This Listen Up! guest post is by Hugh Holland. Hugh Mackenzie is taking a break from Listen Up! at the moment.
By Hugh Holland
If climate change is the biggest threat to the future of our children and the planet, how can Canada best contribute to the mitigation of climate change? The following SWOT analysis shows a concise summary of our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
The chart shows that Canada has abundant Strengths, many Opportunities, few Weaknesses, and few Threats, and can indeed, over the next 30 years, replace carbon-based fossil fuels with a diverse and stable mix of clean energy. Take nuclear for example; we have the raw materials, we have world-class nuclear skills, and we have 60 years of positive nuclear experience.
In terms of Weakness, solar can make an important contribution, but Canada is not one of the world’s solar hotspots and China already dominates 95% of global solar panel production.
The biggest Threats to the mitigation of climate change are not technical. In issuing its Net-Zero Emission Roadmap, the International Energy Agency said, “The good news is we know what we need to do – and how to do it. But strong national and international cooperation is crucial to success”. The biggest threats are still partisan politics and media that have become more focussed on controversial opinions than on verified facts. FOX News and Facebook demonstrate that controversial opinions generate engagement and engagement generates huge profits. Misinformation and partisan politics combine to make a confused electorate and slow progress.
Beliefs are changing, but the far left still has an irrational faith in wind and solar energy and an irrational fear of nuclear. Spain is the world leader in solar, but solar is only 4% of Spain’s energy supply. The far right has had an irrational belief that 8 to 9 billion people can somehow muddle through indefinitely on finite supplies of fossil fuels, without adding to the climate crisis.
The tricky part is managing the short-term threats and long-term opportunities at the same time. Oil and Gas companies say if they stop producing oil and gas before consumers (That’s us) stop consuming it, resulting energy shortages will only add to our problems.
The International Energy Agency says that global demand for oil and gas will peak in 2030 and that existing sources can provide the diminishing quantities required until 2050. The far left says we should build no new pipelines, period. But obviously, as smaller oil and gas reserves are depleted, transportation infrastructure must be adjusted.
The truth is every country needs a moderate middle-ground approach to transition rapidly from fossil fuels to their own unique and diverse mix using every type of clean energy. History and political science tell us the way to reduce political polarization is to elect people who treat opponents with respect, so that together they can look for common ground and sensible solutions. In other words, without political and industrial statesmanship, we are doomed to fail.
Our “Oil & Gas companies” have the skills needed to reduce their emissions in the short term and to gradually re-invent themselves over the next 30 years to become valuable “Clean Energy companies”. Canada has more than enough oil and gas to last as we work our way through the 30-year transition to clean energy, but many others (e.g. EU and USA) do not. So, our Ministries of Energy and Environment are navigating this complex global situation by supporting two new pipelines, and by using both the carrot and the stick to reduce our own emissions.
Here is a positive example of what can be done. The Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion was first proposed in 2013. After 5 years of protests and court challenges, it was finally approved in 2018. The CEO hired to plan and build the pipeline is a patient man with a lifetime of solid experience. He says he spent half his time walking the route, listening carefully to people’s concerns, and resolving most concerns, to avoid more protests and court battles. Some concerns were easy to resolve, and some were harder. Of course, that resulted in delays and will increase the final cost, but with court costs avoided and the outcome assured, and with current world conditions, the lifetime economics of the project are still very sound. After a nationwide protest in February 2020, the Coastal Gas Link pipeline builders took a similar approach. Both new pipelines are expected to be operational by mid-2024.
The so-called Ring of Fire in northern Ontario is a treasure trove of minerals needed for EV batteries and other aspects of reducing emissions. But Ontario’s James Bay lowland is also a huge globally significant peat bog, storing billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide. The local people want infrastructure and economic development, but they are working with an environmental group calling for a moratorium on industrial roads and mining until the parties can determine what actions are required to ensure that the number of emissions released does not exceed the number of emissions avoided by the minerals mined. That too should be possible. It will help that Canada is a leader in zero-emission mining technologies. The sooner all local, expert, and government agencies, and political parties can cooperate in good faith, the sooner responsible decisions will be made. Considering what is at stake, is that too much to ask?
Hugh Holland, Oct 15, 2023 Reference – What’s at stake in Ontario’s Ring of Fire | Canadian Geographic
Hugh Holland is a retired engineering and manufacturing executive now living in Huntsville, Ontario.
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