The smart path

About a week ago, before the COVID-19 virus dominated every discussion, The Spectator said that “Not long ago, Brexit used to dominate every debate. Now, it’s climate change. Political discussions can’t take place these days without some reference to the Government’s big mission: the legally-binding commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Britain was one of the first countries in the world to sign up, and we did so with very little discussion about what it would involve. Britain’s chairmanship of the United Nations climate change summit in Glasgow (COP26) is likely to see Boris Johnson’s government position itself as a global champion of the agenda. But what will it mean? At what cost? And to what purpose? At The Spectator boardroom, we gathered together a group of people over lunch to discuss the project and its implications … [and the] … Guests included Kwasi Kwarteng, minister for business, energy and clean growth; Simon Clarke, the Exchequer minister; Chris Stark, whose Climate Change Committee has produced perhaps the most in-depth review so far into what the 2050 target will involve; and Carl Ennis and Steve Scrimshaw from Siemens, which sponsored the lunch.

The Spectator is a British journal so bear in mind, please, that all discussions are about the United Kingdom, but some of the highlights of the discussion included:

  • The UK’s use of energy peaked in 2001 and has fallen by almost a fifth over the past twenty years. Our carbon emissions are not just lower than in 1980 – they are lower than 1880. Our air quality is the best it’s been since we began recording it. Britain has become a world leader in decarbonisation, and will be able to boast this to the other 25 leaders at COP26 in November. This, … [one commentator said] ... had been accomplished not because of government targets but because of technology. As Matt Ridley argued in the Christmas edition of The Spectator, it’s driven by consumers who want cars that go faster on less petrol, on homeowners who want boilers [furnances] less hungry for gas;”
  • Offshore wind has grown sharply in Britain, accounting for 35 per cent of the offshore wind capacity in the world … [and some people who] … once thought wind-farm-466-jlthey were an expensive con … [have] … been struck at the collapse of wind farm energy prices. In 2017 it was £60 per mewgawatt hour, and a few months ago it dropped to £40. No one … [one speaker said] … anticipated such low prices even five years ago – some of the early offshore wind projects were given guaranteed prices of as much as £150/MWh. The French and Chinese backers of Hinkley Point were guaranteed prices of £92/MWh – and here we are with wind farms doing it already for less than half the price … [one observer] … chalks up the success as a push from industry to do better. “Guess what – competition works”;”
  • One guest noted that ““The story of the last ten to fifteen years has been largely technological and behind the scenes…what comes next isn’t like that. A bit of it, maybe two-fifths, can be done by technology alone. But the majority of it – let’s say two-thirds – involves some element of changing behaviour. That doesn’t mean a dramatic change. It means heating your home in a different way, plugging your car in rather than filling it up. They are not great leaps”;”
  • Economics and expectations matter. People will change from e.g. natural gas furnaces to (hydro-electric and nuclear powered) electrical heat IF it is convenient, reliable and not too much more expensive. But France’s gilets jaunes protests should serve as a warning that people have a limited tolerance for taxes that do not appear to accomplish much; and
  • The net-zero movement may also have a language problem, according to … [one commentator] … who argues the language of climate emergency does not go down well. “We’ve got to change the language around (climate change) – living in a cave in candlelight is not a way forward.” People are not motivated to change by fear, but rather by talking about “creating jobs and improving prosperity.

The key, it seems to me, is Matt Ridley‘s comment about people being willing to change to what they want ~ cars that go farther, faster but cost less to run and homes that are warm (cool in summer) and comfortable but do not force one to choose between putting healthy food on the table or turning up the heat (of the air conditioning). That can be achieved, as was noted, by letting the private sector effect changes using the tools we have.

I believe that we, humans, all over the world, should stop spewing as much CO₂ into the atmosphere as we do now. For one thing, it contributes to accelerated climate change …

China-Air-pollution

… for another, it can cause serious human health problems; and, finally, carbon-based fuels a limited resource ~ we will, eventually, in the next very few centuries, at most, run out of (cheap) natural gas, oil and even coal. That means that we, most of us, should heat (and cool) our homes electrically ~ using electricity that is generated by hydro dams or nuclear reactors or off-shore wind farms and local, rooftop, solar panels and so on. I say “most of us” because it may be a long time before we can provide reliable, cheap electrical power to absolutely Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 16.02.06everyone. We should eventually, switch all surface transport, beginning with passenger cars, taxis, buses and small, utility trucks from gasoline, diesel and LPG engines to electricity ~ but that will require a massive (and expensive) change to infrastructure and it will cause a HUGE dislocation in our resource and delivery sectors.

Can we, Canadians, accomplish that by 2030?

No! We certainly, quite clearly cannot, and it is madness to even suggest it.

Can Canada get to “net zero” by 2050?

I think so, IF we plan carefully and implement our plans in sensible, achievable phases. That may mean laying pipes through Québec to get Canadian oil to refineries in Atlantic Canada (perhaps because (very likely) wars in the Middle East might disrupt supplies from there) even as we are building massive off-shore wind farms, installing small modular nuclear reactors in small towns and remote villages and rebuilding urban electrical infrastructure to carry higher power electrical energy service to every home and apartment in every city and town. By “we“, I don’t mean government, alone. I mean all of society has to be committed to the change ~ because it makes good socio-economic sense. People have to want to change because they believe that the changes will make their lives better. The Trudeau-Thunberg-Wilkinson message …

… isn’t working. It doesn’t resonate with most Canadians even though it is being force-fed to children and teenagers in almost every school-room and then sent home to be repeated to parents. Most people do not believe that a carbon tax helps them ~ especially not when they see their tax dollars going to African despots in an attempt to buy votes in the United Nations. Trudeau, Thunberg and Wilkinson have the “language problem” that one of The Spectator‘s luncheon guest mentioned. They tell us that we are all going to die if we don’t pay more taxes and return to some sort of late medieval subsistence level existence when we, most of us anyway, really just want to know how we can have a cleaner, greener environment IF we don’t have to pay too much.

I think that most people, most Canadians, anyway, understand, intuitively, that governments are good at setting goals and targets but it is the private sector that actually does things. If we really want to get to “net zero” by 2050, if we want to make some measurable progress by 2030 then we need to start getting Canadian shovels in the Canadian ground, now.  smr-transport-1140x640We need to press forward, aggressively, with the development and fielding of small modular nuclear reactors ⇐ (which can be carried on the back of a big truck) to provide cheap, reliable, clean, green power to remote communities … that electrical power can, for example, make it possible to provide clean water to every single First Nation community in Canada. In the interim, while we are developing safe, cheap, reliable, alternative energy sources, we need to guarantee our domestic, national energy security by building pipelines to get Canadian oil natural gas to Canadian refineries and into Canadian cars 80b9fc9da12ed23f4c8d8e301f8e4baaand furnaces. Equally, we need to clean up our own land and, especially our water supply. We need to stop dumping raw sewage into the same lakes and rivers that provide us with our drinking water. If carbon taxes were, visibly, being used to make our lives better then there might be less objection to paying them.

A good, Conservative climate change policy should include:

  • Setting coherent, achievable goals that serve Canada‘s best interests while doing as much as we can to fight global climate change;
  • Pushing research and development into viable, useful, Canadian alternative energy sources ~ especially nuclear and offshore/coastal wind energy;
  • Unleashing Canadian industry to use Canadian workers to make environmental improvements for all Canadians;
  • Cleaning up our own country, first, and making the best use of our own, Canadian resources to do it.

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