Thursday January 11, 2024

Where Does Climate Optimism Fit in the Race to Net Zero?

Does climate optimism spur action, or sidetrack us with false positivity?

Webinar Summary

To start the year on an upbeat note, we invited How to Be a Climate Optimist author Chris Turner to join energy systems expert Dr. Normand Mousseau to unpack the topic of climate optimism. Presented by The Transition Accelerator, this webinar looked into the role of optimism in the face of climate challenges, examining both regional and systemic perspectives. 

Chris Turner is a celebrated author and expert on climate solutions, known for his influential work and thought leadership in the field. His latest book explores the progress made in the last two decades towards solving the climate crisis. 

Dr. Normand Mousseau is an internationally respected physics professor at Université de Montréal and Scientific Director at the Trottier Energy Institute of Polytechnique Montréal. His expertise in complex materials, energy, and climate policy adds a profound depth to the conversation. 

So, what is the role of optimism in the race to net zero? As we balance milestones like the hottest year on record (2023), powerful progress like record-breaking clean energy investments via the U.S. IRA, and a predicted peak in global emissions this decade, should we be congratulating our leaders for great progress or demanding faster action? Listen to the full conversation with Dr. Normand Mousseau and Chris Turner as they discuss balancing optimism and pessimism, getting inspired and staying motivated through Canada’s energy transition. 

Read on for highlights: 

  • Compared to parts of the world leading the energy transition like northern Europe, Canada’s thorniest transition hurdles are driven by politics and a powerful fossil fuel economy.
    “One of the stickier problems we have in Canada is very, very powerful and pretty slow-moving incumbents, particularly on the electricity side. But we’re not looking now at a technological problem we can’t solve. We’re looking at a political problem or a regulatory problem,” says author Chris Turner. 
  • The oil and gas industry now broadly accepts climate change, but they won’t be players in getting Canada to net zero.
    “There’s the great hockey metaphor, ‘ragging the puck,’ which is basically pointlessly stick handling away from the action to try and eat up the clock, and that to some degree is how the fossil fuel industries are approaching this,” explains Chris Turner.  
  • It’s almost impossible to get people to change from a known to an unknown. We are evolutionarily wired to not want people to do that.
    “When you think about it, what we’re doing here in this world—retooling our economies—is the largest change management exercise the world has ever seen,” says Transition Accelerator CEO Dan Wicklum. 
  • Telling success stories about the plausible pathway from here to there is one of the most effective ways of helping people envision that future net-zero world.
    “We haven’t really given people a picture of a better world to work towards,” explains Turner. “I talk about [it as] moving from less bad to much better: let’s not just talk about why we have to reduce emissions. Let’s talk about why this is a better car, this is a better way to heat your house, this is a better industry to invest in. But we have to be able to do that plausibly.” 
  • While individual actions are important, systemic change requires coordinated efforts.
    “Creating the future does not happen by every single individual’s decisions,” says energy expert Dr. Normand Mousseau. “It comes in because you have marketing, it’s because you have regulation, you have things that are structuring the possibility to move forward.” 


Normand Mousseau, PhD

Transition Pathway Principal

Normand Mousseau, PhD, is a professor of physics at Université de Montréal and Academic Director of the Trottier Energy Institute at Polytechnique Montréal. His research includes the study of complex materials, energy and natural resources. He is actively involved with energy and climate policy, having co-chaired the Quebec Commission on Energy Issues in 2013, and published a number of books in this field.



Chris Turner

Energy Transition, Climate Solutions & Global Cleantech Expert

Chris Turner is one of Canada’s leading voices on climate change solutions and the global energy transition. He draws on his reporting of the state of the art in renewable change, cleantech, and urban design to paint a vivid portrait of a new, sustainable world order that will allow individuals and businesses alike not only to survive but thrive in the twenty-first century economy.

An award-winning author, Turner has published several bestselling books. The Patch: The People, Pipelines, and Politics of the Oil Sands won the National Business Book Award, and his previous books on climate solutions, The Leap and The Geography of Hope, were both National Business Book Award finalists. His latest book, How to Be a Climate Optimist: Blueprints for a Better World, won the 2023 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for political writing. Turner also published a collection of his award-winning essays and feature writing in 2014, How to Breathe Underwater, which won the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize.

In addition, Turner’s writing on energy, climate, and technology have appeared in The New Yorker, The Guardian, the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, and many other notable publications. He has won 10 National Magazine Awards, among other distinctions. Turner was a 2019 media fellow at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue; a 2013 writer-in-residence at the Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon; and a 2010 Paul D. Fleck Fellow at the Banff Centre.

As a speaker and communications strategist, Turner’s recent clients have included the Canadian Climate Institute, Natural Resources Canada, TD Bank, Compugen, Shaw Industries, the Canadian Institute of Planners, and Siemens Energy.



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