Across Quebec, researchers are looking into the current energy transition. Interview with René Audet, holder of the Research Chair on ecological transition and professor in the department of strategy, social and environmental responsibility at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM).
You study environmental sociology, environmental discourse and ecological transition. Could you tell us about your research?
In Quebec’s speech, we will always find contradictions. In history, there was an emergence of the discourse on conservation: very strict preservation, those who wanted to manage resources rationally. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, when the environmental issue was institutionalized, the discussion became more political. Some say that productivism is responsible, others see institutions as the solution…, which led to the creation of the Ministry of the Environment and the BAPE (Bureau d’audiences publique sur l’environnement). Discourse analysis, on the whole, helps to show the tensions in the way we understand the environment as a society.
For the transition, what would be a realistic path to take?
The question is hypercomplex. The lenses used vary. The Paris Agreement places particular emphasis on CO2, so we put in place public policies. For example, we created the carbon market. There, we are launching into the battery sector for the sake of competitiveness. This idea of a green economy, of attracting industries, is very present here. Sometimes, we have a cross between that and the desire for growth. But we are still in a paradigm that does not call into question productivism, which can be worrying.
You consider that cities play a role in this movement. For what ?
There is a movement that we are seeing born in Montreal. It evolved from a series of small local projects such as greening neighborhoods, sharing objects and cars, and is now being formed with larger associations: municipal circles, unions, etc. All these people are thinking about neighborhoods, about transport. We can particularly talk about the Transition in Common alliance, which has a different vision focused on social justice objectives. The movement is not very marginal, it is in the process of being formed, and the City of Montreal is participating.
What would you like the general public to understand about the ecological transition?
This is a very serious issue, something unprecedented for humanity, but the environment is only part of the problem. It is perhaps harmful to isolate the climate issue from others. And otherwise, what we are going to achieve in rich countries, how are we going to do it in poor countries? It is also part of our future.
What do you hope to see in the relatively near future?
I would like a major discussion on a national scale in Quebec. We need to organize a conversation, we must stop making structuring decisions for the future of society without consulting the population. I find that we are in a pivotal moment in history: the government sees growth and material comfort, but material comfort contributes to the crisis and is to the detriment of other populations. It would take something historic, over one or two years. But for that, it takes a leader who will use his political capital.