Future of Fossil Fuel in Alberta

This post is in response to an email raising concerns against disregarding the many benefits from fossil fuels upon which our society has long relied upon.

Hello Mr. S,

First of all, thank you for writing to us. Thank you for your thoughtful contributions on these issues, and for your efforts to challenge our positions in hopes of refining and strengthening them. If only all Albertans were as engaged with our political Parties!

I’ll try to work my way through your various points in the order that I see them.

You make a strong point regarding fossil fuels as a driver of economic growth, as well as human safety and health. Can we plan for the future, however, by looking backwards on a swiftly-changing planet? Can we be confident that the next 30 years will look like the last 30 years?

I’d like to offer you two quotes to consider, from two well known Canadians.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think the issue of global warming would be such a hot issue.”

Former Premier Ralph Klein, July 20, 2008 in an interview with the Calgary Herald editorial board (2 years after leaving office)

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, “… noted that based on IPCC estimates, the world can only burn one-fifth to one-third of its proven oil reserves.
If that estimate is even approximately correct it would render the vast majority of reserves “stranded” – oil, gas and coal that will be literally unburnable without expensive carbon capture technology, which itself alters fossil fuel economics’. ”

(Mark Carney was born in the NWT, went to high school in Edmonton, and eventually worked with PM Stephen Harper while Governor of the Bank of Canada, before moving to the B of E.)

In spite of Jason Kenney’s apparent hopes that global warming and climate change would fade away from public concern, it’s not happening. Last month the only two hold-outs from signing on to the Paris Agreement, ambitious Nicaragua and war-torn Syria, signed on. The Trump Administration is the only party that has backed out, which brought on immediate commitments from a dozen States, 200 US Cities, and over 1000 American businesses to stay in. And at this week’s climate summit back in Paris again, 225 major investors holding over $26 trillion in assets announced strong support for the Paris Agreement, urging the world’s largest GHG polluters to improve governance on climate change, curb emissions and strengthen climate-related financial disclosures.

16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred in this century, and extreme weather events have been ramping upwards. Sober, staid risk managers and cautious number-crunchers in the business and financial world are, like most of us, late in taking global warming seriously, but they are taking it very seriously. We Canadians and Albertans must adjust to the growing low-carbon economy; thankfully, the 6 Principles of the Green Party are a source of sound and timeless guidance.

It’s not just climate change that is driving this shift. Air pollution in China is horrific; air in Beijing has been estimated to be as bad as smoking three packs of cigarettes per day, and this is a big reason behind their shelving of plans to build hundreds of new coal plants. Back home, the Asthma Society of Canada and Lung Association of AB & NWT say that coal pollution causes Albertans to lose 4800 days of school or work per year, 700 hospital visits, and an annual provincial health care bill of some $300 million. Globally, the highly regarded Lancet Journal has recently estimated that “pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today, responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths”, and no small amount of that comes from burning fuel.

Concern for human health and suffering demands that we consider the impact from extreme weather events like Hurricane Irma hitting Puerto Rico, or Hurricane Harvey stalling over Houston and dumping rain for three solid days. Little North American media coverage was given at the time to massive floods taking 1200 lives across Asia. Arizona University climatologist Jonathan Overpeck assessed the evolving state of wildfires, saying “The Alberta wildfires are an excellent example of what we’re seeing more and more of: warming means snow melts earlier, soils and vegetation dries out earlier, and the fire season starts earlier. It’s a train wreck.” Retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley says the US Navy identifies “a pretty convincing climate fingerprint” for the Syrian drought, which helped drive millions of refugees out of the country. Titley, a meteorologist who led the U.S. Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change when he was at the Pentagon, also said, “you can draw a very credible climate connection to this disaster we call ISIS right now.”

Specific to coal power, I’ll point out that Canada and the UK pulled together the Powering Past Coal Alliance at COP23 in Bonn, with 27 member countries. They have since doubled their membership with US States and major global businesses including Virgin, Unilever, and Salesforce, which has already met their 2050 net-carbon goal. More than 50 coal companies have declared bankruptcy in recent years, including the giant Peabody Coal. Those willing to place their monetary bets on coal are becoming few and far between.

In regards to natural gas, I’ll direct you to a recent article I wrote on behalf of the Alberta Greens. The bottom line is that natural gas is very clean in it’s combustion, but often very dirty in its production.

Oil and gasoline remain a mainstay of energy, although replacements and alternatives are being found in efficiency, electric cars and semi-trailers, car sharing, and redesigning of cities. Perpetuating our global appetite for 90 million barrels of oil would be a nail in our climate coffin, but even among the most respected financial geeks there are some saying that it won’t last long, for purely economic reasons.

In regards to wind turbines, birds are far more at risk from fossil fuels and house cats.

Heating in winter is something where Canadians were once a leader, inventing the heat recovery ventilator (HRV) as well as helping develop the blower door test and pushing the boundaries of insulation. Then we forgot about it, relying on cheap natural gas, while other countries took the lead in developing and building PassivHaus buildings. Thankfully, Canada has begun to turn its attention back to this efficient, affordable, and comfortable way of building our homes.

The founder of the Reform Party of Canada, Preston Manning, once said that “the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, and the health of the subsidiary is invariably dependent on the long-run health of the parent company.” It is a great sadness to me that political conservatives seem to have abandoned the values of environmental conservation, but I am all the more glad to belong to the Green Party which assesses all our policies and decisions through a lens of environmental sustainability and the long-term impacts on human health and prosperity. I hope that you will join us.

Roger Gagne-Energy


Original letter of concern from Mr. S;

I’d like to share a moral policy proposal around fossil fuel development in our great country, which should be of interest to the Green Party. 

Higher consumption of fossil fuels, coal, oil and natural gas is correlated with (I) increased human health (II) increased safety and (iii) increased material wealth.  Worldwide, countries with higher per capita consumption of coal, natural gas and oil are wealthier (as measured by GDP per capita), safer (as measured by health outcomes such as rates of disease and life expectancy) and just plain better places to enjoy life.  

For example, the Chinese and Indians have increased by five times their consumption of fossil fuels since 1980 and seen a seven and ten respective increase in average lifespan.  In both of these cases, dramatically increased GDP per capita is linearly correlated with increased coal, oil and gas use. 

Clearly, anyone who holds human life and human prosperity as their standard of value should strongly support fossil fuel consumption and production.  These sources of energy are economic and reliable and Canada is very lucky to have abundant reserves.  I would suggest the Green Party has adopted a philosophy which does not “put people first” as it seeks to decrease fossil fuel consumption and replace these reliable sources of energy with intermittent unreliable sources such as solar and wind (which have in turn likely as many environmental issues as fossil fuels such as surface area occupied for use (solar) and devastating effects on rare bird species (wind).

People such as yourself cannot simultaneously claim the right to dislike the fossil fuel industry while simultaneously enjoying all of its benefits including clean water, heat in winter, efficient transportation, modern medicine and a prosperous society.

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