By Hugh Holland
People are increasingly concerned about the rapid growth in misinformation, hate speech, and violence in the public discourse. While the Internet, social media, some conventional media and even some politicians all contribute to and amplify these negative trends, what is the biggest underlying cause?
A revolution is a dramatic and wide-reaching change in people’s ideas about the way something works or should work. Big changes are hard to do. The bigger the change, the more resistance to that change. The US cannot make needed amendments to its constitution that was written 235 years ago, even though today’s population is almost 1,000 times bigger. They still have not adapted the metric system even though it is used by most of their industry. So, it should be no surprise that there is resistance to changing the global energy supply that affects almost every aspect of life on the planet.
For centuries, the global population was less than a billion people, and the predominant sources of energy were biomass (firewood), waterpower, wind, oxen, horses, and human effort. Since then, the global population has grown to almost 8 billion people and 80% of our primary energy is now coming from fossil fuels. With each new age, the use and efficiency of energy have increased significantly, but unfortunately so have the levels of severe environmental pollution that are now affecting the climate of every country.
This situation demands an energy revolution for 3 good reasons:
1. The world’s top 2,500 climate scientists have strong evidence that we have until 2050 to achieve net zero emissions or face irreversible catastrophic climate change.
2. At current consumption rates, proven global reserves of oil and gas will be depleted in about 50 years, and some countries (E.g., Europe) could face crippling shortages much sooner than that.
3. 85% of the world’s proven oil and gas reserves reside in only 15 of 195 countries including Canada. That mismatch has kept the world in conflict over energy resources for over 100 years. The new clean energies (wind, solar, hydro, hydrogen, and advanced nuclear) offer the possibility of every country becoming self-sufficient in clean energy. That will help to reduce grinding poverty, unsustainable population growth, conflict, and troublesome mass migration. Like old energy, each type of new clean energy has unique strengths and weaknesses, but we need as much of all of them as we can muster.
The most extreme anti-government rhetoric seems to be emanating from Texas and Alberta. Why is that? What do Texas and Alberta have in common? Both are by far the biggest producers of oil in their country. Both are at or among the top in GDP per capita in their country, and both have the lowest or among the lowest state taxes. Consequently, both have many people who have become very wealthy from the production of oil and gas and who fear their privileged positions are threatened by the inevitable global revolution toward zero-emission energy. All this has pitted Texas and Alberta against federal governments that have broader country-wide and international responsibilities.
So, what can be done to ease the tensions between oil and gas producing states and federal governments, and therefore help to return to more productive dialogue and restore social harmony?
Texas and Alberta both have all the expertise and resources needed to be leaders in developing the new clean types of energy. Federal governments can shift tax incentives for, and expedite approval of, new clean energy projects. Here are some examples of initiatives by the Government of Canada.
- An effective price on carbon emissions to engage everyone fairly in the effort to reduce emissions.
- Goals and incentives for zero-emission vehicle sales to reduce our own domestic consumption of oil.
- Support for small modular reactors that can eliminate emissions from oil sands extraction, making our oil more salable for both domestic and export markets that will still need it for the next 30 years.
- Carbon capture and reuse projects to mitigate emissions from natural gas operations.
- The Trans-Mountain and BC Coastal Gas Link pipelines being completed in 2023 to carry oil and gas to those who lack adequate domestic supply, even with declining demand.
- A new offshore oil well and a new green hydrogen facility in Newfoundland to help Europe with emerging shortages.
In summary, some key points are worth repeating. There are 3 very good reasons for this energy revolution. And there is still time to mitigate these 3 reasons, provided there is not too much resistance to the needed changes. But fear of the inevitable is emanating from oil and gas producing states and provinces and is a major cause of short-sighted thinking, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and vitriol infecting today’s public discourse. Our federal government can and is helping to turn the energy revolution into a positive force for the oil and gas producing provinces as well as the entire country. Like old energy, each new type of energy has its strengths and weaknesses. But we need them all.
Hugh Holland, Huntsville
Hugh Holland is a retired engineering and manufacturing executive now living in Huntsville, Ontario.