Canada’s coal phaseout plan: fairy tales during sudden death

What explains the weary, insipid, and reality-challenged federal government announcement yesterday of an accelerated coal phaseout deadline in Canada? I think it was part of the still-unfolding juvenile emotional response to the still-stunning US election result. Trump says he will swing back to coal; Canada will therefore do the opposite.

It’s not that I think Canada should not go off coal-fired power power and onto zero-carbon power. It’s how the federal environment minister claims Canada will replace coal. Showing exactly zero fresh thinking, and zero—absolutely zero—inclination toward actually examining the record of jurisdictions that have actually phased out coal, the minister claimed the replacement baseload power would be provided with wind and solar, or coal-fired plants outfitted with carbon capture and storage.

Why do greens champion the German approach to CO2 reductions? The German approach of aggressively building wind turbines and solar panels has been a failure so massive it boggles the mind that self-professed greens can tout it without turning purple from embarrassment.

This part sticks in my craw. The minister represents an Ontario district, and Ontario, as I have pointed out many times before, has achieved a massive reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by way of a phaseout of coal-fired generation. This was by far the biggest CO2 reduction in any power sector anywhere in North America.

Does the minister know precisely how this reduction was achieved? She should, and not just because she is the federal minister of the environment and represents an Ontario district. She should know because she works for a prime minister whose office is staffed at the uppermost levels with people who were intimately involved with the Ontario “coal phase out” who know that that was as much a nuclear phase in as a coal phase out—and who know perfectly well that without the nuclear fleet it could not have happened. They have never acknowledged it, and that is because they are anti-nuclear ideologues.

This refusal to acknowledge how Ontario achieved the biggest power-sector CO2 reduction in North America amounts to misinformation. To tell people that we can replace coal with wind and solar is to tell them a fairy tale. It bothers me. We, humankind, are the authors of the climate crisis that we live in today. We are in this crisis because we have dumped gargantuan amounts of CO2 into the free garbage dump we call our atmosphere.

In 2013 the IPCC put a firm figure on the upper allowable limit of the amount of CO2 we humans can, when all is said and done, have dumped into our atmosphere: one trillion tons.1

One trillion tons is the total amount that humans can dump into the air without doing permanent irreversible damage. And the meter is ticking: one trillion tons includes the CO2 from pre-history to the present day.

Germany, the poster boy for wind and solar power wildly cheered by environmentalists of the stripe in the PMO, dumps 0.03 percent of that amount in a typical year. Sounds small? It works out to more than 325 million tons per year. German environmentalists who parade in the streets decrying Canada’s oil sands are perhaps unaware that their own power system dumps more than six times as much CO2 as the oil sands.

Canada’s greens, including those in the PMO, cannot be unaware of this.

Which begs an enormous question: why do Canada’s greens champion the German approach to CO2 reductions? The German approach of aggressively building wind turbines and solar panels has been a failure so massive it boggles the mind that self-professed greens can tout it without turning purple from embarrassment.

The bottom line in climate policy is carbon emissions. It is not the number of wind turbines or solar panels we have built. Mother Nature does not care about these. She cares only about how much CO2 is in the atmosphere. That, and only that, will determine how much heat is radiated back to earth. The more CO2 goes into the atmosphere, the more heat stays in the lower atmosphere, and the less stable our climate is. It is that simple.

The website trillionthtonne.org gives a real time estimate of the amount of CO2 we humans have dumped into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. At the time of writing, it is over 606 billion tons — three-fifths of the way toward the trillion ton limit. Look at how quickly we are walking toward one trillion tons. At the rate we are going, we will hit that figure by 2040. That’s less than 24 years from now.

We are in sudden death. We absolutely cannot continue dumping CO2 into our air. Germany with its 325 MILLION tons per year, that is simply unacceptable.

It is also quite simply unacceptable for our leaders in government to point to Germany as a success. It is a failure we must all avoid. Germany has proved how not to tackle climate change. People who tout it as a success, and a model for the world to follow, must stop touting it.

It is time for our political leaders to stop telling fairy tales about Germany. It is time for them to point to Ontario, the most important province in their home country, as a way to immediately and decisively cut CO2.2

To Canada’s federal government I say: do your job. Tell the public the truth about how Ontario cut CO2. Help other provinces overcome manufactured public reticence about nuclear power. We are in sudden death. We have 24 years to turn this thing around. Germany, in fifteen years of hugely public effort, has seen its emissions increase.

Ontario turned its own power sector around in less than two decades, back in the 1970s and 1990s. France did the same, in the exact same time period, and achieved an even more spectacular result. Look at how both compare with Germany.

Nuclear is the only way we humans can decarbonize electricity. Let’s get cracking.

And Trump’s swing back to coal? How monumentally silly would it be for Canada to jack up electricity prices by investing hugely in inefficient wind and solar. Would American states buy this overpriced power at the inconvenient times of the day it is typically produced? Of course they would not. They will buy cheap coal-fired power, even if it comes with CO2 emissions.

But they would also buy cheap zero-carbon nuclear power.

  1. To be clear, the IPCC says that each trillion tons of CO2 will likely produce a global mean surface temperature increase of roughly 2 Celsius degrees above the pre-industrial level (we are already roughly 0.85 degrees above), and that such a temperature increase is likely to have serious consequences.
  2. It is also time for the IPCC itself to stop telling these fairy tales. As a science body the IPCC has done a remarkable job in communicating, with superbly and appropriately conservative and cautious language backed up with hard data, the nature and scale of the climate problem. It damages its own credibility when it takes green claims about how to decarbonize electricity at face value. Perhaps the IPCC could set up an energy subcommittee that examines this issue. It should start with comparing Germany and France, and asking obvious questions. For example: Which of these countries has lower power-sector CO2 emissions? How did it achieve this result? How long did it take?

8 comments for “Canada’s coal phaseout plan: fairy tales during sudden death

  1. Jaro
    November 22, 2016 at 16:17
  2. gregbezanson
    November 23, 2016 at 00:34

    24 plus my 50 standard years:74, that’s when I start smoking again, sorry children.

  3. November 23, 2016 at 11:16

    The International Energy Agency states “Paris agreement pledges put energy sector CO2 emissions on track for a 2.7C scenario” https://twitter.com/IEA/status/800712877602705408

  4. robert budd
    November 27, 2016 at 02:27

    The child like avoidance of the “N” word in regards to Ontario’s success with electricity emissions has become a Liberal hallmark, I think inspired by the brain trust behind the Ontario Dirty Air Alliance (but often referred to as the OCAA) and obviously at work in Ottawa now.
    The degree to which they avoid plain fact would be comical if not so tragic. If you factually delude yourself at the outset it dooms any hope of effective policy.
    I think Justin’s statement soon after winning the election that “we need both wind turbines and pipelines” was cryptic and a disappointingly accurate description of their policy direction.
    This is how the other “amazing” renewable energy poster child China is progressing, in case Germany isn’t enough affirmation it won’t work ….

    The still-large gap between installed capacity and renewable energy usage helps explain one of the painful realities of China’s green energy push: after a decade of unprecedented expansion, renewables have risen from 6% to only 9% of China’s total primary energy consumption, and 7% of this total is generated by hydropower (BP 2015).
    http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/8/084015

    • Kyle
      December 26, 2016 at 15:28

      This “N” word avoidance has been around longer than Al Gore’s visit to congratulate Ontario for cutting out coal!

      • robert budd
        December 27, 2016 at 22:18

        I’m starting to realize that. So what are the roots of this in Ontario? A few years ago I found a copy of The Technical History of AECL. Quite an amazing story. What Canada, particularly On. has done with nuclear, both for medicine and coal replacement is truly commendable.
        The creation of the CANDU reactor is remarkable for a country of our size. Any other nation would be proud of this and celebrate these accomplishments, but not Canada and certainly not Ontario.
        Who did this to us and why?

  5. January 9, 2017 at 17:17

    The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, when it was an honest anti-nuclear-war publication, had a Doomsday Clock.
    There is now a Bulletin website, the home in my opinion of Anti-nuclear-power Non-scientists

    Perhaps there should be a Trillinth -tonne Doomsday clock?

    • January 9, 2017 at 17:32

      Trillionth-ton Doomsday clock, good idea. It would mean a helluva lot more than the BAS’s idiotic current one.

      Just as your comment came in I was skimming over the latest from BAS (which automatically goes into my spam folder, where it belongs, but I just happened to catch it before permanently deleting). There’s a full issue dedicated to the question “Does deep de-carbonization require nuclear power?”

      Contributors include Sharon Squassoni and Peter Bradford. Gee I wonder what their answer is.

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