I was out for dinner with a friend the other night and, naturally, the conversation turned to food, energy policy and how they are linked. As our server was well aware, and as almost any restaurant employee could tell you, language is important.
Culinary trends can explode on the scene or grow long in the tooth for a myriad of reasons. Ingredient availability, food cost, evolving cultural norms, changing nutritional guidelines, reality television or the whims of Gwyneth Paltrow can all have an effect on today's food choices. Especially, however, the name of a dish or its key ingredient is a particularly crucial component of success.
An exotic dinner of sushi sounds great, but a plate of raw dead fish? Not so much.
Speaking of fish; when cod, the staple fish species of my parent's generation, became a victim of overfishing the demand grew for new species to fill the void. In 1977 an American fish wholesaler named Lee Lantz thought he had discovered the perfect alternative, but the ugly and unfortunately named Patagonian Toothfish didn't seem very marketable. After some consideration Lantz proposed an alternative and the newly retitled Chilean Sea Bass became the toast of North American seafood restaurants.
This brings us to energy policy and the politics that define it.
A couple of weeks ago I attended an important conference on the topic of Canada's energy policy and the future of innovation in this realm. However, on closer inspection the topic at hand wasn't energy policy -- this was an oil and gas conference. None of the other important components of our energy infrastructure were even part of the conversation.
No mention of our traditional hydroelectric or nuclear sources, and not a peep about the exponential growth of solar, wind and other green energy sources. Elon Musk wasn't invited and his industry disrupting companies Tesla and Solar City weren't even mentioned.
It was like Kodak holding a conference 10 years ago and discussing the future of photography without referring to that pesky digital trend. The oil and gas industry, along with our current federal government, have successfully defined "energy policy" and "oil and gas policy" as one and the same thing. Go ahead -- Google "Canadian Energy Policy."
It's not surprising that the oil and gas industry and a government beholden to it has undertaken to define the entirety of energy as being about their products. What is interesting is that the opposition -- and the media -- has, by and large, ceded the language high ground to them without a fight.
It's time to change the fundamental language of the conversation.
An energy policy should begin with a conversation about all current and future likely sources of energy. Oil and gas is an important part of that discussion, but are not by any means the entirety of it!
The new TransCanada pipeline isn't about getting energy east -- it's about getting crude oil east. When discussing the environmental impact of oil sands development, stop using the benign sounding "tailings ponds" when we're actually talking about "toxic sludge." Ducks aren't killed when they land in ponds.
Language is important. You can't think critically when the basic language of the discussion predisposes you to a particular point of view. When you next dine out with friends ask yourself whether language is effecting decisions you make on a daily basis. And one more thing -- if your server offers you tuna with a wasabi "aioli," be aware it would likely be $2 cheaper if it was just called mayonnaise.
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