Setting Canada’s energy/environment agenda

Canada takes a lot of flak for not getting its environmental act together, but you should take this criticism with a grain of salt. It’s either political, which is fair and understandable: Canada is a democracy and opposition parties are supposed to attack the government. Or it’s ideological, which is where it just conflicts with reality. Take the current animosity toward the Alberta oilsands. Mainstream environmentalists say we should stop expansion of oilsands operations, if not shut them down entirely. No problem advocating the destruction of someone else’s livelihood, and no problem glossing over the fact that the fuel which produces all the horrible emissions—natural gas—will, if taken out of the oilsands, just go into electric power generation in Ontario.

So what can governments do about the oilsands, whose greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will surely rise, just as the greens predict, as soon as the economy recovers? I have in previous articles advocated nuclear power for both process heat and hydrogen, both of which together are the main source of oilsands GHGs. The atom is also the answer for electric power generation in those Canadian provinces—Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and of course Ontario—whose grids are significantly coal-fired.

Of course this is easier said than done. Though the massive emission reductions entailed in a shift to nuclear energy are easy to quantify, the real challenge is overcoming the “so what” factor. Most Canadians are not numerically familiar with the sheer size of Canada’s GHG problem. Nobody knows what Canada’s annual GHG output is, or how it breaks down province by province or sector by sector. So when you mention that Ontario’s annual power sector GHGs dropped by 15 million tonnes between 2003 and 2006, nobody has any idea of the significance of those 15 million tonnes.

If more people were generally familiar with the numbers, they would more easily grasp the fact that the 15 million tonne reduction was entirely because a number of nuclear generating units at the Pickering and Bruce stations re-entered service after having been laid up in the mid-1990s. And if they knew that, they might feel more strongly about how Canada should pay for GHG reductions.

That’s the trouble with the mainstream greens. They know, or ought to know, the numbers. But you never hear them talk about it. Instead, they call for action like shutting down the oilsands. This is not only comically impractical. It is also completely futile: the natural gas ordinarily burned and reformed in Alberta would, if the oilsands were shut down, instead be burned in Ontario generating plants. It would still produce GHGs in massive quantities. What’s the difference? It’s almost like GHG reductions, which are the whole point of all the tortured international negotiations currently in progress, are really not that important after all.

And that’s who’s driving the policy talk on Canada’s, and the world’s, post-Kyoto moves. This is where there is an opportunity for those who are truly seeking solutions to the GHG problem. So far all the “solutions” have come from mainstream greens. That’s why Canada and the world are making so little progress. That’s why all the environmental policy talk seems to be the same old non-solutions bouncing around inside the same old green box.

It’s time to educate the public about the true nature of our GHG problem, and how we can solve it.

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