The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

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

By in Opinions



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

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