What Elizabeth May wants to do with Canadian oil

Elizabeth May in a yellow shirt: Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Photograph by Blair Gable)
© Used with permission of / © Rogers Media Inc. 2019. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Photograph by Blair Gable)

This fall, Elizabeth May will lead the Green Party into her fifth election as leader. Her involvement in environmental issues on a national level began 30 years ago, when she served as a senior policy adviser to Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives. She was later the executive director of Sierra Club of Canada before becoming leader of the Green Party in 2006. She spoke with Maclean’s senior writer Paul Wells as Parliament wound down its final session before the fall vote.

Q: You’ve now been leader of the Green Party for 13 years.

A: Yes.

Q: And it seems like our politics very often turn on questions of climate and the environment. It’s how Stéphane Dion became Liberal leader. It was central to Stephen Harper’s majority government. And it’s one of the key questions on which the Liberals will be judged in the fall. And yet, there often doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of progress on climate.

A: There’s none. We slide backwards, really.

Q: I assume you’re not thrilled by that.

A: We’re in a climate emergency. Everything is changed. And yet, every day in Ottawa, we don’t act as if we’re taking it seriously. We haven’t adjusted our emission-reduction targets from the one left behind from Stephen Harper’s administration, which is loosely referred to as the Paris target, even though it has never been consistent with the Paris Agreement [from 2015]. The Paris Agreement says to try to hold at 1.5 degrees [of warming above pre-industrial levels], and as far below two degrees as possible. Well now we know, thanks to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that two degrees is too dangerous. We have to hold at 1.5 degrees. So it’s bad luck for the current generation of politicians because the time for procrastination has run out. I’ve been working with every single government since June 1992 to try to get climate action. By the way, Paul Martin had a really good climate plan. That was the last good plan we saw.

Q: And what about this gang?

A: They don’t have a plan. It’s sad to say. I mean, they’ve taken measures. But their target was left behind by the previous government that didn’t take climate change seriously. And if you look at it globally, if you take all the targets of all the governments around the world as they existed in December 2015, when we negotiated in Paris, the cumulative effect of everyone hitting their targets is to increase the global average temperature somewhere between 2.4 and 3.5 degrees. And now that we know we have to hold at 1.5 or we really are playing Russian roulette with whether humanity survives—well, then you have to re-examine your targets. And for a government that has such good rhetoric, I’m deeply disappointed. They’re bringing in regulations on methane, they’re bringing in some measures. They claim we’re going off coal. But if we use fracked natural gas instead, we’re not actually making an improvement. I’m not going to say they’ve done absolutely nothing, but what they’ve done amounts to an abdication of responsibility.

Q: The next election is going to be a confrontation largely between the Liberals and the Conservatives over who’s got a real plan for the climate. How’s it going to feel watching a polarized debate between two parties when you don’t think either one of them has the answer?

A: I don’t see it as being a two-party choice. We have six parties that currently have seats in Parliament that are going to be fielding candidates in the election. And when you look at that mix, I think there’s a greater likelihood of a minority Parliament, which creates the possibility of co-operation. As Greens, we’ve put forward what we call Mission Possible. It’s not Mission Easy, but it is possible, and it will require a transformational effort, the kind of transformation of our economy that we haven’t seen since the Second World War. It’s major but it does lead us to a positive place where people have jobs and Canadians are happy, but it requires getting off fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

Q: There was a report that came out last year by most of the country’s auditors general. It said only Nova Scotia was meeting the targets it had most recently set. And what it says is that a lot of the problem in climate politics is not the parties that are against effective action on climate change, it’s the parties that support effective action and then never get around to taking it. They just say stuff to make themselves feel good, but then don’t follow through.

A: The problem is politicians look at what needs to be done and say, well, we’d better be incremental. The enemy of climate action right now is incrementalism. Now, the federal government has powers that the current administration hasn’t even thought about, as far as I can see. They haven’t once mentioned that carbon dioxide is listed as a toxin under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. There are basically 200 facilities across Canada that are responsible for the lion’s share of greenhouse gases; they could be regulated. We don’t even need to pass a new law.

Q: What happens if you regulate a few hundred large carbon emitters on the principle that carbon is a toxin? What happens to the economy from one day to the next?

A: Well, I’m not advocating that we do everything through regulation. We want to do it through proactive development of a strong renewable energy sector. Andrew Scheer talks about an energy corridor. So do I, but his corridor is for pipelines and mine is an electricity grid that’s running 100 per cent on renewable energy. So there’s a lot of work to be done because we actually have gaps in our electricity grid: Quebec Hydro basically stops at Moncton, N.B., but it could reach all of Atlantic Canada.

So you start looking at the pieces to make sure we have to have an efficient electricity grid running on 100 per cent renewables. That isn’t done essentially only by regulation. But if you did bring in regulations for the large emitters, which are basically coal-fired electricity plants and cement, you could say they’re going to have to cut by 50 per cent by this date. And we also have some money to help you. If you’d like to shift right away to renewable energy, we’ll help you do that. So it’s carrots and sticks.

a view of a city with smoke coming out of the water: The Athabasca oil sands near Fort McMurray, Alta., where refineries dominate the landscape (Ben Nelms/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
© Used with permission of / © Rogers Media Inc. 2019. The Athabasca oil sands near Fort McMurray, Alta., where refineries dominate the landscape (Ben Nelms/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Q: Part of your plan is to use only Canadian oil during a transition period, at the end of which we wouldn’t be using any oil. And for that great idea, you got chewed out by the leader of the Green Party in Quebec, who said we’re not going to be using more Alberta oil, thank you very much.

A: He didn’t actually look at the full document. What we’re proposing is that for Quebec, and for Atlantic Canada, we can reduce the number of tankers moving through Atlantic Canadian waters. This is not going to be overnight. You can’t wave a magic wand and undo a lot of commercial contracts. But [Newfoundland’s] Hibernia oil is over 80 per cent exported. That oil would suit.

And for Western Canada, there’s an existing infrastructure that meets the needs of a domestic market. But we’ve been so conditioned by everybody in politics and in Alberta saying we have to get our oil to market. Well, there’s a market, and it’s Canada. Of course, our plan is not music to their ears in Alberta because the Greens are talking about quite a dramatic reduction in our use of fossil fuels. But Alberta has the best potential of any province for solar energy. It has enormous potential for wind power. And so replacing coal in Alberta with wind and solar is totally doable, and good for their economy. In the meantime, over time, bitumen can become the feedstock for a petrochemical industry instead of burning it. MORE

NEARBY NEIGHBOURS PREFER WIND FARMS TO FOSSIL, NUCLEAR OR SOLAR PLANTS, STUDY FINDS


Karsten Würth (@inf1783)/wikimedia commons

People who actually live near operating wind farms see them as better neighbours than fossil, nuclear, or solar plants, even if they’re located in U.S. coal country, according to a new study in the journal Nature.

Researchers Jeremy Firestone and Hannah Kirk based that assessment on publicly-available data from a 2016 survey of 1,705 people living within five miles of at least one commercial-scale wind turbine, conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“Research on people’s acceptance of wind power, they write, usually frames the question as being a choice between wind power or no wind power,” ArsTechnica reports. “But that’s unrealistic: society needs to generate electricity somehow, so they argue that the real question should be ‘whether society should generate electricity by wind or from some other source.’”

And that question yielded a very different result.

“Around 90% of the respondents said they would prefer their local wind farm to a hypothetical nuclear, coal, or natural gas plant at the same distance from their homes,” ArsTechnica notes. “There was even a preference for wind over solar power, although that was less stark—around a third of respondents had no real preference, 15% said they would prefer solar power, and 45% said they were happier with wind power.” MORE

 

‘Spectacular’ price drops for clean energy obliterate the cost arguments against Green New Deal

Republicans push phony attack on Green New Deal’s cost, ignore ‘tens of trillions’ in benefits.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY) UNVEILS THE GREEN NEW DEAL RESOLUTION IN FRONT OF THE U.S. CAPITOL, FEBRUARY 7, 2019. CREDIT: ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES.

Opponents of serious climate action are routinely using a nonsensical $93 trillion dollar cost projection to attack the Green New Deal — an effort to mobilize the U.S. economy to shift away from fossil fuels as fast as technologically possible to preserve the livable climate that has made modern civilization possible — even though the figure has been roundly debunked by fact checkers.

The reality is that the price of what are called “core” clean energy technologies — including solar power, onshore and offshore wind, and batteries — have seen “spectacular gains in cost-competitiveness” in just the last year, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report released Tuesday.

Modernizing and decarbonizing the country’s aging energy infrastructure now has so many economic, environmental, and health benefits that the overall benefit of strong climate action would be enormous.

FactCheck.org notes that, by itself, “the cost of climate change could easily balloon into the tens of trillions” for this country based on recent research. The National Climate Assessment (NCA) by hundreds of the country’s top scientists — approved by the Trump administration in November — warns that a do-nothing climate policy will end up costing Americans more than a half-trillion dollars per year in increased sickness and death, coastal property damages, loss of worker productivity, and other damages.

And so the biggest benefit of the Green New Deal would be avoiding those costs. MORE

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More bad news for coal: Wind and solar are getting cheaper

Hydrogen from seawater: Using solar power for electrolysis

 The breakthrough opens the door for widespread generation of hydrogen fuel powered by wind and solar energy.

Stanford University researchers have developed a method of generating hydrogen from seawater. The breakthrough harnesses solar power to drive the process of electrolysis to separate hydrogen and oxygen gas from water.

Previously, water splitting methods have relied on highly purified water, an expensive and precious resource.

Hydrogen fuel is a promising option in the fight against climate change because it doesn’t emit carbon dioxide when burned.

hydrogen from seawater such as this is being researched by Stanford University

Seawater could soon become a source of abundant hydrogen fuel after breakthrough research from Stanford scientists.

However, utilising the clean gas as a fuel to power cities and vehicles would be impossible, according to lead researcher, Hongjie Dai.

So the team turned to saltwater from San Francisco Bay. They created a proof-of-concept demo using solar panels, electrodes and ocean water.

A new way to harness hydrogen from saltwater

The Stanford prototype uses electrolysis: put simply, splitting water into hydrogen into oxygen using electricity. A power source (in this case solar panels) connects to two electrodes placed in water. Hydrogen gas bubbles from the negative end, oxygen from the positive.

Unfortunately, negatively charged chloride in seawater corrodes the positive end and shortens the life of the the The Stanford team found that by coating the anode with layers rich in negative charges, they repelled the chloride and halted the decay of the underlying metal. MORE

The battery that could make mass solar and wind power viable

Renewable energy is a growing market, but even if they could some day replace fossil fuels, there’s a problem: that energy needs to be stored. Currently battery tech isn’t up to the task, but the solution to one of the world’s most pressing  problems might just be sitting in Marlborough, Mass. MORE