On Sept. 15, McGill University hosted a panel at Chancellor Day Hall on the future of clean energy as a means of growing the economy. The Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change and McGill law graduate, Catherine McKenna, hosted the event marking the beginning of a series of panels. McKenna previously worked on UN peacekeeping missions and co-founded her charity, Level, to promote equality.
McKenna is touring Canadian universities, aiming to engage students in discussions about the future of clean energy and its impacts on the economy. The panel also featured Tim Moore, a Professor of Geography at McGill and Director of the Trottier Institute for Science and Public Policy, Steven Guilbeault, Cofounder and Senior Director of environmental consulting company Équiterre, Robert Leckey, Dean of the Faculty of Law at McGill, and Jose Mauricio Gaona, Faculty of Law doctoral student at McGill.
Together, the participants deliberated actions that Canadians can take to contribute to the growth of the economy in a sustainable fashion.
“I’m doing a college climate tour because people don’t think climate change is real, or they think it’s too hard and too expensive a problem to tackle,” McKenna said.
McKenna aims to reach out to students, who she believes are the future of policy-making. To her, open dialogue among youth regarding Canada’s future in clean energy is crucial to addressing the problem of climate change. Moore praised McKenna’s engaging approach.
“We should be engaging people in dialogue, rather than having a battle between monologues,” Moore said.
McKenna asked students for questions and suggestions regarding strategies to tackle international policy issues. Citing the example of the United States prematurely pulling out of the Paris Agreement, McKenna called for a thorough, rational approach to international cooperation on climate change.
“In diplomacy, it’s easy to yell and scream,” McKenna said. “We just have to be smart about things, to give [the United States] space to work things out.”
McKenna predicted that the United States will eventually realize that clean energy will be cost-efficient in the long run. She suggested making the economic argument to anyone who dismisses climate change as a serious issue.
“We can’t detach the environment from the economy,” McKenna said. “If we destroy our environment, we destroy our economy.”
McKenna argued that focusing on the economic impacts of switching to clean energy will draw a wider interest. She believes the two are inseparable issues.
Additionally, McKenna criticized the responses of activists who oppose pipeline developments, arguing that the pipeline itself is not the problem.
“Pipelines are just a vehicle,” McKenna said. “As long as there’s a market for oil, it’s going to happen.”
Instead, McKenna took issue with Canada’s infrastructure for offering poor protection against extreme weather. She questioned why Canada imports building materials instead of manufacturing locally, which would reduce emissions and create jobs for Canadians. Guilbeault agreed.
“Most Canadian buildings wouldn’t pass basic energy tests in other countries, such as Germany,” Guilbeault said. “This is a problem, because Germany isn’t nearly as cold as Canada.”
However, Guilbeault is optimistic about the changes being made toward clean energy in Canada.
“Since 2013, Canada has been investing more in clean energy than in fossil fuels,” Guilbeault said. “Three years ago in Quebec, there were 15 charging stations for electric cars. By 2020, there will be 1800.”
McKenna closed the panel with a rallying cry.
“We need to make policy decisions that are going to benefit most people, not the one per cent,” McKenna said. “You guys need to get out there and engage. We don’t have time to fight, we just have to get on.”