The Newtonian Shift: Takeaways and Reflections

Untitled design.png

By Jessica Powell, CCVO Policy Analyst

Recently, I attended the Newtonian Shift - a simulation that lets players experience decades of energy transition in one day; from fossil fuel-dependent to renewable energy-driven.

Roughly 15 participants from various organizations, from both for-profit and nonprofit sectors, gathered together for an intensive day of roleplaying to challenge the public narrative about energy. We developed a broader understanding of emerging energy sources and the need to transition to a low-carbon energy system. Each participant was placed into a role in the outdated and inefficient country of Newtonia; these roles varied from energy and extraction professionals, community and First Nations leaders, to NGO employees and Government Officials. The simulation called on each actor to ensure the energy needs of the country were being met, all the while dealing with increasing pressures of climate change, population growth, and diversifying energy needs. We were all impacted and challenged in many different ways throughout the simulation as we worked towards building a nation without any reliance on fossil fuels.   

The simulation demonstrated the complexity and multi dimensions of energy transition. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach when moving towards energy efficiency. Each actor involved comes to the table with different interests, needs and concerns, and all of these voices must be equally welcomed, heard, and recognized in order to derive a solution that fits everyone’s needs. This process requires innovation, collaboration, and engagement from all parties.

The simulation also demonstrated how energy transition cannot happen without a shared vision. In Year One of the simulation, we each acted according to our own interests. As I was assigned to the role of CEO of an energy company, I sought only to serve my customers – it didn’t matter if that meant a supply of 100% nonrenewable energy. Once the participants regrouped and decided to alter our approach towards renewable energy, everything began to fall into place. My energy company provided more renewable options and my consumers’ demand for renewables continued to increase. By Year Three, the participants were successfully able to switch to 100% renewable energy throughout Newtonia. The exercise would not have been possible without the commitment and collaboration from all participants. Energy transition cannot happen if actors are completely resistant to change, or acting solely in their own interests. A common vision creates the environment to move towards an effective transition.

This experience got me thinking of the role nonprofits play in energy efficiency transition within Alberta - not just environmental nonprofits, but the sector as a whole. What is the sector’s part to play in this complex transition?

Reflecting on the simulation, nonprofits can play a role in observing and interacting from an objective lens. While the drive to increase profits, influence elections, and focus on internal interests can bias other sectors, nonprofits can observe from an impartial perspective, as well as act in the best interests of the public. This impartiality can not only add more clarity to the issues at play, but can also lead organizations to address complex systemic issues that are hindering effective energy transition – issues that may not be realized by other sectors. Nonprofits can also ensure actors are not being left behind during transition and that marginalized voices are being represented. During the simulation, the participant acting in the role of the NGO was able to address systemic issues felt by the “Bison Tribe”, issues that hindered the Tribe’s ability to transition, and even to get their basic energy needs met. The participant later reflected that he was only able to address these issues because he felt his role as the NGO was to oversee the whole process.  

Secondly, nonprofits are able to develop unique partnerships with government to offer insights and perspectives that are carefully thought out, and therefore influence decision-making from an objective perspective. The participant playing the government role remarked that discussions with the NGO were extremely valuable in being able to make decisions in the best interest of all stakeholders. 

Overall, the simulation was very engaging and offered an overarching takeaway – there is a role for all of us to play in energy transition, including nonprofits.

Thanks to Energy Futures Lab and the Calgary Foundation for hosting such an engaging and thought-provoking opportunity! If you are interested in learning more about energy efficiency transition, reach out to the Energy Futures Lab.  

Has your nonprofit considered your role in energy efficiency transition? Let us know in the comments below!