The Upcoming Canadian Climate Summit Will Have to Choose Between Reality and False Hope

Larger version available at: Renewables And Carbon Pricing Are
the New Climate Denial
 by Bill Henderson

In the next couple of months Canadians will face a deluge of 'decarbonization' terminology before, during and after the upcoming Canadian Climate Summit. The graph above is as good a place as any to start trying to wade through the swamp of false hope that the politicians and a compliant mainstream media will use everyday to obscure what John Michael Greer, the Archdruid, explains are the core issues up for debate when he says, "The consequences of continuing to treat the atmosphere as a gaseous sewer for humanity’s pollutants are becoming increasingly hard to ignore, but nearly everything that defines a modern industrial economy as 'modern' and 'industrial' produces greenhouse gases, and the continued growth of the world’s modern industrial economies remains the keystone of economic policy around the world. The goal pursued by negotiators at this and previous climate conferences, then, is to find some way to do something about anthropogenic global warming that won’t place any kind of restrictions on economic growth."

Today's report will look at decarbonization's alternatives and possibilities and provide a reading list of articles by some of the best known environmentalists. Basically they all agree, the belief that we can avoid the most catastrophic levels of climate disruption without changing our fundamental way of life is a false hope.

The graph above shows us that re-newables are a very small part of our current energy usage. As every form of energy production has a footprint the next most important issue IMO is comparing their different footprints. EDF Energy's site does a good job overall but, like in so many things in our world, the devil is in the details and where one draws their line in the sand between what is included or not is very devil-ish. For instance do they count the externalized costs onto our health care systems and onto the cost of the acidification of our oceans, the costs of re-building as we retreat from the rising oceans and many others including the cost of cleaning up the environment that our descendants will eventually have to pay.

Next assignment in the de-swamping of de-carbonization would be a critical review of the studies done by a team of acclaimed scientists who all have no dog in the fight. This peer reviewed study does just that. In it they say: "Dozens of scenarios are published each year outlining paths to a low carbon global energy system. We examine 17 scenarios using a diverse range of techniques and assess the pace of energy system transformation entailed by each scenario. These studies present comparatively little detail on strategies to de-carbonize the industrial and transportation sectors, despite the importance of these sectors."

What i learned from this excellent study of studies is that each scenario has both technical limitations and real world political limitations that are at least as confounding as the technical ones. The authors conclude: "To be reliable guides for policymaking, these types of scenarios clearly need to be supplemented by more detailed analyses addressing the key constraints on energy system transformation, including technological readiness, economic costs, infrastructure and operational issues, and societal acceptability with respect to each of the relevant technology pathways."

Another study, not included above, by Mark Jacobson and his research group at Stanford University concludes: "While the expansion of renewable energy promises a boom in “green jobs” and may help facilitate the “just transition” alluded to in the Paris text, large renewable energy projects can be highly resource- and capital-intensive. For example, to meet the ambitious renewable energy goals proposed would require some 1.7 billion new energy installations worldwide, from modest rooftop systems to massive solar and wind farms." While Jacobson and his colleagues have demonstrated the feasibility of meeting all current energy needs by mid-century with genuinely renewable energy (no nuclear, no biomass, no new mega-hydro), some questions remain as to both the environmental and economic feasibility of an expansion of renewables on that scale.

So the importance of the politics at the Canadian Climate Summit can't be overstated. The making of choices between scenarios always includes choosing economic winners and losers as well as spinning those competing choices in a way that the wide range of constituents in each jurisdiction can accept, which, as always, will hinge on the myth that we might live a lifestyle similar to our current one powered by non-fossil fuel sources.

The chorus will include lines about how de-carbonization will save us from the karma of our consumer culture's gluttony and how unenforceable promises will accomplish it. In reality the politicians, like the scientists and elites, generally know the scope of change needed to avoid environmental calamity between now and 2050 crashes the markets, bankrupts pension plans and mutual funds, crashes capitalism and causes panic among the many.

Though beyond the core issues of today's report is the reality that the narrow focus on climate change and GHGs has allowed us to not look at the fact that even if some miracle technology comes along that allows us to have our energy cake and eat it too all that will mean is that the other forms of environmental degradation will continue or worsen.


Reading List:

Renewable Energy Will Not Support Economic Growth by Richard Heinberg

Too Little, Too Late by John Michael Greer

Six Myths About Climate Change that Liberals Rarely Question by Erik Lindberg

Baby Lauren and the Kool-Aid by James Hanson