Photo: Let's build a pipeline of solutions

Pipeline and tanker risks are symptoms of a much greater malaise: our evermore costly dependence on fossil fuels (Credit: Max Katz via flickr).

By Jim Boothroyd, Director, Communications and Public Engagement

The public hearings on the Northern Gateway Pipeline project have been underway for a month now, yet the storm of controversy they have triggered rages on.

While the federal government rails against "environmental and other radical groups" who dare to question the project, First Nations, whole communities and thousands of individual citizens are queuing up to voice their concerns — concerns we share.

Why? Because the twinned pipeline would place a huge oily target on one of the world's most richly diverse marine areas.

Some call it the "Great Bear Sea," others the Galapagos of the North. Imagine hundreds of tankers criss-crossing this area each year: with condensate bound for Kitimat and bitumen bound for California and Asia.

Imagine the hundreds of jobs, existing and potential, that could be lost in the event of a spill along this unique coastline—jobs that depend on healthy ecosystems and the critical services of food, clean air and clean water that would be compromised by a spill.

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Remember too that this is unceded territory, and that the First Nations who claim it are almost unanimously opposed to the pipeline.

These pipeline and tanker risks are just symptoms, however, of a much greater malaise: our evermore costly dependence on fossil fuels.

We and David Suzuki have made these points in the national media and we will continue to draw attention to these concerns in our presentations to the Joint Review Panel on the pipeline.

We will also continue to fight for fair, open and scientifically credible environmental assessments and policy-making so that Canadians have a real say in key decisions about their health and quality of life.

Most of this work focuses on the long-game—helping Canadians build a pipeline of solutions to our costly dependence on climate-changing fossil fuels.

And this work spans many fields. In closed-containment salmon farming we have worked with First Nations and a broad coalition to successfully pioneer efforts to include the costs to the environment as part of the debate.

Another project, Canadians for Climate Action, has worked with provincial governments to encourage a veritable "Race to the Top". It is also encouraging dialogues on the topic with new Canadian communities, including those of Chinese and South Asian descent.

Our Trottier Energy Futures Plan goes further: partnering with the Canadian Academy of Engineering to develop a sustainable energy strategy for Canada that would allow us to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

This is an extraordinary partnership with a transformative goal—the sort of endeavour Canada badly needs to get at root causes of its pipeline risks and rancour.

If you agree with our root-and-branch approach, please support us. And if you have a moment to do more, write your Member of Parliament about the need for a sustainable energy strategy that really serves the national interest.

February 14, 2012

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Feb 22, 2012
10:51 AM

Ken: I’m right with you on eliminating any form of subsidy for fossil fuel industry development. As a taxpayer I’m getting concerned with the global trend of privatizing monetary gains and socializing all the losses especially when we’re talking about things harmful to the environment. Furthermore the economic trap we’re in as a result runs counter to progress in our development.

This being said, I disagree with the thesis that Canadians must expect to pay a lot more for their personal energy needs. I think the best way to approach the problems of the transitional era from fossil fuels toward alternatives is rationing the use of fossil fuels and land on a per capita basis while rewarding the application of good practices by individuals using less for their personal needs. Rationing allows society to regulate consumption, thus limiting use of energy to the things that really matter to us rather than allowing it to be squandered (which drives the price up) by those with the means to buy more than they really need at any given time. Typically you only see rationing during times of severe stress on an economy but I think it’s warranted at present due to the severe environmental stress being placed on the planet. Even if way down the road some new miracle technology provides clean energy in abundance, I think we would still need to ration because of the damage abundant cheap energy coupled with a large population enables us to do to the finite planet.

As for the present day ability to produce enough energy for our own personal requirements, the big question is how much is really enough?

I have seen plenty of evidence that an 80% reduction in personal energy consumption could be accomplished in the near future if we can accept that it means an overhaul of current standards and the reinvestment of personal resources currently geared for the fossil fuel economy toward our future of skillfully using low density energy sources to meet our needs.

Feb 15, 2012
1:13 PM

Victims of the so called "resource curse" we Canadians are fortunate to have environmental protection advocates such as the David Suzuki Foundation.

Feb 15, 2012
10:47 AM

Volatility Could be the Key to Sustainability

Low electricity prices and extremely low natural gas prices in Canada mean that the majority of even the most viable clean tech solutions available to Canadians are not very attractive economically. In BC for example, a standard 6 square meter solar hot water heating appliance with 100 gallons of storage for a typical home costs 70 to 100 times more than the energy it is expected to deliver annually in natural gas dollars. There's no better way to reduce hot water energy use in the home aside from reducing hot water use through conservation. Its not easy to find a sustainable appetite for many clean tech solutions like this. The low cost of energy is the Achilles' heel of the sustainability movement.

We need to create a political climate where the financial incentive to pursue clean-tech initiatives exists starting with the most cost effective. Then we need to support development efforts along with demonstrating and quantifying competing technologies. As an example consider that only 2% of all public pools are solar heated yet this is one of the most proven and cost effective solar energy schemes available. In so many ways we have not yet begun. The major reason we have yet to begin is the low cost of fossil fuel and electricity in Canada.

Ontario's FIT for PV (photovoltaics) systems is a big success. Ontario Hydro pays $0.80/kwhr for electricity generated with PV. Electricity consumed normally costs $0.08/kwhr. This ten fold cost imbalance on the shoulders of ratepayers and taxpayers indirectly creates an economic climate where the energy from a PV system covers the mortgaged capital cost of the installation. Its a wonderful program and a big success but compared to the cheap electricity its quite a costly endeavor. Ontario slipped the program through the same way BC established a small carbon tax but these were challenging political tasks and now that we have an ongoing recession, there is even less appetite for this kind of energy policy elsewhere in the country. In fact BC's new energy policy relieves BC Hydro of the requirement to be self sufficient. Through simple regulation premier Christy Clark has assured British Columbians of lower cost electricity and ensured more jobs in the fracking and LNG industries. More natural gas to Asia does mean less coal burned globally but this works against Canada's own goals toward energy sustainability. The focus politically is on jobs and the economy and a sustainable energy policy is taking its usual seat at the back of the bus.

The obvious first step is to level the playing field somewhat by addressing the fact that fossil fuels have the environment as a free dumping ground for their pollutants. A carbon tax would be very helpful of course and many have tried including Stephan Dion, leader of the federal liberal party, just before his political demise. A far easier sell to the public would be the removal of subsidies for oil and gas exploration. This would create volatility in the energy marketplace. Energy price volatility is what the sustainability movement needs. Clean tech solutions are not volatile. They are an insurance policy against volatility. When a home is built sustainably it is sustainable for 100 years and conversely if it is built without sustainability in mind, its likely to stay that way for 100 years. When we include some longer term thinking with some volatility we have a formula for a much quicker uptake of all things clean tech. Energy price volatility creates enormous long term financial incentive for a sustainable building approach. The reason Germany has a stronger clean tech industry is their electricity is ten times more expensive. Financial reality has provided the necessary motivation for energy consciousness and a culture of sustainability. A carbon tax bringing our electricity costs up to theirs would not go over well here. The risk that energy prices could go much higher could serve the same purpose.

We all want to act sustainably but with gasoline less expensive than bottled water, how can we blame anyone for drinking it up. Step one is to recognize the realities of the marketplace and come up with a realistic approach to energy policy that factors in the environment as well as our collective sustainability goals. We could all do our part by trying to get past the notion that the luxury of cheap energy is somehow a birthright of all Canadians. Then it would be OK for politicians to resist the oil and gas company lobbyists who fund politics in Canada in exchange for their subsidies. Without oil and gas exploration subsidies the resultant energy price volatility would do as much for the clean tech industry as energy prices that actually reflected their effects on the planet.

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