Finding a politically acceptable middle-ground between reducing emissions and growing the economy is difficult, particularly for an energy-producing country like Canada.
Discord on related issues is certain to be a significant factor in the upcoming federal election. Anti-fossil fuel activists, not satisfied with their uneven success in setting Canadians’ hair on fire, have now announced they are importing the ideas of the Extinction Rebellion from the United Kingdom.
The Extinction Rebellion is billed as a “nonviolent, radical, and loosely affiliated international group of climate-justice advocates who disrupt everyday activities with direct action to draw attention to the crisis.”
In practice, they have been placing themselves in the way of events society cannot live without, like London Fashion Week and advertising awards dinners. Demands of the group include setting up a Citizen’s Assembly on “climate and ecological justice” – in other words, slipping in a socialist utopia while everyone else thinks it is getting a tax subsidy to buy a Tesla.
In Britain last winter, while not disrupting traffic, Extinction Rebellion got themselves into the news by attaching themselves to public infrastructure with Krazy Glue, an adhesive made from fossil-fuel derived methanol.
Main lesson so far: plan carefully when sticking yourself to a revolving door.
According to a breathless account in Vancouver’s Georgia Straight magazine, “Extinction Rebellion demonstrators often have no qualms about being arrested. In fact, one of its tactics is to clog up the courts to send a message that the status quo is unacceptable.”
Do they know what they’re in for? According to a recent complaint, inhumane warders in Vancouver’s jail forced one recent prisoner to subsist on a pitiful diet of fruit and energy bars and fruit juice – a dietary punishment previously inflicted only on inhabitants of Kitsilano, all of the Gulf Islands, and parts of Victoria.
Elsewhere, youthful imitators of Greta Thunberg are bringing her weird adult-shaming spiel to town councils and provincial legislatures in Canada, as if we oldsters had not discovered that propagating our genes into future generations is not only necessary for humanity’s survival, but a lot of fun.
Extinction Rebellion will be rolled out in major Canadian cities next month. You’ve been warned.
As election season begins, it’s important to remember that Canadians have every reason to be calm and confident about how the future is unfolding. We don’t need a rebellion or a revolution. The trick is to continue the transition to a range of energy production and efficiency technologies, and be wary of demands for a shift towards some particular technology.
We need to consider factors unique to Canada – its relatively high level of development in low-carbon primary energy production like hydro and nuclear, its economically crucial oil & gas sector, and its diverse and massive geography – and not be bullied into adopting ideas that emanate from countries with tiny land masses and limited energy options.
Reducing the transportation and importation of crude oil for domestic use from distant OPEC countries is one thing we should be doing. Last year, Canada imported more than $18 billion worth of crude oil from foreign countries, even though it has abundant reserves of its own. Saudi Arabia alone sent us $1.1 billion worth. Why not replace this with made-in-Canada hydrocarbons? By further developing our own oil and gas, we can create local jobs that are among the highest paid in the whole economy.
We also need to be skeptical of attempts, led by the Rockefeller Foundation, to sour Canadian municipal councils on the usage of natural gas to cook food and heat buildings.
The U.S.-based Rockefeller group previously became notorious for leading a 10-year misinformation campaign to create a hostile policy environment for the Canadian oil sands. That campaign proved to be a boon for Saudi Arabia’s murderous regime, though it has done next to nothing to improve the environment in Canada or anywhere else.
Rockefeller is now funding senior bureaucrat positions inside city halls – including Toronto and Vancouver – to “require transformational changes in how we live, work, build and commute”. What this amounts to in practice is hiring anti-fossil-fuel zealots for a search-and-destroy mission to eradicate the use of cleaner-burning and widely available natural gas.
This is a terrible idea. Natural gas currently represents roughly 35 per cent of Canadian energy end use, with the National Energy Board predicting this will grow to almost 40 per cent within two decades, according to the Canadian Gas Association (CGA).
Replacing gas with electricity in Ontario alone would require three more electric generation systems the size of the current one, or about 90 new 1,000 MW nuclear reactors, and all the transmission that would require. And that is just to match today’s natural gas heating needs.
This is the price, we are told, that Canadians must pay to save the world.
In fact, there is no better jurisdiction anywhere in the world in improving how we produce, distribute, and use reliable energy.
Natural gas furnaces operate at over 90 per cent efficiency today, versus 60 per cent a few decades ago. Technologies like combined heat and power (CHP) technology will allow a single unit in the home to meet natural gas and power needs, where that makes sense.
Vehicles powered by affordable, always “charged” liquid fuels get more efficient every year, even though many politicians seem to have decided that only the specific technology of electric vehicles is fit for the future. Buying buses at double or triple the cost of conventional vehicles, like the City of Ottawa has decided to do, is one result of this mindset.
Steady innovation of proven, affordable technologies is the big story right now, even if it’s not typically the one getting the headlines.
Renewable fuels produced from waste disposal facilities, from agricultural waste, wastewater treatment, or biomass are offering significant emission reductions – and more affordably and flexibly in almost all applications than wind and solar.
A large ferry in British Columbia is now running on LNG (liquefied natural gas), and others will follow.
Innovation in hydrogen, emission capture, and improved distribution systems are all on the right track in terms of climate performance.
Canada is uniquely positioned because of its incumbent energy industries, and its combination of geography and geology, to be a world leader in carbon dioxide removal, storage and utilization – a set of technologies needed to meet global climate targets and keep the Earth below 2 degrees of warming. Negative emissions technologies that we Canadians can and should be more excited about include afforestation and reforestation, near-surface carbon sequestration, direct air capture of carbon, bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS), and ocean fertilization.
In just a decade, the oil sands story has been transformed as operators sought to adopt every available improvement to recovery technology, resulting in better environmental (as well as financial) performance.
Were the rest of the world to produce conventional and unconventional natural gas and oil as we do in Canada, estimates are that there would be an immediate 23 per cent reduction in GHG emissions, according to the CGA.
There are some things we can do better. Not enough has been invested into developing carbon capture technologies, and we are at risk of losing the first-mover advantage to other jurisdictions.
We have not done nearly enough to enable the rapid completion of multiple LNG export facilities that will allow Canada to more meaningfully aid the global low-carbon transition.
A general aversion to talking about more nuclear energy is postponing urgent policy decisions.
Indigenous aspirations to be meaningfully engaged in the wealth-creating energy economy have been barely addressed.
The kind of activism that inspires rapid action on these problems is the kind of activism we need today. It’s in the public interest as well as the selfish personal interest of billions of individuals that we be successful with this.
In coming weeks, those who believe Canada is a great country, with values worth fighting for, need to stand up for what’s right and not let imported climate histrionics define how we are governed for the next four years.
Stewart Muir is Executive Director of the Vancouver-based Resource Works Society.