Saturday, August 16, 2014

About those pipelines

I have nothing but the greatest respect for people who take the time and effort to try and change our world for the better. It takes courage, effort, time and can have an impact on our relationships when we stand up for something publicly. But I think there are a group of folks with their hearts in the right place whom are misguided. I speak of those who protest pipelines and fossil fuel development. Let me explain why.

I believe that protesting pipelines and oil sands places the focus on the wrong thing. We all use fossil fuel in one way or another. We use natural gas to heat our homes and water. Even if we don't, it's likely being used to generate electricity or power manufacturing plants. Oil is being refined into a myriad of products from butane, propane and jet fuel to kerosene, gasoline and most types of plastics, just to name a few. As long as we continue to heat our homes with some kind of fuel, build things out of plastic, put stuff in plastic containers, drive cars, and fly in aircraft, we're going to need fossil fuels. Lots of it. Because now we have people doing those things who might not have been able to afford to do them 20 years ago, such as in places like China, India or certain parts of Africa. So the thing to consider is that the demand for oil and gas is on the increase. Well, we just happen to be very good at providing when there is a demand for something. Because that's how the world economy works. If you want it, they will make it. If they make it, you will buy it.

So as long as there is a need for an increasing amount of fossil fuel, there will be a need to get more of it out of the ground. This is why fracking exists and why we bother to dig up oil sand. And it is why we need a way to ship this oil and gas to where it is needed. I don't like it any more than the protesters do, but I'm trying to be realistic. I'm also trying to be consistent. We already have over 790,000 km of pipelines in the US, over 98,000 km in Canada as of 2006.

That map above only shows the major oil and gas pipelines. There are so many more. Here's a closer look at all the interstate and intrastate natural gas pipelines in the US. That's just natural gas.

So when you look at the big picture, the Keystone and Northern Gateway pipelines are but a tiny part of the whole. Yes, any new pipeline is an accident waiting to happen. But so are the hundreds of thousands of kilometres of existing pipelines. Yet we don't seem to be making much noise about those.

At this point, you're probably thinking that I'm pro-pipeline. I'm not. I dislike the idea as much as the next person who wants to protect our environment. But as long as the world wants the fuel, and as long as we have it to sell, we would be foolish to pass up the opportunity. Because money fuels the economy, pardon the pun.

So what can we do? We need to reduce our use of fossil fuels. We need to start heating our homes with alternative energy. That may not be feasible or practical, yet. But we can reduce our need for fossil fuel by building more efficiently insulated homes. We have the technology to build homes that are so well insulated that they barely need a space heater to stay toasty warm, even in the dead of winter, and yet we continue to build draft shacks. We need to build more electric cars like the kind Tesla make. Yes, we still need to generate the electricity needed to power those cars, but it always boils down to less fossil fuel needed per mile, and less cost to the consumer. We need to use cars less often, but that means we need better transit systems and more car sharing, and more protected bike lanes. We can also start generating electricity from alternative sources like solar and building infrastructure to store excess solar and wind energy until it's needed. We need to make plastic from something other than crude oil. We've already started, we need to get better at it. We also need to make that plastic bio-degradable, so that it doesn't end up in tiny bits endangering our oceans. Do you see a pattern? It means a change in the way we do things. It's a big change, one that is less likely to be adopted by the oldest generations. But our hope is in our youth. Our youth see what is happening and they are beginning to understand that the status quo is unsustainable. They're willing to car share. They're willing to bike and walk and take transit. They just want us to make it practical and safe for them to do that. They're willing to buy more efficient homes. But we have to build them and stop pricing them like novelties. They are much less interested in getting one of everything for their home and much more willing to establish neighbourhood tool sharing co-ops. Because they know that everyone doesn't really need their own circular saw or lawn mower.

Once we get enough people like that, we won't need as much oil or gas and we'll be able to shut down the refineries, close the valves on the pipelines and stop drilling, fracking and extracting oil out of sand. So put down those signs and start a practical movement that will change the world.

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