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I was left extremely disappointed by Council’s three-hour discussion of the Our Energy Guelph report on Monday night.

My main gripe: the OEG co-chairs claimed that having Guelph reach #NetZero emissions by 2050 is consistent with the science in the IPCC report. Not true.

It’s consistent with physical sciences, yes. But very far off from what we know from social sciences like communications.

In 2018 I took a reading course led by Dr. Nonita Yap on the Diffusion of Innovations (DoI), which one might argue was popularized by Everett M. Rogers.

What we learned from the emergence of DoI as a field of study is that new technologies, strategies, and ideas do not spread linearly or evenly throughout networks of people. This idea will be familiar to the entrepreneurs and business owners of the OEG board.

When an innovation comes along, it always has early adopters who have privileged access to information. They are the ones who end up working out the kinks of the innovation through close relationships with the innovators. Feedback goes both ways and the two parties collaborate.

Early adopters don’t tend to tell their friends about an innovation unless they’ve achieved a degree of certainty that it’s really good, and that it will grant them some social and/or financial capital if they are perceived as “prophets of innovation,” for lack of a better term.

After the early adopters work out the initial concerns and get confident about the merits of the innovation, then adoption rates start to climb as early adopters share the good news with all their networks.

Everett M. Rogers’ work indicated that there is a consistent distribution of when people choose to adopt. For each innovation: 2.5 per cent of people in a network are innovators; 13.5 per cent are early adopters, and the remaining 84 per cent fall into the early majority, late majority, and laggards.

The adoption curve always takes on a bell shape. Whether it is a new breed of corn, or solar technologies, or social behaviours (like personal reductions in energy uses), it always looks like this.

So let’s return to the IPCC report. It says we need to, as a global community, reach nearly half of our total emissions reductions by about 2030, which as the OEG panel stated, puts us roughly on track to meet #NetZero2050.

That doesn’t mean that Guelph needs to make it to #NetZero2050. It means the ENTIRE WORLD has to be there at that time. The ENTIRE suite of adoption processes need to be complete, all the way up to the laggards, by 2050.

If Guelph, as a leader on climate change and one of the richest and most resourced cities on the planet, is squeaking into Net Zero status by 2050, that means we (as a global community) will have failed to meet the IPCC requirements to prevent runaway #ClimateBreakdown.

When questioned today by a council member about whether the 2050 goal is still appropriate for Guelph given the science in the IPCC report, the OEG panel maintained their position and said on record that, yes, 2050 is consistent with science.

That is such an egregious statement. I am blown away by how inaccurate it is, for having come from one of the task force’s co-chairs.

Please don’t interpret this as me trying to make enemies in city politics. I desperately want to see the whole community buy into the transition movement. I don’t intend to blame individuals for their mistakes.

But sometimes professionals get locked in their own silos, their own areas of expertise, and have a bit of tunnel vision. OEG looks to be an example of a group that could have used more input from researchers in social science or marketing experts.

There is no way around this: Guelph is a climate leader on this planet. That means we are among the 2.5% who need to figure out how to reach #NetZero well in advance of the year 2050. Can we do that alone?

Well, one of the OEG co-chairs indicated that to get Guelph to #NetZero2035, we would likely need to mobilize all of Ontario’s net zero builders and renovators. The capacity doesn’t exist in Guelph alone.

If just Guelph uses everything Ontario has up to 2035, and there’s nothing left for Toronto, Hamilton, Mississauga, London, Ottawa… then I’m sorry to say it folks, but all our efforts will have been for naught.

There is no way around it. Setting an earlier timeline is a great goal but it won’t save us. We are in a Climate Emergency and economic collapse is imminent. Is Guelph honest enough to tell it like it is? I suppose we’ll find out May 27.


Image of Dustin Brown supplied.

Dustin Brown is the spokesperson of the local Extinction Rebellion and is an environmental activist.