Critical thinking on energy more important than ever

STEWART MUIR IN THE CALGARY HERALD: "It’s increasingly difficult to see the reward for Canada’s energy self-flagellation."

The following article was published on the op-ed page of The Calgary Herald on March 20, 2019.

Recently, an American campaign urging cities to demand money from oil companies because of the cost of climate change mitigation arrived in British Columbia. It had some early success, sort of.

Almost immediately, the mayor of the hydrocarbon-reliant Whistler resort lit up social media in all the wrong ways by putting his signature to a ransom letter directed at one of Canada’s most innovative energy companies, Calgary-based Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. He was just days into the job and had not yet learned the hazards of signing whatever the administrator puts on your desk. Enraged Albertans cancelled their Whistler plans and the mayor quickly back-pedaled.

The city of Victoria was drawn into the same campaign. As one Alberta critic said in response, the scenic capital’s holier-than-thou attitude toward energy companies has to be contrasted with its enthusiasm for more CO2-spouting cruise-ship tourism, an activity persistently trumpeted as a foundation of the city’s green economy.

Cities produce up to 80 per cent of global greenhouse gases, according to a study published in the journal Sustainability. Despite their postcard settings, Whistler and Victoria have all the attributes of major cities, with high-density housing and consumption-intensive lifestyles and access to airports.

Suppose we do pursue an immediate and wholesale rush into non-hydrocarbon energy. What does that look like? Numerous think tanks agree that trillions of dollars of investment are needed to meet Canada’s mid-century climate goals and reduce CO2 emissions by 80 per cent. Yet, what’s unfolding today in Canada is simply chaotic.

To meet 2050 goals, we’ll need 110 new large hydro dams the size of B.C.’s controversial $10-billion Site C project.

The strongest advocates for this immense shift to CO2-free energy, such as the David Suzuki Foundation, are also the ones screaming at any attempt to build a single hydro dam. Dare question the green zealots and you’re an enemy of the planet committing the heresy of doubting wind farms, which, on any windless day in Alberta, produced 0.00 per cent of the province’s electricity. Ditto for solar at night.

It’s increasingly difficult to see the reward for Canada’s energy self-flagellation. Thanks to a combination of high energy taxes and a lack of oil pipeline capacity connecting the West Coast to Edmonton refineries, I estimate that B.C. drivers have to fork over as much as $2.2-billion a year extra at the pump compared to those in Toronto.

Those using natural gas in B.C. now pay more in carbon tax than for the molecules themselves. In Canadian wheat country, farmers who dry their grain with coal are seeing the same thing. It all translates to higher costs passed on to consumers.

Meanwhile, the Trudeau government is basking in the glow of the newly legalized cannabis industry. Why is the environment minister not disclosing how cannabis cultivation in Canada is viable because the natural gas used to heat greenhouses costs less than one-third that of electricity? Nowhere, because the minister doesn’t want to talk about fossil fuels, hydrocarbon innovation or energy affordability.

Author Yuval Harari observed that humans are wired to be a post-truth species, able to both create and believe fictions. The pattern, by now, is familiar: sweeping declarations of intent; contorted views on how to source “better” energy while using less overall; and a willingness to point the finger at others while ignoring one’s own shortcomings.

In 2019, critical thinking on energy will underpin consumer and political choices. If Jason Kenney is elected premier in Alberta, all other western provinces except B.C. will be fighting for lower taxes and consumer-friendly regulations on energy and energy development. This will set the stage for an even more consequential federal election. Voters will have a voice.

Stewart Muir writes for Canadians for Affordable Energy and is the founder of Vancouver-based Resource Works Society.

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