Carbon or bust: Is our greed creating the next recession?

LOGAN DOWNING

WINDMILL

Energy plays a huge part in how Canada is growing and developing, but is our reliance on the energy sector any better than Russian roulette?

Our current industry produces over 18.1 billion terajoules of non-renewable resources — natural gas, oil and coal — each year for sale in the energy marketplace. This level of production supports an evaluation of the energy industry at over $84.3 billion according to Statistics Canada in 2010, which equates to 6.8 per cent of Canada’s total Gross Domestic Product.

In past years we have seen what the slump in oil prices does to our neighbouring province of Alberta: jobs cease to exist, unemployment rises and the housing markets crash. Now imagine what would happen if the majority of the energy sector ceased to exist.

On Dec. 11, 2010 world leaders sat down in Cancun, Mexico to discuss the direction of all future climate initiatives. They agreed on several terms, but the main focus of the Cancun agreement was to reduce emissions in order to avoid an increase in global temperature by two degrees Celsius — using pre-industrial temperatures as a base line.

It has been said that an increase in two degrees would damage fragile economies clustered around the equatorial regions of the world.

Economies around the equator are already plagued with poor farming conditions, droughts and marginalised farmland. If faced with more severe droughts and higher temperatures, the fear is that farmland would become inadequate and these many nations would become dependent on the farming practices of distanced producers — making an already impoverished and reliant part of the world much more desperate.

In order for the world to stop the fast approaching two degree Celsius, one of two things are going to happen: either we stop producing and consuming petrolium by 2020 or the goal is not reached.

In the context of this argument, let’s assume those world leaders and us as citizens of these countries do in fact stop producing a carbon footprint.

Unfortunately, the hypocrisy here is overwhelming. As previously stated the oil and gas industry makes up 6.7 per cent of the Canadian GDP and the Canadian government is continuing to commit significant amounts of money to further exploration and development of these commodities.

It seems odd that Canada is valuing the very products that they hoped to eradicate. Why then are our local governments continuing to focus on developing these commodities?

An idea was brought up in a discussion with a colleague: in 100 years the oil and gas industry is going to be valueless, so companies are going to extract the resources now while they still hold value. The shocking truth to this statement is clear, simple and very human. Unfortunately we have an obsolete technology that needs to be replaced now.

Scenarios like this have been playing out since humans began making products. One only needs to look into the history books to see the transition from manual labour to horsepower, steam engines to gasoline engines and, finally, nuclear energy.

Transitions are natural for our species, but the magnitude of the changes required to eliminate our carbon footprint is enormous. Our very way of life depends on producing carbon. We are faced for the first time with the need to make an extreme change proactively rather than out of necessity or innovation.

Proactively changing our ways in order to diminish our effects on the environment is a battle that isn’t likely to be won by proactivity.

If we continue on the same course of investing and over-valuing the oil and gas sector we are determining our own path of waiting until the environment finally rebukes us or technology saves us. If this happens the effects will be catastrophic to our oil and gas producing provinces.

Assuming that our government maintains the mindset of produce now while they still can, we could see a major recession occur on a provincial and national scale. Canada for instance could see 6.7 per cent of its GDP disappear.

Financial markets would suffer, interest rates would soar, national debt would cripple our government and unemployment rates would be out of control. Western Canada would quite literally dry up.

I again ask, why do we persistently invest in technology that is doomed to be our failure?

It seems that there could be a huge economic opportunity for a nation to jump ahead of the curve and invest in clean energy technology. Could you imagine if Canada or if Saskatchewan provided clean energy technology to the rest of the world?

As students and perhaps Western Canada’s future business leaders, we have an opportunity to create a new thriving industry. Businesses would flourish as the world is our market and the demand is dictated by the degradation of the environment.

This solution may seem similar to war profiteering, but if this war profiteering could help eliminate the looming environmental crisis, I for one am not opposed.

The co-ordination required for the development of such technologies is too complex and necessary to leave it to the markets themselves. We will only achieve this idea from a nationally concerted effort.

We can do this. Such efforts have prevailed in the past 100 years.


Graphic: Pascal Dimnik

  • Gerald

    I’m pretty sure we keep investing in oil and gas because we get good returns. Can the same be said about clean energy? I’m not so sure. And given that oil and gas contributes so much to our GDP, why should we divest of it now? Hey! If there’s a supply that can last 100 more years my kids will be fine. I guess the burden will rest on my grandkids, but I’m sure they’ll think of something.

    • MC

      and if they dont then fuck them! stupid grandchildren and thier future…

    • Gerald

      It’s better we keep these oil and gas jobs around so that we can afford to send our kids to the University of Saskatchewan.

    • PSK

      But not their kids. Screw forward thinking am I right? #LiveInTheMoment #NotMyChildrenNotMyProblem

  • angry foodie

    Classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario.

    You know, if we could rid ourselves of the zealous “zero-carbon” ideas this article implies, maybe we could actually make some progress toward a real solution to the energy problems of the future…

  • I know everything

    This sounds like another anti-oil article without really looking into what is the OTHER option. The world currently depends on oil and gas. You can’t just stop. We need to use it as a stepping stone to better energy production.

    When it comes to jobs, yes, when the market drops, many people are out of work. If we stopped producing now, ALL of them would be out of work. Unfortunately, most renewable energy sources are just not feasible in Canada. Even if they were, they do not provide a good baseline energy production to support the consistent demand around the country. For the simplest example, solar is almost useless when 6-8 months of the year have sub par sunlight and cloudy days, and it does nothing at night.

    And remember, climate change is natural. Carbon emissions, if they do anything, just speed it up. I’m not saying we shouldn’t care about reducing emissions. You just have to realize that, even if we meet emissions goals, the change isn’t going to stop.

    I’m glad you mentioned nuclear, because if you really want a better energy source people need to give nuclear energy a chance. There’s too much whining about where to store the waste. NIMBY syndrome and environmental pansies is killing every storage area considered because people are paranoid about a non-existent risk to the communities above where it could be stored.

    You said it yourself, we have 100 years until it could be gone, that’s a long time to find a better energy source.

    TL;DR the petroleum industry won’t stop and we can’t make it stop without hurting ourselves. Nuclear is cool

    • IamAscientist

      Canada is blessed with great sources of renewables. Wing, hydro, geothermal, and solar (although only in summer, when our days are 18 hours long).

      Don’t deny human impacts on climate change. )(% of scientists know more than you.

      Nuclear is one of the most dangerous energy forms there is, ask Japan or the Ukraine.

    • I know everything

      Yeah, we have those sources, but we’ve already developed a lot of our hydro sources. Again, solar is not effective in the winter, “cool” geothermal as I believe it is called is mainly only useful for some home heating, and wind power is also intermittent. I’m not saying these are bad options, just that they cannot support us anywhere as effectively as petroleum and coal. Again, they are not effective now, but may be in the future.

      I also said that we may have an impact on climate change. I just believe that it is mainly caused naturally, and is part of earth’s weird cycles. I’m all for reducing emissions, just don’t think that it’s the solution to climate change. It’s going to happen either way.

      Ever heard of CANDU reactors? Ontario’s been using them for years and never had serious problems. Japan? We’re not near any significant fault lines. Ukraine? We have much better safety standards. If you want to talk about crazy events, how about the tens of thousands of deaths in China from failed hydroelectric plants? How about the Vayont Dam disaster? Does water get a black eye for that? No. Why should nuclear?

    • IamAscientist

      Geothermal can be turned to electricity, and not with much extra energy used…

      The cycles inidcate the we should be cooling, as our sun is. So, maybe that impact is larger the you are willing to believe…

      The world’s scientists agree that we are the driving factor or it climate change and warming…

      The deaths in China’s accidents are one time accidents. No energy source can cause hundreds, if not thousands of years of lethal radiation like nuclear can.

    • PSK

      I really resent some of the things you are saying, “IknowEverything”, but I admire your pragmatism, and I especially applaud you for your defence of nuclear power. :)

      CANDU reactors and thorium-based nuclear reactors are the future that all of these people are pleading for (i.e: A fossil-fuel-free future). They would bring THOUSANDS of jobs to central Canada. We have the largest uranium deposits in the world and very large thorium estimates: The perfect place to build power plants utilizing those resources.

      Not only that, but central Canada is the most perfect place in the world (arguably) to build nuclear power plants, due to our safe distance away from even the most remote chance of earthquakes/tsunamis. Not to mention that Canada has very good regulations that, combined with our location, will prevent any possible catastrophes that could happen with nuclear energy use.

      tl;dr: I totally agree with “I know everything” and say that if we don’t want fossil fuels, we MUST invest in nuclear power! (This coming from a diehard environmentalist/socialist, No shame).

    • IamAscientist

      While earthquakes are not a danger, tornadoes are. Nuclear is not safe. Period.

    • Gerald

      If we can build skyscrapers that can withstand tornadoes I’m sure we can build nuclear reactors that can too. But of course none of that makes any difference when people choose to remain ignorant.

    • PSK

      Now you’re simply being mulish, my friend. How many tornadoes of the caliber necessary to destroy a solid concrete nuclear reactor have hit Canada in the past??? (Gerald makes the same point). Nuclear is the best quality alternative to fossil fuels in existence, and the only one with the output to actually replace fossil fuels in the near future.

      And it’s a million times safer than fearmongers like you attempt to paint it. Period.

    • IamAscientist

      Anything that produces radioactive waste with an afterlife in the hundreds and thousands of years is not a safe or ecofriendly choice.

    • Gerald

      C’mon. You’re not really a scientist are you? A scientist that believes in an afterlife? I think you mean half life. You betray how little you actually know about the topic.

    • JMG

      Haha you are clearly not a scientist. You sound like a first year in environmental science or something. But then again, even they should understand half-life (not ‘afterlife’).

  • PSK

    Anyone who uses the argument that they don’t want nuclear power because they don’t want the dangerous nuclear waste polluting our earth, think about this: We’re still filling our earth with toxic waste when we burn fossil fuels. The only difference is that we can’t move, store, and seal away the toxic waste from fossil fuels.

    A good summary of that comparison is a very literal “pick your poison”. At least nuclear waste is controllable. And there is good research looking into transforming nuclear waste into a more inert/non-radioactive form, to be stored easier.

    • MC

      False dilemma fallacy

    • PSK

      Fallacy Fallacy. ;)