When Do We Finally Recognize the Need for an Energy Strategy?

So far this summer has been a summer of disasters in Canada. Unprecedented floods in Calgary and Toronto, costing billions and disrupting lives, and the downtown core of Lac-MĂ©gantic being entirely obliterated, with brutal loss of life and perhaps irreparable damage to that small community. Oil of course, is the one common denominator in all of these disasters.

There are still a few science deniers who like to think that climate change is not happening, or that it is not caused by the emissions of greenhouse gases. If the fact that the science is crystal clear on this point hasn’t been enough to convince some, it is getting pretty difficult to deny just based on basic personal observation. But, as usual, the debate has been framed in such a way that the argument becomes an absurdly simple one. You can’t prove that any particular event was caused by climate change, therefore, so the reasoning goes, it wasn`t caused by climate change. As is the case with most arguments of this type, the first point is in fact true, so therefore it sounds reasonable. However, the conclusion doesn`t follow from the first point, and on top of that the whole argument is completely irrelevant. Severe weather events will get worse and more frequent, just as we have been seeing. We’re going to have to get used to this as it will continue to get worse as time goes on, and if we don’t reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, it will eventually become completely out of control. No one with any stake in it seriously denies this. Look at the municipalities, even those who may do nothing to combat climate change, and you will see that they are making plans on how to manage the changing climate. Insurance companies are also trying to work out how to manage an unpredictable climate. You can`t have “100 year floods” every five or ten years and not realize something is going on. So if we want fewer floods like those that happened in Calgary and Toronto, we need to burn less fossil fuels.

Then there is the sickening tragedy of Lac-MĂ©gantic. Pipeline proponents are trying to sell this as a reason for needing pipelines. Some have even gone as far as to blame environmentalists for the disaster because they have blocked pipelines being built and forced the oil onto trains. Never mind the fact that all of the major pipelines being proposed would carry bitumen, not crude oil, which this train was carrying, the real point is that oil is a hazardous substance to be shipping around the country.

The debate between environmentalists and the oil companies (and by extension the current government of Canada) has also been framed in a simplistic way that misses the whole point and allows the status quo to continue on. The debate is seen as “stop the tar sands” versus “we need oil”. The problem for environmentalists is the fact that “we need oil” is true, so if someone has to pick a side in this simplistically framed debate, the oil companies win. It’s the wrong question though. The question needs to be framed differently. It is very, very clear that the use of oil has huge costs, but we can’t stop using it overnight or that will also have a huge cost on society. The question that really needs to be asked is when the hell are we going to seriously start to wean ourselves off this stuff? It is unconscionable that this is not a priority of our government. The Canadian people, whether for or against pipelines or the tarsands, don’t really want oil. What they want is a continued high standard of living and jobs. It has been consistently shown that more jobs are created with renewable energy sources than with oil, and yet we subsidize oil companies and not renewable energy. There are alternatives to using oil available today and yet we have no energy strategy whatsoever, other than pulling as much oil out of the ground as possible. It will take time to eliminate oil completely, and no one sees this happening in the immediate future, but how long will we continue to pay these horrendous costs before we start to move away from oil and create an energy strategy for Canada?