in the States.
The US in 1939 was majority opposed to joining the war. By the time Pearl Harbor happened two years later, a majority was in favour before Pearl Harbor. Why? Because Edward R Murrow in this team from CBS News had spent two years. They’re credited with shifting US public opinion by 20 per cent, by the stories they told from the front lines. You say you want to bring reporting about what’s happening elsewhere in the world. Exactly. But we need to bring a sense of emergency and urgency to it.
Markham Hislop: And on that note, Seth, thank you very much for this. I, we agree on the, on the urgency part of it. And I look forward to chatting with you about this more in the future, because public discourse in Canada around energy and climate is stunted. (SK) Yes it is. (MH) It needs to change in a hurry. We need to change our thinking and our talking before we can begin planning for another future. (SK) Absolutely. Thanks. (MH) Thank you, sir.
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