Environmental research at Athabasca University will help create a new energy future for Alberta

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Athabasca University Environment Studies Coordinator Dr. Lorelei Hanson. Examining marine life in Cienfuegos, Cuba, August 2011. [Photo credit: Desy Sarmiento Flores]

Athabasca University Environmental Studies Coordinator Dr. Lorelei Hanson examines marine life in Cienfuegos, Cuba, August 2011. [Photo credit: Desy Sarmiento Flores]

Athabasca University Environmental Studies coordinator Dr. Lorelei Hanson has been named a Fellow of the Energy Futures Lab (EFL).

She joins a diverse group of 40 influential leaders in research working across sectors to transition Alberta’s energy system to one that is sustainable and resilient.

Her research on critical sustainability, especially that focused on energy and climate change, along with her years of experience including her collaboration with Alberta Climate Dialogue [ABCD], and the B.C.- Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance [BALTA], will inform the valuable contributions she makes to the EFL.

The EFL is a project of The Natural Step Canada with the support of Suncor Energy Foundation, the Banff Centre, and Pembina Institute.

“The ‘Lab’ has been created to work across traditional organizational and sectoral boundaries to create tangible, actionable solutions that address Alberta’s energy challenges,” says Hanson.

From transforming the narratives about energy in Alberta, to collaboratively building prototypes, Hanson adds the EFL fellows will develop innovative and practical solutions to the challenges within Alberta’s energy sector by looking critically at business practices, consumption, policy and social practices.

She points out that, in order to better address ecological sustainability, hard questions must be asked with respect to how best to meet energy demands as well as to analyze how that demand arises in the first place.

“We’ll do this by examining the routine production of energy and resource demands, and ascertaining the possible opportunities to change these,” says Hanson, who is also active in the Edmonton community as a member of both the West End Food Hub Alliance and the Alberta Green Economy Network.

“We don’t use energy for energy’s sake; we use energy to accomplish a variety of other things—from transporting us to places, to heating our homes and cleaning our clothes,” says Hanson, indicating that technological solutions to reduce carbon emissions and improve energy efficiency and reliability will also be on the research roster, as well as the need to “explore the relationship between energy consumption, everyday practices and ordinary technology.”

“In other words,” she explains, “we must collectively examine our social practices.”

Fellowships like this are opportunities to highlight the innovation and really good research that’s taking place at our university.” ~ Dr. Lorelei Hanson

Deliberate Dialogue

In participating in the EFL, Hanson will draw from her research on critical sustainability and her years of experience with collaborative initiatives, including Alberta Climate Dialogue. Over the past five years, ABCD used a form of public participation called deliberative dialogue to engage hundreds of citizens across Alberta in discussions about advancing climate policy in Alberta, at a time when there was little movement by the Province on this issue.

Deliberative dialogue tries to move beyond adversarial politics to engage citizens in being innovators and problems solvers through reasoned debate and identification of common values.

Hanson remarks her 18-month tenure with the EFL will also help to inform her role at AU as a researcher and teacher. She is considering developing a course on energy within her Environmental Studies program, building from the insights and connections she’ll gain from the EFL.

“The other EFL fellows bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the table—all of that information provides really great leverage which can be fed into a course,” Hanson says, noting that she hopes her fellowship within the EFL will not only feed into her research at Athabasca University, but will also serve as a catalyst for the development of a multidisciplinary research collaboration on energy.

Moreover, she says this fellowship is an opportunity to showcase AU as a leader within the educational sector.

“Fellowships like this are opportunities to highlight the innovation and really good research that’s taking place at our university—and to help to build Athabasca University’s reputation not only across Alberta but certainly across Canada, if not the world.

“I hope that people across the university see these appointments as opportunities for that to happen.” AUN