Friday, December 09, 2016

If not pipelines, then what?

I'm going to play devil's advocate for a while. Feel free to play along with me. Just to be transparent, I am totally for sustainable, green energy. But I also try to be a realist. Our dependence on fossil fuel isn't going to change overnight. Let's continue.

There are a lot of people saying 'no' to pipelines now. I believe that I understand why. I feel though, as if some of these people are ignoring the present while stating a case for the future. Take a look at this map of existing pipelines.

There are a lot of pipelines in North America. Some of them leak. Most of them do not. I wonder aloud if saying no to another pipeline, or saying no to replacing an existing pipeline is practical, given all other factors. I am at least thankful that our own federal government said no to a pipeline that would have broke new ground, while allowing upgrades to existing ones. I also applaud efforts against a new pipeline through sensitive lands in North Dakota.

I don't like the idea of pipelines carrying environmentally unfriendly product across the landscape. But what are the alternatives? Rail? Based on what we saw in Lac Megantic, that's a recipe for disaster too. I've been told that a lot more oil is being shipped by rail in the last few years precisely because of the lack of pipeline capacity. This significantly increases the risk that we could see another rail disaster. So I guess the question we need to ask ourselves is, do we want the risk of a pipe that could leak and damage an ecosystem, or the risk of a train that could derail and damage an ecosystem, or worse - kill people?

Some would argue that neither is OK, and we should stop creating new transport methods for fossil fuel period. But is that even doable right now? We still depend on fossil fuel both for the products we use, fuel for our vehicles, heat for our homes, energy to create electricity, etc. There is not only a market for oil and gas at home, but also in emerging markets overseas. Our economy wouldn't be able to withstand a lack of growth in this industry without a corresponding increase in growth in another. That's how economies work. Just the contraction of the fossil fuel industry due to the collapse in oil prices, took a major toll on our economy, and put a lot of people out of work. There were few if any jobs for those people to transfer into. This is partly why people are afraid, that saying no to oil, is saying yes to another recession.

So as long as we depend on this industry, not only to keep things moving, power flowing and plastics forming, we can't just say no. If we are serious about transitioning to an economy that relies much less on fossil fuel, we need to establish a new entrant in the marketplace. This has yet to happen. Some governments are trying to get the money needed to begin the transition, by putting a price on carbon and using that revenue to fund green technology. People are protesting that too. I would find this contradiction hilarious if it wasn't sad. People don't want oil, but they don't want us to fund our way out of it either.

Canada has fallen behind on wind power, partly because energy consortiums insist that energy from wind can't be stored. This is pure nonsense and has been proven as such in other jurisdictions. But the utility companies rule the game and the people have yet to protest that.

We continue to rely heavily on coal for electricity, the most emissions-dense and pollution-dense method of generating it. Although governments plan to phase it out, they're also agreeing to make concessions for some provinces. But nobody is protesting that.

Our governments continue to subsidize fossil fuel using our tax dollars. Incredibly, there are no protests about that.

There has been no movement whatsoever on exploring geothermal as a source of heat and energy on a mass scale in Canada. An unbelievable untapped source. No protests to be found.

There has been no movement whatsoever on exploring solar as a source of heat and energy on a mass scale in Canada, unlike in other countries. No protests there either.

We could even be reducing the demand for energy in Canada by doing easy things, like making our houses and offices more efficient. But we're not, except in very limited developments. Why aren't people protesting home energy waste? Don't people realize that we have the technology and materials know-how to build homes that could be heated by a single space heater?

We could be reducing our demand for fuel by abandoning large, gas guzzling trucks and SUVs, which are enabled by our incredibly low priced gasoline and diesel (compared to Europe). I don't see protests that our gas is too cheap, enabling bigger-than-necessary vehicles. I don't see protests about gas-guzzlers either.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point. If you want to stop more pipelines, then you have to stop the need for more pipelines. Which means that we need to motivate our economy to go green first. You can't decide not to eat meat if nobody's growing vegetables.

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