A Win-Win Climate Solution Awaits

A Win-Win Climate Solution Awaits, Below2C

The year 2019 ended the hottest decade on record by being the year of climate emergency declarations. Globally, “one in ten people now live in a place which has declared a climate emergency,” reports The Verge. Canada declared a climate emergency in June of 2019.

Canada is locked-in to a Fossil-Fuel-Expansion Obsession

In spite of declaring a climate emergency, Prime Minister Trudeau continues to be all-in the for the fossils. Canadian taxpayers bought the Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion in 2018 and are now footing the bill for an expansion project whose cost estimates have ballooned to $12.6 billion from $7.4 billion. And it gets even worse.

Trudeau is now poised to announce the approval of the Teck Frontier project, a new giant Tar Sands mine—the largest ever—which will dump more than 4 million tonnes of carbon per year into the atmosphere until the 2060s. And yet just a few months ago in Madrid, Canada promised it will be at net-zero-emissions by 2050. This is very agonizing to watch. “They know [Trudeau and his cabinet] — yet they can’t bring themselves to act on the knowledge. Now that is cause for despair,” wrote Bill McKibben in TheGuardian.

Climate Solution? Energy Transition is the Answer

On January 3, 2020, Ottawa-based Abacus Data released a poll titled, “Energy transition: a widely accepted concept; Canadians want governments to work on it, not against it.” The poll shows that “75% say it [transition] is a global trend, beneficial for Canada in the long term. Most feel it is necessary and will happen.”

Yet business-as-usual persists, with most governments slow to announce bold emission control measures, and with some even in denial.

The Trudeau Government, caught in a bind between the fossil fuel economy and the need to transition to renewables, is not acting as quickly as Europe and Asia.

Europe has discovered that shifting a fossil fuel company to renewable energy can be surprisingly simple, because many of the needed technical and management skills are the same.

All of Norwegian oil giant Statoil’s wind energy department, for example, was recruited internally. Little was needed to retrain its engineers. If Statoil moved its offshore wind business into a separate company, it would be one of the 15 largest companies on the Oslo Stock Exchange.

And if the solar division of French oil company Total SA were separated from its parent company, it would be one of the world’s largest solar businesses.

With increasing divestment and the falling demand for oil, transition to ever-cheaper renewables is in the best interests of the industry.  Instead of buying pipelines and giving billions in fossil fuel subsidies to shore up an economically non viable “zombie” industry, Canadian citizens, through their governments, could take a smarter tack.

That is to give the industry government subsidies only on condition that it publish plans to transition to renewables at the rate of 8.5% a year. Compounded, the transition would be complete in 10 years, by 2030.

What about Alberta?

There are 60,000 old oil wells in Alberta with geothermal energy waiting at the bottom. And Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan form the sun belt of Canada, receiving over 2375 hours of sunlight a year. They could switch broadly to free unlimited solar energy, including concentrated solar power, which now serves communities in the US, Spain, Morocco, India and China.

Transforming the energy grid to upload all this power could be modeled loosely on FDR’s depression-based Rural Electrification Administration, still operating, and being copied in other countries.

All this development would stimulate the economy and increase employment.

Further procedural information is available on The Climate Mobilization website, and from daily Twitter reports of exciting worldwide innovations from Canada’s Mike Hudema (@MikeHudema), Stanford’s Mark Z. Jacobson (@mzjacobson), and Singapore’s green energy CEO, Assaad Razzouk (@AssaadRazzouk).

A Win-Win Situation for Climate

A win-win situation awaits us all: it simply requires political will, knowledge of existing solutions, and Canadian savvy and can-do.  We can and must collectively urge our governments to act quickly and dynamically to meet the emergency. SOURCE


Albertans must not let our government push a polarized partisan narrative

The reality is that Alberta especially has the capacity to generate revenue, but we choose not to, and then call it the Alberta advantage. AMBER BRACKEN/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Monday isn’t the first time Alberta has elected mostly Conservative MPs. What does seem different, though, is the anger. Premier Jason Kenney described the idea of a Liberal minority government as a “Frankenstein” scenario, in which non-Conservatives pose an existential threat to Alberta.

We Albertans should ask ourselves how far we are prepared to let our provincial government push this polarized partisan narrative in our name. Other Canadians, too, should ask how much they’re prepared to accommodate this belligerent approach.

A few things work together to produce such a charged environment. While relatively few Albertans work directly in oil and gas (6.1 per cent in 2017), the idea that Alberta’s prosperity is tied to oil and gas is pervasive. My own research shows that about 70 per cent of Albertans report that oil and gas is very important for Alberta’s prosperity, compared with only about 24 per cent when that prosperity connection is made to their personal finances. This may be why it is so easy for some to conflate “energy” almost exclusively with oil and gas in Alberta.

So why are Albertans so angry? Certainly, some simply strongly connect only oil and gas to the province’s prosperity. While many Albertans may not say it explicitly, there’s appetite for conversations about energy transition and the environment; politicians across all parties and levels of government ignore this at their peril.

But another factor – partisanship – helps explain the anger. If partisanship is seen as a social identity, then it is ripe for polarization. Polarized partisans see competition between other parties as zero-sum, and then these partisans feel threatened, they will fight to maintain the position and status of their group. Importantly, polarized partisans also feel emotions on behalf of their party, so they are more euphoric when they win, and more angered when they lose.

To this, another factor must be considered. While many Albertans are not polarized partisans, they all feel at least a degree of Western alienation and have long expressed aggravation at the idea that our resources are used to enrich elites in Central Canada. This explains why the bellicose posturing of both Alberta’s Premier Kenney and Saskatchewan’s Premier Scott Moe after Monday’s election references equalization and getting a “fair deal” from the rest of Canada. Again, while this sentiment is not new, it helps reinforce this “us versus them” narrative made explosive by partisan polarization.

This is not the first time that Canadians will be confronted with a region or province that is not satisfied; what is worth considering now is what actions the federal government should take that would satisfy discontented folks in Alberta and Saskatchewan that would also be seen as acceptable, or even positive, by other Canadians. While I doubt polarized partisans will ever be satisfied, I also doubt we can have this conversation without addressing equalization.

The difficulty is that few Canadians can accurately report much, if anything, about equalization. In speaking to Albertans, I’ve found that many agree with the fundamental principles of the program: Canadians should be able to access comparable levels of services regardless of where they live, and provinces should have autonomy in determining how they provide those services. Where Albertans are easily led astray, though, is about what equalization is meant to, well, equalize. It’s about fiscal capacity – that is, a province’s ability to generate revenue.

The reality is that Alberta especially has the capacity to generate revenue, but we choose not to, and then call it the Alberta advantage. It’s estimated that if Alberta imposed taxes at the same level as British Columbia, where the economy has consistently outperformed Alberta’s in recent years, we would generate $11.2-billion a year more in revenue. But there appears to be little appetite to reconsider this. This leaves Alberta open to criticism, justifiably, for asking the federal government to help pay its bills when it’s unwilling to put in the same effort as other provinces to raise revenue.

I can see why the current pugnacious strategy is favoured by Premiers Kenney and Moe. It’s reasonable to assume that most Westerners are easily angered, albeit in ignorance, about equalization. Add partisan polarization into the mix, and it becomes especially easy to shift blame for things Westerners don’t like to the federal government.

Given that it’s already too easy to blame the feds for things that are exclusively the choice of Alberta’s government (i.e. our systematic under-use of our own fiscal capacity), I anticipate that, sometime soon, blame for harsh budget cuts meted out by Mr. Kenney’s government will be presented as Justin Trudeau’s fault. This strategy is certainly as partisanly effective as it is devoid of principled and ethical leadership.

Taken together, this is why a national conversation about the politics of equalization and the Canadian federation, while arguably needed, likely won’t get very far. It’s hard to escape the impression that, at least for some Albertans, the anger is the goal.  SOURCE


A letter to the West: Let’s put aside the climate change thing for a bit and focus on some realities

We Can’t Get Beyond Carbon With Gas

In B.C., Andrew Weaver, the leader of the Green Party, has said he will never support natural gas. This leaves John Horgan and the NDP with its support of a massive gas development with a dilema, especially when the federal NDP does not support natural gas development.

Photo by iStockphoto.com/Yerbolat Shadrakhov

Everyone knows the telltale smell of a gas leak. Except, because fossil gas is almost odorless, the smell that alerts us to danger actually comes from an added compound (tert-Butylthiol).

Unfortunately, there’s no malodorous chemical to warn us about the dangers of relying on fossil gas as an energy source. Yet, as The New York Times reported last week, utilities have a decision to make as they replace polluting coal plants: adopt clean, renewable energy or build plants that burn fossil gas.

It’s crucial that they make the right choice. That’s why the second goal (after finishing the job of eliminating coal-fired power) that former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg listed when he announced his $500 million Beyond Carbon initiative last month was this: “We will work to stop the construction of new gas plants.”

What makes it so important that we stop the so-called gas rush? After all, an unfortunate number of people (including some who know better), still claim that fossil gas “burns cleaner” than coal, as if that somehow makes it palatable. I’m sorry, but even if fossil gas were less polluting than coal (which it isn’t), saying that it “burns cleaner” is like insisting that a switchblade “kills quieter” than a machine gun. Either way, you’re still pumping daisies. Exactly how you ended up there is kind of beside the point.

Here’s where the stubborn reality of math kicks in: In order to prevent a worst-case-scenario climate disaster, we can’t afford to even use all of the fossil gas reserves that we already know about — much less find and extract new ones. What’s more, even if the entire world were to swear off coal right now, burning gas in its place would still leave us in a very bad place. Again, exactly how we got there will be beside the point.

Yet instead of backing away from disaster, fossil fuel companies (with shameful assistance from the Trump administration) actually want to frack more shale gas — and build the pipelines, power plants, and export terminals that go with it.

That’s far Beyond Foolish. But the kicker is that it’s not even necessary. It’s already more economical to use wind, solar, and storage instead of gas for large-scale power generation in many places, and that will soon be true everywhere. Already, cities like Los Angeles are stopping new gas plant construction in favor of renewable energy. So instead of investing in gas infrastructure that will be obsolete economically and technologically before the paint is dry, we need to be doing the opposite: developing a plan for replacing fossil gas everywhere in a way that’s both fast and fair — and by “fair” I mean it shouldn’t put any unjust economic burden on low-income and frontline communities.

Done right, the transition to an energy economy based on electricity from clean, renewable power will not only avoid a climate catastrophe but also bring about a healthier, more prosperous future. That’s the ultimate overarching goal of moving beyond carbon, and it’s why the Sierra Club and our allies are working hard every day to stop fracked gas. And when the valve on that last gas pipeline finally is closed? The only odor left will be the sweet smell of success. SOURCE