Meeting the Minds – Dr. Lorelei Hanson, Part II

Dr. Lorelei Hanson has authored two environmental studies courses and two geography courses at AU. She currently tutors her courses ENVS 200 and ENVS 435, and coordinates those as well ENVS 361 and GLST 243. She took some time to speak with Scott Jacobsen about her work with AU and general outlook in a two-part interview.

At the World Economic Forum, Prime Minister Trudeau discussed transitioning from Canadian resources to Canadian resourcefulness; in other words, going from things such as hydrocarbons to things such as human capital, (ie. education, skills, expertise, and so on.)

How do you think Canada will need to diversify, whether it be the economy or the environment?
It is very clear from us losing a sort of social license that we need to pay more attention to our environmental performance. For a long time, environmentalists felt like their voices weren’t being heard but I think recent developments show that their role in scrutinizing our energy system has had an impact. I think It’s also a number of different things converging at once. People are recognizing more and more the impacts of climate change and saying, “You know what, climate scientists are telling us we don’t have very long and we’ve got to do something different soon.” Those factors are converging and drawing attention to Alberta. One result of this is Alberta having been given the label of producing “dirty oil,” and people saying “no” to Alberta’s current system of oil and gas development. But we’ve got this valuable resource and there’s no way we will have a completely decarbonized economy in the next couple of decades, so the value of that resource will exist for some time. There’s just no way we can transition over night from our current dependence on oil and gas to another energy system. But we still need to critically look at that energy system, be innovative, and envision something different for the future. We’ve got to move forward. We can’t rely on our old way of doing things.

With respect to Justin Trudeau I’d want to see him back up his words with some concrete policies and programs that will make a difference. We haven’t seen that yet. It sounds good, but let’s see how he’s going to move forward and do something about improving our environmental performance in Canada. At the same time, we have an economy in Alberta, and within Canada, absolutely dependent upon natural resource extraction, and so you have to somehow find a way to transition that economy so that You’re not having people’s lives be devastated in the meantime. You can’t have a province like Alberta lose 10,000 jobs every month. That’s not sustainable; if we’re going to talk abut sustainability we have to include in that analysis social sustainability. Also, there’s no one person that has the answer to how to build a more sustainable energy system in Canada, and so the federal government needs to put in place a process to harness and nurture innovation on and good ideas of how to transition Canada’s energy system to be more sustainable. It is only when we work collaboratively that we will come up with some solutions that work in many contexts.

What are the relevant experts? recommendations or timelines for implementation of the recommendations to solve these challenges?
Right, as I said before, when we talk about an energy system, You’re necessarily talking about, what we’re calling in some academic and professional circles, “wicked issues.” These are issues that are so complex, cross so many different sectors, and are characterized by indeterminacy in time and scale, uncertainty and interdependency, that they necessarily require collaborative discussion. These are also emergent issues, so the solutions that we develop for the next couple of years are not the solutions we can apply in the next 15 years. This means that we can’t approach our energy and climate change problems using traditional approaches. It won’t work to have a small group of experts getting together, framing the issue, and putting forth what they think is the solution. We also can’t apply a cost-benefit analysis to wicked problems.

The conditions we need to examine with respect to energy and climate are continually in flux, and we have to learn to become much more adaptive and collaborative in how we resolve these issues, and That’s why the Energy Futures Lab is set up how it is, as a social learning lab. It is also why the EFL Support Team purposefully chose 40 individuals from across Alberta that represent diverse sectors. You not only have my environmental and academic voice, but you have voices from the oil and gas sector, renewable energy, indigenous communities, government and community groups. The EFL conveners purposefully put together this diverse group because they know that we have to learn to find ways to find common values and work together to identify solutions that achieve those values. We can no longer work in siloes. It is not that we don’t need expert knowledge, we certainly need expert knowledge, but it has to play a role within a much broader collaboration of reaching out and looking at how are these energy and climate change are impacting people and the non-human world differently across time and space. It also means asking questions such as what are people willing to trade off in order to move forward and what kind of education do we need?

If people start to really recognize and accept a different way doing things, a lot of innovation will arise. But we have such entrenched bureaucracies, processes, and timelines that it will not be easy. It means going against all of those things that we use as our standard measurement tools. At the same time, we have never faced a situation like this, where we’re in such dire need of doing something different. So I think the Energy Futures Lab, the people who put that together fundamentally believe that we can dramatically change the way we orient ourselves and go about our business of daily living. we’ll see, right? It is an experiment for sure and it will be interesting to see what will happen in the next 18 months.

What is the direction of this research with respect to AU, and its initiatives relevant to it, for 2016?
I’m a professor at AU and a citizen of Alberta, and energy is an issue of fundamental importance to me, Alberta, and the world. The results that come out of the Energy Futures Lab I hope will include innovations that have an impact. Of course, that is always the kind of research my colleagues at Athabasca University and at any other university are tying to do. We want to make a difference in the world.

That is why we’re teachers and researchers. And this is one of the most fundamental issues facing our times, and we desperately need to find new ways to address it.

Thank you for your time, Professor Hanson.

For more information
Alberta Climate Dialogue.
Dr. Lorelei Hanson. Athabasca University,
B.C.-Alberts Social Economy Research Alliance:
Energy Futures Lab
“Environmental research at Athabasca University will help create a new energy future for Alberta” Athabasca University News.

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