Saturday, August 03, 2013

Could "America's Quiet Environmental Revolution" Sound Last Call for Athabasca Bitumen?

A PostMedia article discusses what it calls America's "quiet environmental revolution," a nationwide, broadbased movement away from fossil fuels toward non-carbon alternatives.

Even the most unlikely Americans are taking up the carbon-free challenge, often viewing it as a path to energy independence. Kentucky Republican congressman Thomas Massie, for instance, built himself a solar home and lives off the grid. He also drives an electric car. Yet at the same time he opposes government attempts to impose environmental regulations.

In the greater scope of America’s gluttonous fossil fuel appetite, these clean energy initiatives could be mistaken as insignificant. Yet they carry all the signs of a quiet revolution gradually emerging in cities and states across the nation. They are slowly reshaping the energy landscape in spite of a federal government that remains gridlocked over climate change legislation.

“What we have seen regarding energy policy is that almost all Americans regardless of their political orientation are decidedly for clean energy future for America,” said Edward Maibach, a professor at George Mason University who tracks public opinion on climate change.

“It’s a transition that they would like to see happening now,” he said.

Being PostMedia, the article frames the discussion in the context of a threat to Canada.

In light of Maibach’s research, Obama’s recent attack on Keystone does not appear so puzzling and off-the-cuff as it did at first blush. Rather, it appears part of a grand strategy — supported by the majority of Americans — to wean the nation off fossil fuels.

So far, slightly more than 25 states have set energy efficiency targets and 35 have renewable energy targets. The U.S. energy picture is changing faster than predicted and posing new economic and political challenges for Canada that go well beyond Keystone.

Canadian energy companies might have to seek new and more distant markets. And Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has tied his energy and climate change policies to those of the U.S., might have to think up new ones.

What the article avoids mentioning is the Sword of Damocles hanging over Athabasca's head - the Carbon Bubble. (more here, here, and here.)  Of all the unconventional fossil fuels, Athabasca bitumen is perhaps the most exposed to the Carbon Bubble.  Leaving aside the environmental problems associated with its production, bitumen is expensive to extract, expensive to transport and expensive to refine.  It may be the ultimate high-cost/high-carbon fossil fuel.

It's not going to take much to burst that Carbon Bubble.  That will come when institutional investors finally flee the high-carbon fossil fuels and America's quiet environmental revolution could be just the thing to trigger the stampede.

It's a safe bet, judging from Harper's unseemly haste to get bitumen "to tidewater" that he's only too aware that the clock is ticking, time is running out.


Anonymous said...

Steve and the Harperites are trapped between the proverbial rock and a hard place. When the President of the United States mocks your specious justifications (40,000 jobs? Yeah, right [chuckle]) you've gotta realise that you're in trouble.

In fact, this could be a signal that the whole oil sponsored neocon Reform cart is in danger of being upset - not only in Canada, but around the world [said the wild eyed idealist].

The Mound of Sound said...

What troubles me is that we have so much of our economy invested in bitumen extraction and transportation and, because of its uncertain value and profitability, we've engaged in a host of conjuring acts from subsidies to royalty deferrals and environmental costs kept off the books that when the Carbon Bubble bursts we may have an enormous mess, fiscal and environmental, on our hands.

We find ourselves in precisely the situation Peter Lougheed warned us so often and so forcefully that we must avoid.

Anonymous said...

Yes Mound, people should have listened more carefully to Peter Lougheed (and Pierre Trudeau). But they didn't. The oil sponsored irrational ideology won the day.

But that day is coming to an end. The adjustment to a post bitumen Canada may be painful, but it will lead to a better country [said the wild eyed idealist].