Saturday, December 12, 2015

I Know This. We Won't Be First, But...

Our prime minister lives in the shadow of his father. Wisely, Justin is not setting out to emulate Pierre but to walk to his own path.

During the election campaign he went to lengths in Alberta to distance himself from Pierre Trudeau's National Energy Policy. He assured Albertans he'd be his own man. What if he got that one wrong?

The Paris climate summit, COP21, commits the nations of the world, especially the major emitters, to decarbonize their societies and their economies sharply enough and rapidly enough to keep global warming within a 1.5C "do not exceed" limit. I have already explained why that's a wonderfully well-intentioned pipe dream.

That said, if the developed world is to even have a hope at the 1.5C target it'll require what the Potsdam Climate Institute's Hans Joachim Schellnhuber calls an "induced implosion" of the fossil fuel industry.

Big Fossil isn't going to shut down voluntarily. If it's to come down it'll have to be brought down or, as Schellnhuber puts it, "induced." It's hard to imagine just how that can be achieved without nationalizing each country's fossil fuel resources. Part of the process of a rapid transition to alternative, clean energy will require careful regulation, production and distribution of fossil fuels to keep society and the economy afloat while the switch occurs.

It can't happen overnight but it can't happen soon enough either. There is much to be done and no time to spare. There's certainly no time to tolerate a rearguard, delaying action by the energy giants. They can't survive the transition. We know that. It would demand wiping trillions of fossil fuel reserves from the asset column of their financial statements - fiscal doom.


LMA said...

I agree there are many roadblocks ahead, but I am just thrilled to bits!
After so many years of waiting for this agreement, the nations of the world have spoken loud and clear. As consumers of fossil fuels, we must all speak up and demand renewable energy alternatives. We have the power as consumers to do this, and we have no choice.

LeDaro said...

Mound, fossil fuel is a big item on revenue column for many countries. An item they may not be able to get rid of or even reduce it. Is it really possible to overcome this problem?

The Mound of Sound said...

@ LMA - I wish I shared your optimism. What we're facing is both global and regional, even local in its consequences. Canadians face a less ominous future than the peoples of Africa, the Middle East, or Asia. Maintaining the essential commonality of purpose is going to become ever more challenging.

As I've written many times before there is no solution to climate change that doesn't also address overpopulation and our rampant over-consumption of the planet's resources. Think of it this way. Both China and India emerged from WWII with populations in the 300-million range. Now, 70 years later, they're both above 1.3 billion, expecting to grow to 1.5 billion by mid-century. They've already increased four fold in just one human lifetime. Over the past 20-years their per capita GDP has likewise soared. How do we tackle climate change without addressing this population time bomb? Africa is next and the demographics are very troubling.

Overconsumption. We're outstripping our Earth's replenishment of natural resources, its resource carrying capacity, by a factor of 1.7 and that's growing each year. Many of us don't see the reality of what we're doing but, over the past forty years, we, mankind, have caused the loss of fully half of the terrestrial and marine life on the planet. We're taking what we need to live and what everything else needs to live and non-human life is in a very serious decline.

Despite all of this, our political leaders still cannot shake their threshold of "sustainable growth." What is evident from our numbers and our consumption is that we need to be on the path to what James Lovelock termed "sustainable retreat." None of these things has been incorporated into our national and international conversation.

Are you willing to get smaller? What are you willing to give up? How much are you willing to do without? How much of what we have and enjoy are you willing to give up for those who have less or nothing? If you're like most Canadians I've spoken with I suspect your answer is very close to bugger all.

It's interesting that you see solutions in our "power as consumers." It's our power as citizens that matters and that power is by no means secure.

The Mound of Sound said...

LD, you raise the big question of whether we can break our addiction to fossil energy. It's going to be particularly tough for "petro-states" such as Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, Canada. I'm looking forward to statements from Notley and Brad Wall. Will they join Big Oil in fighting a rearguard, delaying action to maximize the extraction of their bitumen reserves? I can't see Wall doing anything less and, ultimately, Notley's political survival will require her to accommodate the Calgary Petroleum Club to some extent. We'll see.

LMA said...

MoS, as consumers, we each have the power to lower our carbon footprint, and my mantra is "think globally, act locally". For me this means small actions such as being a Greenpeace supporter, buying only what I need and can use, walking or cabbing rather than owning a car, turning down the thermostat, reducing, reusing and recyling instead of buying new, reducing food wastage, buying FSC wood for renos, planting native trees and wildflowers not laced with neonics, etc. Making these changes in my lifestyle, and knowing that others are doing likewise, gives me hope for the future. My actions are small, but I know they make a difference. We are all in this together, and we do not have the moral right to overconsume at the expense of other humans and other species.

Your blog has been an inspiration to me over the years, and I wish you all the best.

LeDaro said...

Mound, thank you for your response. I agree with your assesment.

Unfortunately when politicians get elected they seem to be more occupied to get re-elected. Natley made history to form the first NDP government in Alberta. I hope she makes history to take a stand on climate change by reducing the production of fossil fuels.

As far as Brad Wall is concerned my hopes are not high.