The road to energy literacy

It’s easy to define energy literacy as “an understanding of the nature and role of energy in the world and daily lives.”

But that definition, from a government education program, then adds a tough twist. It says this understanding must be “accompanied by the ability to apply this understanding to answer questions and solve problems.”

Talk about the ideal world. . . .

In this ideal world, an energy-literate person:

  • Can think in terms of energy systems;
  • Knows how much energy they use, and what for;
  • Knows where the energy comes from, and how it reaches them;
  • Can communicate about energy and energy use in meaningful ways;
  • Is able to make informed energy-use decisions based on an understanding of impacts and consequences; and
  • Can assess the credibility of information about energy.

That last one is surely tough to do in this era of social media and short attention spans. How do we know what is reliable and credible information, when we are bombarded with fake news, political propaganda, well-funded social-media campaigns to discredit energy development, and a myriad communications from energy companies?

Add to that the complication of understanding the rights and title and needs and priorities of First Nations. And the right of First Nations to be fully engaged in (and potentially true partners in) LNG developments that respect and protect the environment. Those things, too, are an essential part of energy literacy in Canada.

Thinking of energy literacy, I got a chuckle out of a column by Bill Whitelaw, energy analyst and CEO of JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group (JWN) in Calgary.

His headline: “Canada’s politicians aren’t energy literate, and it’s crippling the country.”

Bill wondered if politicians should have to take an energy version of the old S.A.T. test so unloved by students.

“What if Canada’s aspiring provincial and federal politicians had to engage with a similar process vis à vis energy knowledge ‘testing’ before being permitted to let their names stand for office? Call it the E.A.T. — Energy Assessment Test.”

I did not chuckle when Bill Whitelaw added this: “Let’s face reality: most politicians currently came to office well-intentioned but ill-equipped to deal with the complexities of energy matters: economic, technical, regulatory, political and so on. What they are equipped with, on all points on the political spectrum, is a particular ideological perspective on energy that is their default position on what they think they know.”

That’s what we at the First Nations LNG Alliance see every day. We see it from environmentalists, eco-activists, and from some politicians and would-be plliticians. And, sadly, sometimes from business people who should know better. Worse, we far too often see “a particular ideological perspective” that demonstrates abysmal lack of understanding about First Nations and Indigenous people, and Indigenous rights and title.

Now, how do we move towards this ideal world of energy literacy? Clearly, communication is the key. That is, of course, a serious challenge in this age of failing newspapers and steadily growing social media channels. Last time we looked, by the way, there were well over 250 social-media channels around the world.

Our Alliance is on just two of the leaders: Facebook and Twitter. And on those we will work harder to explain how and why First Nations can and do support responsible LNG development.

Resource companies, and government, and we First Nations, and you, can also help increase energy literacy.

Let us take every opportunity to “communicate about energy and energy use in meaningful ways.” And let us in that way help people to make those “informed energy-use decisions based on an understanding of impacts and consequences.”

And maybe we could add, too, some energy literacy being taught in our schools and colleges.

— Karen Ogen-Toews, CEO, First Nations LNG Alliance