From Defeatism to Doing

Published Tuesday, August 30, 2016 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

I’m guessing most people share my dislike of defeatism – the attitude that might prompt one to say, “that can’t be done” or “it’ll never work here” or “it’s probably gonna rain anyway.”

Defeatist thinking beats you into submission - into accepting limits - and then keeps you there. 

On the other hand, possibility thinking enables whole new worlds to open up.  Perhaps that’s an attitude we could use a bit more of.  


When it comes to transitioning our world away from fossil fuels, there’s no shortage of defeatist thinking out there.

Fossil fuels will be around for decades, we hear (usually from people in the fossil fuels industry) – even though we know that is a recipe for climate disaster. 

Renewables are too expensive.  Electric vehicles are no better than our present vehicles.  Only the fossil fuel industry can provide the jobs we need.  

“Don’t hold your breath for a green energy revolution” and “Considering the benefit of Energy East” read recent column headlines in my local newspapers.  

It’s the type of talk that could get you down if you believed it – but don’t, because, all over the world, people, companies and countries unconstrained by defeatism are proving otherwise.

Doing: solar

Perhaps there is no industry with more unbridled possibility thinking than the solar energy industry.  Today, you can buy a solar panel for a fifth of what it cost just six years ago.

The result?  Globally, solar panels are being installed faster than anyone imagined possible.  Utility-scale solar farms are operating or under construction in many countries, and the economics are impressive.  A huge new operation in Dubai will produce power for three cents per kilowatt hour (KWH), without subsidies.  (NBers pay 10.6 cents/KWH.)

Perhaps nowhere is progress more impressive than in Chile.  In 2014, that country had 11 megawatts (MW) of solar power.  By the end of 2015, it had 848 MW.  And when all projects currently underway are completed, Chile will have over 13,000 MW of solar power – enough to power NB four times over on a cold January day.  

Chile’s newest project will provide power for 2.9 cents/KWH – prompting a Bloomberg energy analyst to Tweet, “Solar power delivers cheapest unsubsidised electricity ever, anywhere, by any technology.”  It is also delivering plenty of jobs for Chileans.

(I have no idea what the coal and oil to run Belledune and Coleson Cove will cost in 20 years, but I can guarantee that the sun will still be shining and it will never send a bill.)

Doing: wind

The wind energy industry is well immersed in possibility thinking too.  Wind energy costs have dropped by 50 per cent since 2009, and global wind power doubled between 2010 and 2015.  A new wind farm in Morocco is producing power for three cents/KWH.  

Texas is the US leader in wind, getting up to 40 per cent of its power from the wind and saving over $3 billion a year.  A bonus: 24,000 Texans work in wind power.

In 2011, NB led the Maritimes in wind power, but Nova Scotia has invested aggressively and today has nearly twice the wind power NB does.

More possibility thinking

Ten years ago, who had heard of Tesla Motors?  Today, who hasn’t?  The automaker has driven innovation in electric vehicles, and is developing home power storage units too.  The day when you can run your home and car from the sun and wind isn’t that far off.  (And don’t be fooled: a new MIT study confirms that electric vehicles are much better for the environment.)  

Renewables accounted for 90% of new power generation in 2015.  Apple, Google, IKEA and WalMart have all invested heavily in renewable energy for themselves, and are selling their surplus into the power grid.  Could they know something we don’t?

From Defeatism to Doing

So please don’t tell me “that can’t be done” or “we can’t break our addiction to fossil fuels”.  Don’t tell me we can’t be as smart, progressive, resourceful or innovative as anyone else.

Instead, let’s think and talk possibilities.  And then let’s get doing.