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Could We Live Without Pipelines and Tar Sands?

So, Canada’s federal government has finally approved construction of the proposed Enbridge pipeline that is intended to carry bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands to Kitimat, and thence by ocean to China.

If we do not go ahead, the Prime Minister warns us, Canada’s economy will be in grave danger. “No country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country,” he declared a week ago, in a joint statement with the openly climate denying Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott.



But what if none of this is true? What if there were two possible directions that Canada’s future economy could take, not just one? What if there was another future built on clean technology, renewable energy, sustainable transportation and zero-carbon buildings, in which Canada could prosper without the tar sands and the unwanted pipelines, and without all the fracking, the oil-polluted waters, the exploding trains, the waves of public opposition and the legal challenges from First Nations?

To Stephen Harper and his supporters, such a future is unthinkable. He would far rather we dwelled on the danger of not supporting fossil fuel expansion than the far graver danger of a world that is four, five or even six degrees warmer due to the carbon released by the fossil fuels.

1894: Danger - Horse Manure Ahead!

A hundred and twenty years ago, our economy was so dependent on horses that unless something was done, we were warned, we would drown under a sea of horse-manure. But what happened? Change happened—we invented our way into a different world.

And change is happening again. The Age of Fossil Fuels, which started with coal-fired steam engines, is winding down. Around the world, financially viable oil is running out; investors are beginning to walk away. By 2030 it may all be over, and the Solar Age will have stepped in to take over.

Once upon a time, iron replaced stone. Then cars replaced horses, and fossil fuels replaced whale oil. Today, renewable energy is replacing fossil fuels. The transition is upon us: you just need to know where to look.

Young people want a different world

Young people are growing up who want a different world, with more sharing, instead of debt; more community, instead of commuting; more solar and wind energy, instead of fossil fuels; more organic food and farming, instead of chemicals; more cities with decent bike lanes and public transit, instead of noise and stress; and more suburbs with decent light rail transit and railways, instead of highway frustration.

In Holland, thanks to an investment in safe, separated bike lanes, over 30% of the Dutch people use a bicycle as their main mode of transportation, creating jobs by spending their money on culture and restaurants instead of fossil fuels. In 2001 there were just one or two city bike-sharing schemes around the world; by 2012 there were 400 schemes. [1] Where there are hills, electric bikes are making gravity disappear.

In 1998, just 905 people belonged to carshare groups around the world. By 2012, that number had increased two thousandfold to 1.78 million. By 2020, carsharing revenues are set to hit $6 billion, with 12 million members worldwide.[2]

In 2009, a mere 10,000 electric vehicles were sold globally. Within the last four years the number has increased 20-fold to 210,000 a year; Norway alone is increasing the number of EVs on its roads by 1,000 a month.[3] By 2020, the IEA’s Electric Vehicle initiative expects to see 24 million EVs on the road.[4] EV batteries? Since 2009 their price has fallen by 500%, from $1,000 to $200/kwh. By 2020, expect to be able to buy a cost-competitive EV without need for subsidy.[5]

"Those Romantic Hippies at Barclays Bank" 

In 1980, installed solar PV cost $100 a watt. Today, the price has fallen to $4. Before 2010, just 50 GW of solar had been installed globally. A mere four years later, global solar capacity is approaching 200 GW.[6] By 2020, if the price falls as predicted to $1.60 a watt, a solar tsunami will sweep the world. Bill McKibben recently wrote that “those romantic hippies at Barclays Bank downgraded utility bonds precisely because of rapid advances in the storage of solar-generated electricity, arguing that for many customers it would be as "cheap or cheaper" than utility-generated power within four years.”[7]

Back in 2004, investors sank $54 billion into clean energy. By 2011, this had ballooned five-fold to $302 billion. By 2030, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance CEO Michael Leibreich, clean energy will total 73% of all global energy investments.[8] Just last week, Warren Buffett announced that he was doubling his $15 billion investment in renewable energy.

Another Canada is possible

Another Canada is possible. Picture a future in which our future prosperity is driven not by oil, but by investments in renewable energy; in which Ontario has become an electric vehicles innovation hub and renewable energy from Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba is being exported to cities in the US; a future in which British Columbia’s expertise in clean tech innovation is sought all over the world; a future in which we no longer need to spend billions every year subsidizing the oil industry and where the money spent on renewable energy remains here in Canada, creating demand and supporting new business activity. 

It’s a good future, and it sets us on the path to a long-term future that is fairly amazing, since renewable energy is not just clean—it will also never run out. The curtains will fall on the Age of Fossil Fuels after just 300 years. The Solar Age will last for as long as the Sun sends us energy.

So the next time you hear a politician warning that if we don’t develop the tar sands and the pipelines, all hell will break loose, remember that there is an alternative. We have two options, not one. And while we may be metaphorically drowning in political horseshit, we never did drown in actual horse-manure.

{C}[1]{C} The Rise of Bicycle Sharing Schemes. ECF, 2012. www.ecf.com/wp-content/uploads/Factsheet-ITF2012-BSS.pdf

{C}[2]{C} Navigant forecasts global carsharing services to grow to $6.2B by 2020. Green Car Congress. 22 Aug, 2013. www.greencarcongress.com/2013/08/20130822-navigant.html

{C}[4]{C} Driving Electrification: A Global Comparison Of Fiscal Incentive Policy For Electric Vehicles. ICCT, May 2014.http://theicct.org/sites/default/files/publications/ICCT_EV-fiscal-incentives_20140506.pdf

{C}[5]{C} EV Battery Prices — The Disruptive Drop In Prices Will Continue. CleanTechnica, Jan 19, 2014. http://cleantechnica.com/2014/01/19/ev-battery-prices-disruptive-drop-prices-will-continue

{C}[6]{C} 2/3rds of Global Solar PV Has Been Installed in the Last 2.5 Years. Greentechmedia, August 13, 2013. www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/chart-2-3rds-of-global-solar-pv-has-been-connected-in-the-last-2.5-years

{C}[8]{C} Bloomberg New Energy Finance CEO Michael Liebreich. CleanTechnica, April 25, 2013 http://cleantechnica.com/2013/04/25/1-cleantech-presentation-bloomberg-new-energy-finance-ceo-michaelliebreich-video