Rafe Mair writes that it's time for Canada's federal and provincial governments to drop the failed free market capitalism approach to our nation's energy resources and take control back from the private sector. He's not advocating nationalization, but...
...daily the civilization threatening collision of fossil fuels and the environment becomes more evidently real. The latest forceful confirmation is the report released last week by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Decades back, as the connection between fossil fuels and the threat of climate change were becoming obvious, we began hearing passionate and forceful statements that we must and we would "wean ourselves off fossil fuels." Folks wondered just how the resultant changes would be accommodated. But, by God, we would do it!
In fact, nothing of the sort happened. If anything, the manufacture and sale plus dependence upon fossil fuels substantially increased. The private sector tightened control over the manufacture, sale and export of energy and our governments have meekly "gone along."
The public begins to stir.
Take, for example, British Columbia, where the public has risen against two proposed pipelines from the Alberta tarsands to move highly toxic bitumen through their wilderness, and ship it by tanker out of their fjords to Asia. The resistance has extended far beyond environmental activists and is so widespread that both pipelines are now in serious difficulty.
The governments in Ottawa and Victoria are enthusiastic about liquefied natural gas (LNG) but the public is not nearly so enthused.
Despite Victoria's best efforts to cover up the environmental impact of LNG, the public realizes that it is only marginally less greenhouse-emission causing than oil and coal, and in fact, may not even be that. The public sees, too, that Premier Christy Clark has displayed utter ineptitude in dealing with the industry.
...As the public wakes up -- which it is happening very quickly these days -- governments are going to have to do something. The question is, what?
This won't likely mean massive changes in the system of governance but considerable government involvement and regulation in the energy business.
This brings horror to the boardrooms. Be that as it may, energy, in its manufacture and sale, has become a public matter. This rubs against the grain of all who hate to see the bloody government further involved in anything. Yet the fact is that no government can allow this enormous sector to simply do what it pleases any longer.
...Corporations are simply not equipped to do the "public good." That's not in their nature nor should it be. Shareholders are only interested in seeing the company spend money on what's necessary to run the business and the dividends. To expect that energy companies will see the light and become concerned about global warming and the public weal is akin to believing in Santa Claus.
It therefore must always be assumed that corporations will hack and drill, transport and sell fossil fuels without constraints except for those imposed by the marketplace or the government (while spending fortunes on PR to convince us of their righteousness).
If industry won't concern itself with the public good, who then will? There is only one answer.
The trick now will be for the public to ensure that their control over energy through their government does not confer upon that government powers that were not intended.
That will be a big trick indeed.