Trudeau needs to pursue eco-and-Indigenous-friendly future

“Balancing the environment with the economy requires courageous … “

Justin Trudeau is struggling to lead Canada to a new political paradigm that balances Indigenous reconciliation, environmental protection, and the economy.

Regarding Indigenous reconciliation, Trudeau is on the right track. While Conservatives shriek for a quick, aggressive end to the Wet’suwet’em blockades, Trudeau is insisting on calm dialogue. We don’t need another Oka or Ipperwash. Our prisons, homeless shelters, back alleys, and colonial history are tragically overflowing with Indigenous suffering.

Balancing the environment with the economy requires courageous, Churchillian vision and determination amidst bellicose jeering from climate change deniers. Does Trudeau have the mettle?

He has the rational, respectful support of the thinking two-thirds of the Canadian electorate and thousands of atmospheric physicists who understand that global climatic change is real and extremely serious. These supporters know the cause of climate change is fossil fuel combustion and the solution is to wind down fossil fuel use while ramping up renewable energy and energy conservation. Scientists agree the technology exists to enable this transition. What lacks is political will.

Science shows 100 per cent renewable energy is not just 100 per cent possible, but is more reliable, causes less environmental damage, improves health, costs less, and can be achieved without job losses. Moreover, Canada is abundantly rich with renewable energy resources from sea to sea to sea.

Renewable energy costs less than fossil fuels because the easy-to-recover, low-cost conventional fossil fuels are gone. We can no longer drill a few hundred metres and hit bubbling crude.

The remaining fossil fuels are outlandishly expensive: bitumen from the oil sands, liquefied fracked gas, sour gas, off-shore oil, mountain-top-removal coal mining. The energy return on investment for these resources (amount of energy spent to recover a barrel of oil) is around one barrel of oil.

Just as we walked away from typewriters in the advent of computers, it’s time to walk away from fossil fuels. Subsidies won’t bring back depleted reserves. We must leave what’s left in the ground and save money.

On the other hand, the sun continues to shine free of charge. We continue to improve technologies to harness solar energy. The potential is vast. Renewable-energy prices have nowhere to go but down.

An obstacle is the fossil-fuel-employment equation. In Canada, there are tens of thousands of fossil-fuel related jobs.

How do we switch from high-cost, rapidly depleting, air-polluting, climate-changing fossil fuels to low-cost renewable energy while preserving employment?

The answer is to invest the current $2.9 billion annual fossil fuel subsidies in renewable-energy industries to hasten winding down fossil fuel industries while expanding renewable energy development. Then, guarantee jobs for everyone employed in fossil-fuel industries with a job in renewable energy. The investment, not a subsidy, in renewable energy would be recovered in lower energy costs and a cleaner environment.

Rather than waste more money on fossil fuels, we need a humane transition to a lower-cost, more reliable, greener, cleaner, fossil-fuel-free economy.

Humane means protect jobs. Remember the 1992 Atlantic cod-fishery collapse? A renewable resource was so poorly managed the industry crumbled and 40,000 people lost their jobs, creating a social disaster. Marriages and families dissolved, alcoholism and substance abuse increased, crime worsened, suicides rose.

Imagine the social disruption if Canada closed its fossil-fuel industries cold turkey without a plan for the tens of thousands of Canadians working in those sectors.

To avoid that catastrophe, it makes economic sense to guarantee jobs for everyone working in fossil-fuel industries.

Those workers could be more profitably employed building and installing wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal energy systems, concentrated solar thermal power plants and biodiesel facilities.

Those workers could retrofit existing buildings to consume less energy, consume no energy or generate energy.

Those workers could modify moth-balled auto factories to build electric cars and clean-energy mass transit.

We need to guarantee jobs for displaced fossil-fuel workers in the renewable-energy sector to speed the transition to a sustainable economy and meet our climate change targets.

We need to invest in the future, not in the past.

One hundred per cent renewable is not only 100 per cent possible, it will save money, and it can be done without job losses.

Robert McRae

Environmental Technology Instructor

Selkirk College

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