The case for addressing climate change

"Since 1988, the majority of atmospheric scientists agree that global climatic change is real and serious."

Why will Canada switch from being a fossil fuel dependent to a fossil fuel independent economy? Will it be escalating fossil fuels costs, the effects of global climatic change or an act of terror or war? Or will Canada switch to energy conservation and renewable energy to save money?

Without a healthy environment, there cannot be a healthy economy. Presently, and largely as a result of fossil fuel consumption, the global environment is not healthy.

Since 1988, the majority of atmospheric scientists agree that global climatic change is real and serious.

We have grown hugely dependent on fossil fuels.

In Canada, even with the recent fall in oil prices, there remain tens of thousands of good paying jobs in offshore oil, coal mining, tar sands, conventional oil and gas, fracking, liquid natural gas, pipelines and in fossil fuel dependent industries such as the automotive and rail transport sectors. Giving up fossil fuels cold turkey would be profoundly disruptive.

However, not giving up fossil fuels will, as the science predicts, continue to degrade our environment.

In the words of economist Sir Nicholas Stern from 2006, “climate change will eventually damage economic growth” and “could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century. And it will be difficult or impossible to reverse these changes.”

In Canada, much is needed to shift from fossil fuel dependence. Canada is lagging in public policy, regulations, and economic tools to address global climate change and to arrange our future energy system. We’re the only G7 country without a national energy plan.

Canada has the highest rate of energy consumption per capita of any G7 country. Our per capita consumption is double that of any European country or Japan. In contrast, Canadian, European and Japanese standards of living are comparable. We can cut painlessly.

It’s time to get off fossil fuels. A 2009 article by Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi in Scientific American described how wind, water and solar technologies can provide 100 percent of the world’s energy more efficiently, more reliably, without energy imports, and eliminate our need for all fossil fuels.

Did you know that that many forms of renewable energy now cost less than fossil fuel energy? By switching from fossil fuels to energy conservation and renewable energy, we not only save money, but we lower health care costs, we improve environmental quality, and we reduce dependence on foreign energy.

Canada needs a national energy plan to map the transition to a fossil fuel free future that offers more than a carbon tax. It must offer a transition to energy conservation and renewable energy, and it must guarantee clean energy jobs for all workers displaced by the transition.

A commitment to preserve employment is essential as we undergo an enormous, ecologically necessary transition from fossil fuel dependence to energy conservation and renewable energy. If we succeed, we will have a healthy environment that can support a healthy economy.

Sound ambitious? The development of Alberta’s tar sands is a public-private partnership between The National Oil Sands Task Force, a consortium of oil companies and government agencies. It established a twenty-five-year tar sands development strategy which addresses investment and job creation. There is precedent. There is hope.

Robert Macrae