Canada needs to take a long-term approach to oil and its alternatives

By Bob McDonald, Quirks and Quarks

While Canadian politicians lobby other countries to take our oil and gas through pipelines, rail and northern shipping routes, science museums across the country are showcasing a cleaner energy future.

Canada is clearly an oil producing country. With more than $150 billion invested in oil sands development and billions more in fracking natural gas, we are rapidly becoming the Saudi Arabia of North America. 

The Athabasca oil sands project alone is the third-largest reserve in the world, with production expected to reach 6.4 million barrels a day by 2030. According to the Alberta government's own documents, the province can expect $350 billion in royalties and $122 billion in tax revenue over the next 25 years. 

This massive short-term gain from selling off our natural resources is what our government is counting on to keep the economy strong.

But what about the long-term?

According to those who keep tabs on the health of the planet, the Age of Fossil Fuels has to come to an end soon, not only because there is a finite supply of the stuff, but more importantly, because of the negative effects this dirty technology is having on a wide variety of environments. 

The transition away from fossil fuels towards clean alternatives, however, will be a difficult one, with much resistance provided by those who see change as a threat.

An important key to this big change is education, especially for children who will be the future decision-makers when the Age of Oil begins to wind down.

With that in mind, this summer, science museums across the country will be providing perspectives on our energy situation, with a national program called, "Let's Talk Energy." 

Thirty-one science museums from coast to coast will feature exhibits and events that examine energy in Canada, both from an historical perspective and as a look ahead to future technologies. If we are to make intelligent decisions about this country's energy future, it's best to know the basics about what is happening now and the opportunities available for the future.

If your family travel plans include staying within Canada this summer, a visit to one of these science centres is time well spent. You can see the first commercial oil well in North America at the Oil Museum of Canada in Oil Springs, Ont., or see new green technologies for flight at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.  

You can visit an energy-efficient eco-house at the Biosphere in Montreal, or perhaps the "Watt's Up" travelling exhibit will pass through your town.

Alternatives to fossil fuels are already out there, with many more yet to be discovered if we invest in research instead of just selling what we dig out of the ground. And where will those research dollars come from?

Here's an idea.

At the moment, those billions of dollars in tax revenue from the sale of oil go into the general government coffers, to be distributed at the discretion of politicians. How about siphoning off some of those billions into a large fund, exclusively for research into clean energy alternatives?

Let's take the cash we are earning now and turn it into centres for excellence, engineering departments of universities, prizes for engineering competitions, and incentives for industrial research - all to develop the very technologies our science centres are already showing us.

Imagine a future where Canada sells innovative clean energy technology to the world, instead of just crude oil. Now that's long-term thinking and a lasting investment.