Time For Canada to Make the Leap to Renewables
Beyond Fossil Fuels
This week saw a dramatic drop in global oil prices. Due to a disagreement between Russia and Saudi Arabia over production quotas, and further exacerbated by the corona virus pandemic, the price of oil took a dive.
We’re talking a serious drop! Global oil prices are currently about $25/ barrel (down from $65/barrel at the beginning of the year), and are anticipated to go down to below $10 (The Guardian). This sudden change might actual bring with it some long-term environmental benefits.
A Mixed Bag
You might think that cheap oil is bad news for climate movement. That’s partially true. On the one hand, low prices might encourage more oil consumption, but it’s really a mixed bag with multiple complications.
For one thing, high oil prices can help stimulate demand for renewables as people look to alternatives. On the other, lower prices might encourage greater consumption as people move away from alternatives.
If the alternative is coal, then that’s a good thing. Coal is by far the dirtiest fossil fuel, and now also the costliest (financially & environmentally). So if we can get countries to at least get off coal, that’s a good thing (Japan & Australia, come on already!!). Crazy that it’s 2020 and we still have to talk about getting off coal, but that’s really the least of it.
Ripe for Change
We also have to get off oil. Our dependency on fossil fuels is directly contributing towards the warming of the earth, and stimulating planetary climate change. Scary stuff. But with oil prices so low, suddenly it doesn’t make as much sense financially to keep drilling around all over the place.
Low prices have done what would normally require significant protest. That is, keeping fossil fuels in the ground. That is definitely a win! Having said that, as fossil fuel companies suddenly start feeling the pinch, they have the tendency to simply roll up shop and leave their operations dumped and deserted.
The abandoned wells can then leak harmful chemicals in the surrounding soil and groundwater, and pose significant risks to local life. Unfortunately, this is yet another cost that is thrust upon citizens, as corporations can evade through bankruptcy and legal contortions to fork governments with the bill.
The Canadian Question
That’s where the Canadian challenge comes in. In Canada, we’ve already spent billions on environmental destruction, in attempt to become an “oil nation” (see Harper’s Failure). There are immense fossil fuel reserves locked away in Canadian soil, but it actually takes a lot of money to extract, clean, and refine. With oil prices so low, it’s no longer financially viable to continue burning through this colossal “carbon bomb” (as described by climate scientists James Hansen). Time to move on.
With oil prices as low as they are, Canadian oil workers are naturally suffering. In Alberta, where the majority of the oil fields lie, the province will take a devastating hit. It’s during times like this that the government might even be tempted to make the incredibly horrible move of deciding to bail out the oil industry. That would be a truly calamitous mistake.
Rather, the government of Canada could use this opportunity to invest in workers. Help cover the costs of retraining and support Canadian oil workers in their transition as builders of our renewable energy future. We have a real genuine opportunity here to do the right thing and finally leave off the fossil fuels. I sincerely hope our government leaders have the courage to take the clearly better & more sustainable path to renewables.