Life after Oil: A Renewable Energy Policy for Canada


203 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88830-279-9





Reviewed by Peter Victor

Peter Victor was Associate Professor with the Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, Downsview, Ontario.


In October 1976, the prestigious American journal Foreign Affairs published an article by Amory Lovins extolling the virtues of what he termed a “soft energy path.” The essential components of a soft energy path are an emphasis on energy conservation, the deployment of renewable energy resources (e.g., solar, wind, biomass), a decentralization of energy supplies, and a matching of energy sources and qualities to the tasks that are to be performed. Despite the evolution in U.S. energy policy since the mid-seventies, this agenda still stands in stark contrast to the contemporary commitment to large-scale facilities (such as those for nuclear energy and coal liquefaction) and a continuing effort to meet energy needs by expanding supply rather than reducing demand through energy conservation.

Lovins’ work struck a chord in Canada and gave rise to numerous soft energy studies for this country. Most significant of all are those that provide the research base for this book. Funded by the federal government, individual studies of the potential of renewable energy and energy conservation were performed under the direction of Brooks and Robinson. The studies covered each of the provinces and the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. This book draws the results of these regional studies into a national picture of what the authors believe is both technically and economically feasible for Canada to the year 2025.

The main finding of the book is that a greater reliance on energy conservation can facilitate the transition to an energy system based on renewable, decentralized, and environmentally sustainable energy sources. Furthermore, the authors claim that this can be achieved economically, provided that the various energy options, hard and soft, are compared in terms of their full economic costs and not just current energy prices, which reflect short-term political objectives as much as underlying energy scarcities.

Without question this book, and the detailed studies on which it is based, will become the main focus of debate on soft versus hard energy options in Canada for years to come. At a time when declining world oil prices provide a hiatus in the scramble to develop new energy policies, it is fortunate that we in Canada have such a good basis for examining all of the alternatives. Let us hope that we make the most of the opportunity.



Bott, Robert, David Brooks, and John Robinson, “Life after Oil: A Renewable Energy Policy for Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 16, 2024,