Energy Literacy in Canada: A summary

  • Dale Eisler University of Regina

Abstract

Surveys among the general population, business and policy leaders, and aboriginal Canadians reveal that, among all three groups, there is ample general knowledge about the way Canadians use energy and the costs related to it. But when they think about economic and social policy issues of importance, Canadians tend to consider energy a low priority. While this may be the consequence of living in an energysecure country, given that the economy’s strength, growth and resilience are so intimately linked to secure and sustainable sources of energy, that lack of engagement can only be problematic for policymakers dealing with energy-related issues. It can lead to important choices being made without widespread public awareness, input and agreement. But, even more worrisome is that these surveys found that all three Canadian cohorts surveyed severely lack trust in the key voices that speak on energy issues. They hold negative views of energy company executives, mistrust information from industry associations, and lack trust in their provincial and federal governments. Aboriginal Canadians were the least likely to trust all these sources. The importance of trust cannot be overstated. The absence of trust can lead to negative consequences for investment in the energy system, and can undermine public confidence in leadership, making the challenge of improving energy literacy that much more difficult. An early step towards remedying that credibility gap could include creating independent, credible, centralized institutions that serve as clearing houses for non-politicized energy information, such as the Energy Information Administration in the United States. In addition, it is clear that Canada can only benefit from measures that nurture robust yet sober debate about energy issues, that will help stimulate public engagement. To that end, the creation of a national advisory coalition, comprised of aboriginal Canadians, academics, opinion leaders and former senior public servants, could provide a forum that would help shape consensus on issues that currently suffer from excessive polarization. In the Canadian context, energy literacy must mean more than just having a reasonable appreciation of where our energy comes from and how it is distributed. It also means having a firm grasp of the economic and environmental impacts, coupled with the trade-offs that are an inevitable part of energy production. Thus, for the public to give energy-related issues the emphasis and importance they warrant requires a level of energy literacy that includes understanding its critical role in Canada’s current and future standard of living.
Published
2016-01-21
Section
Research Papers