When my parents’ 12-year-old Saab finally bit the dust in the early 1980s, I insisted that we were better off without a car. Unable to find a solid argument to defeat an opinionated eight-year-old environmentalist, they put off buying a new vehicle. This one-year experiment has lasted for over 15 years.
At the time, my parents were more concerned with appeasing their daughter than reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) or supporting alternative modes of transport. Now, with gas prices pumping past the dollar mark, every consumer is considering her options and calculating the benefits of efficient cars, biking and bus passes. But it’s not just about cars — we need alternative energy sources for almost everything.
We were taught the meaning of the term “non-renewable resource” as early as elementary school. We were told that once it’s gone, it’s gone for good, but it was hard to understand the severe implications of that statement as we sat under fluorescent lights in large institutions humming with pop machines and computer labs. The reality is that fossil fuels are now being consumed 100,000 times faster than they are being formed.
I am part of a generation that grew up enjoying the benefits of seemingly boundless supplies of energy. But within my lifetime, the sources of the energy I have enjoyed will be gone. The apex of the energy crisis will be the defining issue of my time — it will be my generation’s albatross.
Canadians are the heaviest users of energy in the world on a per-capita basis. According to the 2004 Statistics Canada report Energy in Canada, in 2002 each Canadian consumed just over 353 gigajoules of energy, compared with 222 gigajoules in 1967. A full 30-litre tank of gas contains approximately one gigajoule of energy, which means we each use the equivalent of 3,930 litres more gas each year than previous generations.
Between 1990 and 2001, GHG emissions rose more than 18 percent, with energy-related emissions responsible for virtually all of the increase. The major contributors to this hike were electricity and heat generation, vehicles and the fossil fuel production industries.
Our energy ‘Plan A’ is going up in flames. We cannot maintain our energy use and production status quo, not to mention we’re killing our environment. We need to fall back on an energy plan that will meet our needs and those of future generations, as well. That would be ‘Plan B’. Too bad we don’t have one.
“Use less energy. Conserve water and resources. Reduce waste.” So says comedian Rick Mercer, encouraging Canadians to take part in the national One Tonne Challenge campaign to reduce their annual GHG by one tonne. The trouble is that we have been exposed to similar slogans our whole lives. Very little has changed.
I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve heard the words ‘energy crisis’ in recent years. It’s become such a cliché that the phrase is meaningless in our day-to-day lives. Perhaps that is why apathy is the general rule of my generation. When you’re constantly told the world’s about to end because of how we burn energy, even the most avid young environmentalist eventually gives in, knowing she can’t beat large corporations and generations of energy misuse.
The problem is our generation no longer has the luxury of giving in. Even though we’d like to bury our heads in the sand and wait for our children to solve our energy woes, we will have no choice but to find an answer, or else the sand will turn to glass with the heat of global warming and shatter beneath us.
More from our James Bay online exclusive:
Travelling the James Bay Road
James Bay damming project: Water under the dam
Renewable energy: Wind versus water
Climate change: Taking the heat
Tolkien landscape: subarctic wilderness of northern Quebec
A conversation with Matthew Coon Come
A brief history of Cree
How to speak Cree