Day 1: Climate, Biotech and Canadian Competitiveness

What are some of the larger potential disruptive factors that could influence the Canadian Public Service over the next decade or less.  The following three are the first in a list that will be used at the November 22, 2017 FMI Conference – Disruptive Writers.

  • Seven Days of Disruption (Initial Blog).
  • Accelerating Global Climate Change and the cost to mitigate (2015 and editor)
  • Biotechnology: Frankenstein, Super-bugs and Super-cures (adapted from 2016 and editor)
  • Canadian Competitiveness and Productivity (editor)

Accelerating Global Climate Change and the Cost to Mitigate

Adapted from A.T. Kearney 2015: Food production, rising sea levels, increased range of tropical diseases and impacts to fragile environments such as the arctic and northern forests are some of the negative impacts identified.  At the same time, Canada could be a net beneficiary as more of its land mass becomes suitable for agriculture and lower cost for exploration of mineral wealth in the arctic.  These are tenuous gains as compared to social and mass population upheavals however.

Editor note: in many ways the past 200+ years of using fossil fuels can be compared to a young person inheriting a vast fortune from an unknown dead relative.  The changes have been both negative and positive.

On the positive side, there are billions of people alive today or who have lived in the past two centuries that would not have lived without the exploitation of fossil fuels.  Fossil fuels have given us a standard of living in which even the poorest Canadian is living better than many past kings or queens.  Hydrocarbons deliver clean water, warm homes, take away sewage, pave our streets, move food to our stores, fix nitrogen out of the air to grow the food and give us miracle materials such as plastics.

However, like a young adult waking up from a massive party we are also noticing that the trust fund is running low.  As well, 200+ years of living with fossil fuels has directly or indirectly killed many of our fellow species, polluted our homes.  The hunt for the fuels have led to corruption and creating vast fortunes in societies that have exported extremism and intolerance of things like women’s rights.

The cost to leave the fossil fuel era is considerable and may not occur in our lifetime.  The reality is that the engineering and technologies to replace an energy dense and convenient storage medium such as gasoline is considerable.  Canada has committed to shutter its coal power plants.  In 2014 this represented approximately 10% of the nation’s total generation nearly all in Western Canada [1].  Assuming these plants are closed by the target date of 2030, 63.6 terrawatt hours of capacity will need to be replaced [2].  Globally, Canada’s coal generation represents 0.67% of the total world generation capacity [3].  Thus the cost of leaving fossil fuels in the ground are not only direct but indirect as we place ourselves at a competitive disadvantage despite being a global powerhouse in energy reserves.

Biotechnology

Adapted from A.T. Kearney 2016: Just four years after its invention, “copy-and-paste” biotechnology is bending the cost and timeline curves for major scientific breakthroughs. CRISPR-Cas9—which stands for “clustered, regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” and “CRISPR-associated protein number nine”—was discovered in 2012. This biotechnology has the ability to delete, repair, or replace genes, making it a function for genetic manipulation that will allow researchers to do three things more cheaply and effectively than ever before: alter human genetic code, cure diseases, and even create new lifeforms.   Its applications will have far-reaching impacts on a multitude of industries, altering business models, regulatory environments, and consumer demands and preferences worldwide.

Editor’s Note: Bio-technology is one of the things that makes us human even if the technology part has advanced considerably.  10,000 years ago the methods would have included burning forests to plant crops or encourage grazing animals; selecting grains such as wheat, rye or rice; or domesticating the dog, horse or cow.

More recently state sponsored food research was central to of the green revolution of the late 20th century.  Genetically modified food has continued this revolution although with a sense of unease.  Bio-technology promises designer cures for diseases and an improved standard of living for humanity.  The shadow includes Frankenfoods, designer babies and other nightmares from science fiction.  Regulation and a stable civil society is one way to control this.  Another method is to ensure that the work is done in a culture of openness and transparency – something perhaps more difficult if the research leaves Western countries and is taken up in repressive regimes or nations lacking a history of civil discussion.

Canadian Competitiveness

Adapted from the Conference Board of Canada: Canada’s standing on the 2017 Global Competitive Index as issued by World Economic Forum improved one place to 14th.  Switzerland ranks first, followed by the United States, Singapore, the Netherlands, and Germany.  Taxation and government regulation impeded competitiveness while a good K-12 and post-secondary education systems provided an offset.  Canada benefits from efficient labour markets and a sound financial and securities systems.  Canada lacks consistent investment in research and development, has degrading public infrastructure, poor coordination between universities and business and an over-reliance on natural resources.

Editors Note: This subject was discussed at the September 21, 2016 FMI Edmonton Chapter event Fostering Innovation in the Public Service When Money is Tight.

[1] Adapted from Canada Coal Profile, Figure 6 and Table 1, accessed 2017-11-13; https://www.iea.org/ciab/papers/Canada.pdf.
[2] ibid Power generation (gross) in TWh in 2014.
[3] Key World Energy Statistics, Electricity Generation by source, accessed 2017-11-13;  http://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/KeyWorld2017.pdf

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  1. Pingback: Seven Days of Disruption | Organizational Biology & Other Thoughts

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