To make progess with oil, renewables and ethical trade, we need pragmatism and problem solving
BY CODY BATTERSHILL
Ask any person in a hip café in downtown Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal to explain the relationship between renewable energy and fossil fuels and there’s a good chance you’ll hear a response like this: “We need to ban all fossil fuels right away and switch to using only renewables, which are abundant and will save us all from sure destruction.” Not only do you and I both know this is completely wrong, but so does Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Does Trudeau promote renewable, clean energy as a key piece of our future energy supply? Sure, he does. But even he talks about an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy development. During his April visit to the UN in New York to sign the Paris climate treaty, he clearly explained that, for Canada, “additional oil production would co-exist with cleaner technology, and more resources [would be] spent on energy innovation.”
Some might be surprised to learn that, in many respects, I agree with him. Canada’s global environmental leadership extends not just to tough regulation, but to innovation throughout the entire energy space. Canada invested more capital in renewable energy in 2013 and 2014 than did India with a population about 35 times larger than ours. We were just below Germany on that same measure in 2013, according to Bloomberg News. The Canadian Wind Association says Canada ranks seventh in installed wind power capacity, and per capita we’re number one in renewable energy, according to First Energy Capital. Furthermore, we’re the only major oil supplier to the U.S. that has strict carbon regulations.
In other words, we take the pragmatic view of problem-solving through innovation and investment, while remaining very committed to a clean, more sustainable energy future. And yet, global oil demand is increasing and many other jurisdictions are stepping in to fill the gap—profiting at our expense.
Pipelines are under construction throughout the world. Our American friends, with the unwitting aid of Canadian anti-pipeline groups, have outmaneuvered us in foreign markets. It’s a serious problem.
We must add these statistics to our familiar arguments and keep pushing back at pipeline opponents, and challenge them to be as green as we are—and ask them to be consistent when they select targets and form campaigns. This context and perspective resonates with our supporters and with many who are undecided on these issues.
Those Vancouver or Toronto café patrons that I mentioned need to be aware of one thing: If they truly care about social justice and the environment, then logic compels them to champion Canada’s record on both renewables and responsible fossil fuel development.
I’ll even provide them a few key facts and I would encourage everyone to spend five minutes a few times a week sharing and discussing these issues both on- and offline. We should consider that since 1990, Canadian oil sands producers have reduced per barrel GHG emissions by an average of 30 percent. Some projects have even halved emissions. The oil sands and Canada only contribute 0.15 percent and 1.6 percent to global GHG emissions, respectively—less than both global air travel and global data centers, according to The Guardian newspaper. Thirteen oil fields in California pour out more GHGs per barrel than do the oil sands.
And as for pipeline construction, opponents might consider that around the world about 150,000 kilometers of pipelines are currently planned or under construction. Saudi Arabia is expanding its main east-west oil pipeline to carry seven million b/d.
Growth in global oil demand is also staggering. More than 30 million b/d of new oil production will be needed by 2030 just to offset existing field declines according to Wood Mackenzie, and demand growth from 2015 to 2017 is expected to reach about four million b/d. Human rights activists might wonder whether the world’s top oil reserve countries—Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, among others—ought to win those supply contracts rather than a progressive Canada.
A reasonable way forward is to pay attention to all of the above—together.
That’s just being a Canadian.
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