Calling for energy sobriety Next item Recognition and adequate...

Calling for energy sobriety

Canada and Quebec have committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. This means that all greenhouse gases emitted in the country will have to be neutralised in order to avoid exceeding what the planet can absorb.

As a transitional target in 2030, we should have achieved a 40-45% reduction in emissions for the country as a whole and 37.5% for Quebec.

Every country on the planet is asked to do their part. To achieve this, all the players involved are being called upon, whether they be companies, public authorities, or consumers.

In countries like ours, we have far exceeded the planet’s capacity to support our lifestyles. We know this. There is no excuse for skimping. Not only do we have to put the brakes on, we have to take a step back and rethink everything.

Sobriety, efficiency, renewable energy

Our planet is unable to absorb greenhouse gases (GHGs). The predicted depletion of minerals, agricultural, marine and other resources forces us to consider a transition requiring lifestyle changes. This will have to be centred on sobriety, efficiency, and the transfer to renewable energies.

Sobriety means moderating consumption, efficiency means improving products and the transition to renewables means abandoning fossil fuels. [1] 

For example, in Quebec, the shift to renewable energy is already advanced: 98% of our electricity comes from water, or hydroelectricity. We do not use coal and the government has just banned all exploration and production of fossil fuels.

Where we need to make a leap is in transportation. This area has been prioritized, and the plan is to have moved to electrification by 2035. According to the target, in Quebec, it will be forbidden to sell light gasoline vehicles (including SUVs) as of that date. There are still transitions to be made for domestic, commercial, and industrial heating and for cooking. We must be strict about meeting the targets.

Our responsibility as citizen-consumers

To follow our example: those who can afford it will choose an electric vehicle the next time they buy one and ensure that it corresponds to their needs, nothing more, in order to remain sober. Others will adopt cycling or walking, carpooling or carsharing, or public transport.

But what actions should be taken to have the maximum impact on reducing GHG emissions?

The results of a survey published in Protégez-Vous in May 2022 reports, in order of importance, the expert consensus on the sectors to be prioritized:

  1. Consumption,

  2. Transport and travel,

  3. Water and energy consumption in the home,

  4. Purchase of products and services,

  5. Waste management.

“The action with the most impact is to reduce the consumption of animal products, especially beef.”


To get a cow to slaughter requires a lot of water, and a lot of land for grazing and for the production of their food. Then there are the considerable methane emissions resulting from their digestion.

Let’s look at the numbers: the production of 50 grams of beef protein causes the emission of 8.5 to 25 kg of GHGs, while cheese emits 3.8 kg, pork 3 kg, poultry 2.9 kg and legumes 0.4 kg.[2]

In the same vein, we suggest avoiding food waste, buying locally produced food, reducing and avoiding packaging.

The second most effective area of action is transport: use public transport when available, use as little air travel as possible, and avoid using cars or opt for electric cars.

Prudent use of energy and water in the home contributes greatly to the reduction of GHGs: increased efficiency through adequate insulation of walls, roofs and windows, sobriety through saving water, particularly hot water, and energy-efficient appliances, lighting and heating systems.

Reducing the purchasing of non-essential products, with emphasis given to quality and repairability, rejecting disposable or single-use products, and purchasing from companies that care about the environment.

And finally, the residual materials sector: use products for as long as possible, repair them yourself, give away or sell at a discount those you no longer use, reduce or avoid packaging and recycle properly.

We have a lot of choices. We are probably already doing some of these things. Some will be easier than others. Take actions that matter and make a habit of doing them every day.

Towards a major debate on the future of society

Given the scale of this challenge, it may seem like our isolated actions will have little impact. But we must remember that numbers and habit will make a difference, when added to the actions of others in society.

There is no denying the current reality that society’s supply of products and services based on “extract, produce, consume and dispose” is still dominant.

Our individual actions will not be enough: “The challenge of sobriety should first target the general functioning of the consumer society: the organisation of the market upstream, the constitution of the offer and the signals sent to consumers … (advertising, fashion, programmed obsolescence) … This requires revisiting the entire economic model. This is the first lever of sobriety”[3].

It is to be expected that as the consequences of global warming worsen, we will be forced to undertake a great debate on the balance between the future society we want, and the level of resources that the planet can provide us without running out. The society we live in is no longer possible.

[1] Source: Édouard Toulouse, La sobriété énergétique, une notion disruptive de plus en plus étudiée, La Revue de l’Énergie No 649, March-April 2020.

[2] Source: Poore and Nemecek, Science, June 2018 used in the May 2022 ProtégezVous study.

[3] Marie-Christine Zélem, Sobriété énergétique : mieux consommer, moins consommer, changer de modèle énergétique ? Connaissance des Énergies, April 1 2022.

Text by Yves Nantel
Long-time activist