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Canada as a Conserver Society


The following material is from the 1977 Science Council of Canada report Canada as a Conserver Society: Resource Uncertainties and the Need for New Technologies,[1] by a committee whose chair was Dr. Ursula Franklin.


“The concept of a conserver society arises from a deep concern for the future, and the realization that decisions taken today, in such areas as energy and resources, may have irreversible and possibly destructive impacts in the medium to long term. The necessity for a conserver society follows from our perception of the world as a finite host to humanity and from our recognition of increasing global independence.” 


    • On the importance of a policy of Economy of Design – doing more with less, and using technology with a longer planning horizon (instead of doing away with technology or industry):
      • “Houses and buildings can be more economically designed to make use of natural advantages. They can be oriented to gain heat from the sun in winter or from the ground via a heat pump; or they can be designed to enhance natural air flow so as to reduce the need for air conditioning.” Strategies also include “installing better insulation, and shielding the north side from winter winds… automatic control devices…” and local or urban solar greenhouses to save on heating, transportation and spoilage expenses.
      • “As inhabitants of a “consumer society,” most Canadians have lived through a period when materials seemed plentiful, energy cheap, and growth in size and quantity, whether of cities, automobiles, monuments, or lawnmowers, was the natural order of things. Status, of individuals or societies, was measured by conspicuous consumption, and economic prosperity was demonstrated by what you could afford to throw away. Designers, engineers, architects tended to be caught up in it too, placing the emphasis on the “more” and forgetting “with less… Now, as we become aware of constraints and uncertainties in the future, we question our implicit assumption that “bigger is better.”
      • “Under present circumstances of uncertainty in fuel supplies and risk in planning very large capital-intensive expansions, the action of assisting the homeowner to insulate his or her house or to install solar panels can be for the utility a lower risk, less expensive, and more profitable way of meeting additional demand than borrowing to invest in new capacity.”
      • “Partly because of an infatuation with growth and activity, we have tended to build over-capacity into all aspects of our system.
      • “Canadians have become accustomed to a high throughput consumer society that takes for granted obsolescence, a high rate of consumer spending and an almost total disregard for waste – both individually and socially.”
      • “Recycling must become part of the fabric of all production activities – not an afterthought. When products are designed with recycling as part of the process, the problem of unscrambling the materials at the end of the product’s life will be simpler, less costly, and more conserving of scarce or potentially scarce materials….  The need for recycling should be reduced by making the product more durable, reparable, and re-usable in the first place.”
    • The biosphere has finite regenerative capacity. Addressing this issue requires, for instance, “more intensive regulation of chemicals, biocides and fertilizers used in the manipulation of environment; intensive research to anticipate the effects of new chemicals on ecosystems.”
    • Optimal energy use is measured by ‘second-law efficiency’ – “the ratio of the least available-work that could have done the job, to the actual available-work used to do the job” which, for example, requires high quality energy sources to be applied to producing high-grade, high-temperature heat. Consequently, “new houses and communities should be designed as part of a total system with their environment, to make optimum use of solar heat, ground heat, air currents, snow cover, and deciduous shade trees, in order to conserve electricity and fossil fuels for back-up reserve, and for the (applications) that require energy in its high-quality form.”
    • “Tax, pricing and financing schemes must be devised that will shift (energy conservation) planning horizons toward the longer term” in order to lengthen the transition time for fossil fuel substitution to sustainable energy sources.

Return to: Shifting Into the Mainstream: first CaGBC Summit highlights


[1] Science Council of Canada Report No. 27, Canada as a Conserver Society: Resource Uncertainties and the Need for New Technologies, September 1977, Minister of Supply and Services Canada. Researched by Science Council Committee on the Implications of a Conserver Society. Committee Chair: Dr. Ursula Franklin (from December 1975); John Pollock (March 1975 to December 1975). Members: Dr. Ursula Franklin, Dr. Gabriel Filteau, Dr. Ran Ide, John Pollock. Report Staff: Dr. Arthur J. Cordell (Project Manager), Dr. R. W. Jackson, Dr. J-A. Potworowski, Bruce Henry, Andrea Gerber.


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