Solving the energy and GHG dilemma in Canada

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James Hansen, the well-known climatologist, recently penned a New York Times editorial that claims exploiting Canada’s Tar Sands will irreversibly destroy the global climate. His piece came on the heels of Canada’s Commissioner on the Environment and Sustainable Development who issued a report clearly outlining Canada will miss its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. Not only are we missing targets for reductions of greenhouse case, our lack of environmental foresight is creating an environmental debt that will take decades, generations, and billions of dollars to clean-up.

In reference to the Environment Comissionar’s report, the Toronto Star clearly points out that,

“Vaughan [the environment commissioner] also warned that the costs of past environmental mistakes are catching up with the federal government. The report states, Ottawa is staring at $7.7 billion in clean-up costs for contaminated sites, but has only set aside a fraction of the money, the audit found.”

There is likely no stopping Tar Sands development at the current highly profitable oil prices. The current Federal and Provincial governments seems uninterested in properly regulating the industry and instead chooses to apply public relations oriented policies that have little impact and are doomed to failure. Case in note, the recent closure of the CO2 sequestration projects by Transalta and Enbridge is just the latest evidence that carbon sequestration is a doomed technology. It is much easier and more cost-effective to simply not produce the greenhouse gases than it is to capture and treat them after the fact.

The most promising and most likely solution to genuinely reducing our society’s environmental impact is to simply innovate our way off of oil. Technological solutions such as large scale solar power and massive energy storage units are emerging; the technology is evolving rapidly and the price point is exponentially decreasing. Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute recently gave a fabulous TED talk on how the US (and thus the World) can economically get off of fossil fuels, create jobs and ensure national security by 2050. His talk is worth a watch (or two).

Canada, and the rest of the world, must put in place serious and meaningful policies for using the wealth produced by Tar Sands exploitation to fund future technological innovations. Clean technology innovation using tar sands wealth is an amazing opportunity to create canadian jobs and limit our society’s long-term impact on our communal environment.