Designing Climate Change Deliberation – Canadian style

I told you I’d get round to writing this up… here it is!

Just over a week ago I took part in a series of workshops, discussions and deliberations at the University of Edmonton in the province of Alberta, Canada. I was one of a handful of ‘deliberation/participation people’ who were there to have input into how the diverse group of Albertans present might best set up a successful, province-wide deliberative process on climate change issues.

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

The event was participated in by an impressively varied group of individuals – representing a significant range of viewpoints including;  energy industry representatives, radical environmentalists, political activists and government officials. The thing that all parties had in common was a genuine, and strong desire to move forward on the issue of climate change in Alberta. (They even gave up their weekend and worked 12hour days for free to be part of the deliberation – so I can testify to their commitment!)

So, what were we actually doing?

We wanted to put together a basis for how a public discussion on climate change in Alberta might best work – and help to move forward from polarised debate on climate change into more useful dialogue and action across the province.

Alberta is a focal point for climate change discussion as the Canadian economy has greatly benefited from the energy industry located there, including the booming Athabascan oil sands near Fort McMurray. This industry has been strongly criticised by environmental campaigners and scientists for its impact on the environment. Alberta embodies many of the environmental and economic debates taking place globally.

A key part of how myself and others present felt that progress could be made on these tough issues was through using deliberative techniques to bring people together in a more constructive and positive way than through debate and conflict.

How did you go about it?

Two main groups were involved in the design process over about four days:

One was a smaller group of around 15 and consisted  both of Albertans and of visitors interested in assisting with the deliberation and public participation aspects. This group was present throughout the entirety of the process every day.

The second group was a larger group of around 50 Albertans who were present at key points in the design process to act as a ‘sounding board’ for the ideas that the smaller group had been discussing and formulating together during the day.

This format worked well in that ownership of the process and its aims began to be built from the outset amongst a very varied group of individuals, and the rapid response and interaction between the smaller and larger group helped to refine ideas very quickly over a short period of time.

By the end of the five days we worked together to uncover the bare bones of a process that could work for Albertans, wandered across a suprising amount of common ground and found several leverage points for instigating action. As we walked out of the room on the final day, an interim steering group had been set in place and action points had been established for moving forward… so watch this space.

The experience made me feel very positive about what can be acheived through using more deliberative approach to difficult issues like action on climate change – not a form of consensus building, but rather a way of better understanding one another and identifying areas for beneficial progress.

Cquestrate : Opensource Climate Change Solutions

Yes, Cquestrate.

No, not a typo.  Cquestrate is the new and innovative open source approach to tackling Climate Change using an idea developed by Dr George Manos and Tim Kruger

… and a very simple-sounding idea it is too:

First, you heat limestone to a very high temperature, until it breaks down into lime and carbon dioxide.

  • Then you put the lime into the sea, where it reacts with carbon dioxide dissolved in the seawater.
  • The important point is that when you put lime into seawater it absorbs almost twice as much carbon dioxide as is produced by the breaking down of the limestone in the first place.

This process then apparently has the effect of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Aha – yes. Well, I have absolutely no idea about this idea – they could actually be writing anything up on the webpage and I’d believe them so am feeling somewhat useless right now as a contributor to the development of a solution to climate change… Oh, but hang on a minute, (smirk smirk) why has nobody thought of this before – “if its that easy…”

… well, the site explanation actually then continues onward by answering the very question about to drop from my smug yet woefully uneducated lips :

One of the questions I often get asked is: if this is so simple why hasn’t it been done before? The idea has been around for a number of years. It was first suggested by Haroon Kheshgi in 1995, but it was considered uneconomic as the process uses a large amount of energy. What we are interested in doing is using stranded energy to drive the process.

Aha- well, that explains it. Its all down to stranded energy.

Well, I think it sounds like a wonderful idea – a bit of open sourcey, crowdsourcey goodness… if only I knew more about stranded energy and limestone…. hm.

Thank goodness for scientists! Please forward on this post to people who know what stranded energy is!

Do the Green Thing – or try to….

I’ve been trying my best to do the green thing for the last month… and have succeeded in the main, however, there’s a long way to go before I become a carbon-neutral!

What is the green thing?

It’s a motivational network to try and shimmy people along who have good inentions (but poor self-discipline ;) …) to pick up some eco-friendly habits. The principle is that lots of small positive actions will add up to a large scale positive impact on the environment.

The way this works in practice is as follows:

  1. You sign up to the Green Thing community: here
  2. Each month Green Thing introduce a new, small, change you can make in your habits to go more eco-friendly.
  3. You get occasional email updates to motivate you to keep up with those changes.
  4. You sign into your user account to say how you did it. Eg. I put down that I did it ‘on my way to work’ about the walking not driving challenge… (I’m sure you can all get a bit more creative with the how section than me!)
  5. You get an indication of the Co2 savings you’ve made.

I think its a good way of nudging yourself into changing lifestyle habits – the main one I’m struggling with is taking  shorter showers- hmmm. They may have to ration water before that happens…!

Environmental issues are a good topic for this kind of network – but would be interesting to see how this could work in other settings too… say health and fitness or community involvement. The key is that people have to volunteer to do it, there must be some willingness to change your habits – its not going to work for the dedicated bottle water drinking 4×4 drivers amongst us! ;)