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Tom Rand – a Man on a Mission

Michael Jessen
By Michael Jessen
March 1st, 2015

“Building a low carbon economy creates the biggest market in human history, involving trillions of dollars. The question facing Canada is how do we ensure we’re a seller not a buyer, into that market.”– Tom Rand

Trying to bail the Titanic out with a teaspoon.

That’s how Tom Rand portrays Canadian and global efforts to alleviate the threat of climate disruption.

While he describes climate disruption as the “granddaddy of problems in the 21st century”, Rand believes the creative potential exists to make sure that climate change doesn’t win.

According to Rand the climate crisis offers great promise for job growth and new investments in the clean technology sector.

“Clean energy technology is racing ahead of the traditional energy sector. It’s like the microchip in the 1960s, only much bigger,” says Rand. “Along with being the smart choice for our environment, these green technologies also present an enormous business opportunity – an estimated $2-3 trillion market by 2020.

In its 2014 Canadian Clean Technology Industry Report, Analytica Advisors – an Ottawa-based company that has monitored Canada’s cleantech sector for five years – says the $11-billion industry is already on track to grow into a $28-billion industry by 2022.

Rand believes that with the right government policies, investment and industry engagement, the sector could be a $50-billion industry in 2022 employing 100,000 people.

The Toronto-based author, cleantech investor and entrepreneur will be in Nelson on Monday, March 16 at the Capitol Theatre to make his pitch.

There’s an admission charge of $10 but all students will be admitted free. The first 100 to arrive will receive a free copy of Rand’s latest book Waking the Frog (a $30 value) and a panel discussion will be held after his talk.

Serious conversation needed about opportunities

“It is my belief that we have yet to have a serious, public conversation about the threat of climate change, and the economic opportunities afforded by the global transformation to a low carbon economy,” says Rand.

He believes taking action on climate disruption can produce results that everyone can agree on – cleaner air, lower power consumption, improved public transport, less asthma cases, better waste management, fewer hospital admissions, more efficient agriculture, and greater reforestation.

And taking action has been Rand’s mission for the past 10 years.

The author of two books Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit: 10 Clean Technologies to Save Our World(2010, short-listed for the White Pine Award for non-fiction) and Waking the Frog: Solutions for Our Climate Change Paralysis (2014, remaining on the Globe & Mail’s non-fiction bestseller list for 9 weeks), Rand has been active in the cleantech sector both as a venture capitalist and from a policy perspective, so he understands the challenges entrepreneurs face.

Rand is a managing partner of the privately-backed ArcTern Ventures, Senior Advisor at the MaRS Discovery District, and sits on the board of a number of clean energy companies and organizations.  He has appeared on The Exchange w/ Amanda Lang on CBC and even debated climate skeptic Bjorn Lomborg.

While he acknowledges public dialogue about climate change has devolved into a kind of theatre of the absurd, Rand is convinced there is a way out of the impasse.

“The good news is that our modern global market economy – backed by unprecedented levels of capital, powered by increasing rates of technological innovation, and in command of the largest manufacturing capacity in human history is fully capable of responding to the climate crisis,” he says. “The market economy is the most powerful social force in human history.”

Energy use can be cut in half

Rand is aware that there is actually more flexibility and room for compromise between skeptics, deniers, and believers in the domain of climate change solutions.

“Efficiency is not a hippie thing. It’s about economic competitiveness. We waste half of the energy we use. We could cut our energy use in half and have the same lifestyle. We need to be smarter about efficiency,” he says.

A software renegade in high school, Rand founded Voice Courier Inc., a company that eventually employed 100 people in three countries and earned revenue in excess of $25 million annually.

After selling the company in 2005, he decided to put his education (a BA Sc in Electrical Engineeringfrom the University of Waterloo, an MSc in Philosophy of Sciencefrom the University of London / London School of Economics and an MA and PhD in Philosophyfrom the University of Toronto) and entrepreneurial skills toward carbon mitigation.

 Rand is a global thought leader with a recognized record of extraordinary achievement in the promotion of a low carbon economy. A creativepublic speaker, Rand challenges his audiences to recognize that there are concrete solutionsto the climate change crisis.

He was awarded Earth Day Canada’s Outstanding Commitment to the Environment Awardin 2013.

Offering a perspective that is both pragmaticand optimistic, Rand’s approach is refreshingly straightforward, while balancing the economic, political, scientific and technological sides of this important topic.

Cut ties to fossil fuels

“Climate change is not a future threat, it’s already here. It’s not like some unsavory character that might one day crash the fossil fuel party, and ruin the good times. It’s already here. It’s in the kitchen, stealing beers and breaking furniture. The fossil fuel party needs to end.”

Rand says we need to reduce our carbon footprint by 75 percent and if you think that’s impossible, that’s exactly what Rand achieved when he and a partner renovated an historic building in downtown Toronto and turned it into Planet Traveler – North America’s greenest, low carbon hotel.

It utilizes geo-exchange to heat and cool the building, solar thermal to preheat water, wastewater heat recapture to save 30 to 40 percent on hot water costs, LED lighting to save 50 to 80 percent on lighting costs, and solar photovoltaic to generate $500 worth of electricity each month.

“To a large extent, we’ve already invented what we need,” says Rand. “The idea that we’re waiting for a magic bullet is absurd. What we need now is financial and political innovation.”

His Nelson presentation at the Capitol has been organized by the Nelson chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and has received funding from the Columbia Basin Trust. Other sponsors include City of Nelson EcoSave Program, Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce, West Kootenay EcoSociety, Nelson and District Credit Union, Nelson and Area Economic Development Partnership, Kootenay Country Store Co-operative, Nelson United Church, Selkirk College, and the Nelson Star.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) is a non-partisan international organization that empowers citizen volunteers to lobby their representatives for a revenue-neutral price on carbon pollution. There are 212 CCL chapters in North America and over 7,500 volunteers internationally. Members of Citizens’ Climate Lobby International’s advisory board include George P. Shultz, former US secretary of state; Dr. James Hansen, retired Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Canadian Climate Scientist at Texas Tech University; and others.

If you are concerned about how to achieve a sustainable future for yourself, your children, and your grandchildren, be sure to come out and give Tom Rand a listen.

Michael Jessen is a Nelson-based energy consultant and has written about environmental issues for more than two decades. He is a member of his local Citizens Climate Lobby chapter and can be reached by email at

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