Friday, 6 September 2013

Have Our Servants Become Our Masters?

by Larry Powell

There was a time when coal, oil and natural gas served us well; powering our vehicles, heating and cooling our homes, generating our electricity and keeping our industries going.

While they may still be doing all of those things, there’s been a huge, even sinister shift over the generations since the industrial revolution of the 19th century.
World populations have skyrocketed, along with our expectations. Our lust for more and more of the things these fossil fuels can give us - electronic gadgets, power boats and quads - has turned into a life-threatening addiction. 

Conservation and moderation are now dirty words. Consumption is the new religion – with no thought for tomorrow. Sadly, even our schools and churches are doing little to counter this kind of mindset! Parents are even drilling it into their children, at home. 

Make no mistake. Fossil fuels, which once served us well, are no longer our friends.   

The more of them we burn, the more heat-trapping emissions are produced. These greenhouse gases are rapidly changing the very makeup of the biosphere – the air upon which we and all other creatures on earth depend, for life itself.

It’s been said that, if Earth were the size of a soccer ball, that biosphere would be about the thickness of tissue paper! Yet we treat it as if it is indestructible, relentlessly spewing our filth into it like an open sewer.

As a result, our planet is heating up, spawning terrible storms, wildfires, droughts, flash-floods and rising sea levels due to melting ice-caps and glaciers.

It’s gotten so bad, hardly a day goes by any more without news of another terrible event occurring somewhere in the world which can be laid directly at the feet of our addiction to oil and its treacherous cousins, natural gas and coal.

In Canada alone, the awful flooding in Alberta and the tragic and deadly train accident in Quebec recently, are painfully fresh in the minds of many. Surely both are examples of our "fossil fuel demons" coming back to bite us in different ways.

Reliable experts in the field are saying that climate change caused by humans, likely contributed to the flooding.

And it was crude oil, now being moved in increasingly massive amounts around the globe, that ignited when a runaway train rolled into that quiet little Quebec town on a fateful night this summer, bringing with it such terrible loss of innocent life and human misery.

Despite all of this, our leaders, whether they be politicians, journalists or industry moguls, are now all a-flutter over a proposal for a new, west-to-east pipeline. Apparently spawned during a corporate wet dream in the boardrooms of the energy giant, Trans-Canada Pipelines, the line (if approved) would move sludgy, sticky, corrosive, climate-destroying tar from Alberta to Atlantic Canada.

In so doing, it would travel much of the way through existing pipe which now carries natural gas. (Natural gas destroys the climate, too, just not quite as well.) 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Harper, Canada's premiere "fossil fool," is four-square behind this reckless, misguided project. "It's safer to move oil by pipe than by rail," he pontificates, shamelessly using the recent Quebec tragedy to his own political ends.

Which mode of travel is safer, of course, is not the point. It is, rather, how can we stop being the fossil fuel junkies we have become and find new energy sources which don’t destroy us all?
Sadly, Mr. Harper displayed his willful ignorance of the basic science of climate change when commenting on this year’s  terrible flooding in Alberta.

"I never imagined we could have a flood of this magnitude in this part of the country," he declared, preposterously!

CNN photo
Apparently you can be the leader of a great nation and still be oblivious to the warnings which top climate scientists from around the world have been sounding for decades. On second thought, it was not surprising coming as it did from one who thinks climate change is a "socialist plot!" And not surprising either, given that this is a Prime Minister actively muzzling climate scientists if they speak the truth on the matter.

Meanwhile, Trans-Canada's slick bigwigs are promising that "environmental" concerns will be taken into consideration in the new pipeline project, as if they had a clue as to what that word even means, let alone cared. And environmentalists are once again being treated as quaint creatures who need to be patted on the head, then dismissed. What fails to get mentioned is, it is the environmental movement which has science on its side, not the vested, profit-driven interests of Big Oil.

It was James Hansen of NASA, the world's foremost climatologist, who warned a year or two ago, it would be "game over for the climate" if the XL pipeline is built to carry tar from Alberta to the Texas coast.  So, are we to somehow believe that this latest brainwave (the west-east pipeline) will somehow be less harmful if it is aligned across Canada, rather than south into the 'States? Give me a break! 

Even I am not suggesting we can go "cold turkey" on fossil fuels. Junkies, of course, need time to "taper off" from their habits. But surely we need to be seeking alternatives like wind and solar way more aggressively than we are. (And, don't forget, despite earlier promises to remove them, the Harperites have kept those disgraceful subsidies to the "poor, impoverished" oil industry in place, costing hard-working Canadians well over a billion a year in tax dollars!)

Trouble is, zealots like Mr. Harper, other members of his “team” like my own MP, Robert Sopuck and their friends in Big Oil, don't want that. They want it all. And, if that means the degradation or even destruction of Canada’s precious wild places which so many of us hold dear – not to mention the planet itself - then, so be it!

Related: "Rail Versus Pipeline is the Wrong Question." 
"Writer Comes to my Defence"


John Fefchak said...

The following resonating words were expressed by Canada's, Prime Minister Harper. (Wpg Free Press, 7 Sept.) Unfortunately, he was not talking about how the Canadian government is devastating our finite resources, our water sources, our air and our environment. This PM needs to stand in front of a large mirror to look and listen to himself.

"But I think we share the view of our allies that when we see developments that we think in the long term are dangerous for the planet and therefore for us as well, we are simply not prepared to accept the idea that there is a Russian veto over all of our actions."

John Fefchak, Virden, Manitoba, CA said...

John Fefchak said...
a Great Article PLT. Hopefully this will be copied and published in newspapers right across Canada and elsewhere.

B. Ross Ashley said...

Comment by B. Ross Ashley: Great article on the state of the energy pipeline debate up here. Must-read.

Derryl Hermutz said...

Regardless how anyone feels about ongoing fossil fuel consumption, the fact is there is no existing energy technology that can replace it.  Solar and wind are hamstrung by the nonexistence of viable energy storage technologies, even if there were enough reliably sunny and reliably windy places to generate the energy.  It's not that billions of dollars are not being poured into storage solutions, by governments and companies all over the globe.  It's that so far there aren't any that would work on a large enough scale.  

Cities can't survive without constant inputs of energy and all kinds of resources and goods that need to be transported into cities from distant sources.  Are you writing a lament about the unsustainable futility of our urbanized civilization?  Are you advocating we depopulate the cities and millions of people return to heating and cooking with wood in their rural homes, living locally off the land?  Or do you have some realistic plan of action in mind, something that Harper should be doing differently that would bring some realistic improvement to satisfying Canada's energy needs?  It's easy to identify problems and blame people for not fixing them.  It's a lot harder to come up with workable solutions.

Larry Powell said...

Reply to Derryl Hermanutz:   
You may be surprised to learn that I agree with some of what you say. Alternate forms of sustainable energy are, sadly, NOT yet positioned to pick up the slack if we give up fossil fuels.
And I write my articles, not to represent "be-all, end-all" solutions (I don't believe any one has those), but to provoke some thought. 
I'll rest easier when I believe I've at least done a bit of that!