As regular readers of this blog know, I first encountered the Leap Manifesto when it was released in September of 2015. At the time I wrote a couple pieces. The first: A Chemist looks at the Leap Manifesto and finds it wanting briefly went over my initial concerns with Demands #2 (100% renewables), #3 (infrastructure) and #6 (high-speed rail). By popular demand, I followed it up with a post on Demand #9: Debunking the Leap Manifesto – Demand #9: Local agriculture is not always better. Unfortunately, for the authors of the Manifesto, the Manifesto sailed like a lead balloon and was out of the headlines in less than a week. Lacking the enthusiasm to go any further into what I (wrongly) believed was a dead topic I let sleeping dogs lay. It was only with the New Democrat vote, at their Edmonton convention, that I have been convinced to continue my discussions of the topic.
Now let me get something straight right at the start, when I wrote my first posts on the Manifesto, the link to the actually Manifesto was not yet active. Going back using the Wayback Machine I discover that I simply lacked patience, because by September 16, 2015 (ironically the date I published my first post on the topic) the link had been fixed. As a consequence I did not get a chance to read the Manifesto in all its glory at that time and had to rely on the 15 Demands on the “sign the manifesto” page. I am saddened by this as it means I missed a lot of good content. I will attempt to partially address that oversight tonight.
Now I am going to admit something that will earn me some raspberries. I like a lot of the ideas in the Manifesto. Admittedly, the text itself reads like it came off the typewriter of a first-year philosophy student with its occasional dip into socialist claptrap like: “higher income taxes on corporations and wealthy people” and “cuts to military spending”. What is it about cuts to military spending anyways? We spend less per capita on the military than virtually every other G20 nation and at the same time the progressives are constantly demanding that we intervene to protect one group or another via the U.N. You simply can’t do that with the resources we currently provide the military. So demanding cuts while demanding they do more seems a lot like blowing and sucking at the same time. Okay let’s get back to my point, the only thing missing in that part of the Manifeto is a demand to “privatise the banks” and “seize the means of production” as that would fill up my bingo card, quite nicely.
Returning to the positives, I recognize that we, as a nation, have not done right by our indigenous cousins. We need to do more and some of the suggestions in the Manifesto would work towards that admirable goal. That being said it is odd how a paragraph that starts on indigenous people somehow shifts in mid-gear to end discussing 100% renewable energy.
Renewable energy is a cornerstone of this blog and the reliance of the writers of the Manifesto on Jacobson (et. al.) and the 100% Wind, Water and Sunlight (100% WWS) crew is where this piece starts to fall off the rails. I have written over 15,000 words on the 100% WWS plans in 8 separate posts so won’t do try and re-cover all the topics tonight. To summarize my views, the 100% WWS renewable plan places tight, and poorly-supported restrictions on a number of important baseline clean energy technologies and in doing so results in a proposal that is ruinously expensive and doomed to failure. It depends heavily on untested technologies; it assumes unlimited supplies of demonstrably limited raw resources (like rare earths and Lithium); it ignores Canada’s size while showing a childlike understanding of how Canada’s coastline is laid out; and completely ignores northern energy needs.
The next paragraph in the Manifesto on extraction demonstrates the authors’ abject ignorance about our needs for raw resources and how they are extracted. As I’ve written before, the Achilles heel of renewable energy technologies is their reliance on steel, aluminum, concrete and rare earth metals. None of these technologies are amenable to being located in an average person’s backyard. As I have written elsewhere, NIMBY only works if you are rich enough to be able to import your raw materials from somewhere else.
The problem with off-shoring our natural resource needs is that we place undue stress on the developing world with the existing facilities leaving a legacy of environmental degradation in their wake. The legacy of our rare earth extraction will affect the health of tens of thousands of people in Western China (Mongolia) and leave huge swathes of that country uninhabitable for generations to come. It is a funny activist who says that we should rely on lesser developed countries, with lax or nonexistent environmental regulations and no worker protections, to supply us with the raw materials necessary to create our renewable future.
The next section of the Manifesto is actually quite good. The energy efficiency and house retrofitting ideas are quite excellent and should be part of any plan to advance us to our carbon energy-free future. Sadly, the paragraph slides over to the biggest white elephant of the Manifesto the “high-speed rail powered by just renewables”. Consider that the electrically-powered, high-speed rail link between London Ontario and Toronto was priced at $500 million dollars. That is for 320 km of rail. That works out to $1.56 million dollars per kilometer. The Trans-Canada Highway is 7821 kilometers. Translated up that comes out to a rough cost of $12,220,000,000 just for a single railway line across Canada. That per kilometer price was for a line in a population-dense location with few or no significant geographical limitations (no mountains or bogs). That cost does not include a single spur line to a single town off the main line (sorry about that Prince George) and we have only crossed the country in one straight, narrow line. I can’t even begin to guess how much it would actually cost to link the entire country with high-speed rail (run on renewables no less). Remember, that number was only the cost to build one piece of infrastructure, it doesn’t include the costs to build the power lines to power the rail line, the high-tech, high-speed renewable energy rail cars or anything like that.
The section on agriculture is another example of urbanized, social activists who simply know nothing about how the world actually works. The “smaller is better,” “local is better,” “organic is better” memes in agriculture are some of the most pernicious myths to come out of the modern environmental movement and show a profound lack of understanding of how food is grown and energy is used as I discuss in detail at Debunking the Leap Manifesto – Demand #9: Local agriculture is not always better.
Now I am not an Economist but the section about shifting the economy to “low carbon: caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts and public-interest media” sounds a lot like an Escherian Stairwell. I simply don’t know where the money to pay for it all is going to come from? As a Chemist I relate it to the Second Law of Thermodynamics: “In any closed cyclic process the entropy will either increase or remain the same.” Translated in monetary terms, you can’t keep paying for service industry jobs if you don’t have a steady input of cash from somewhere that is not in the service industry. Some money will have to leave the service economy to pay for things we do not produce and so if we don’t add to the pot, it will gradually get smaller. In Canada that pot is re-filled by industry and by exploiting our raw natural resources. If we stop doing that we won’t be able to pay for those jobs in the low-carbon service industries.
Ultimately costs are where the Manifesto will surely collapse under its own weight. Besides the trillions for that high-speed rail we also need to build our renewable energy infrastructure. I did some simple math in my post More on 100% Wind, Water and Sunlight and the Council of Canadians “100% Clean economy” by 2050 goal. In that post I calculated that the onshore windmills necessary to meet the plan would cost over $250 billion on their own, all by the year 2050 no less. That number doesn’t address the offshore wind turbines, the solar facilities, the (still not technically available) tidal and wave power plants, the geothermal facilities or the electrical grid backbone to connect it all together. Sure they suggest a few cash sources but we aren’t talking a few million or even a few billion dollars here, we are talking in the trillions. If we aimed to do this in a century and were willing to put a significant percentage of our gross national product into the task, it would be doable. It simply cannot be accomplished by 2050. Anyone who says otherwise is simply dreaming in Technicolor.
Several times this week I have been told that the Manifesto represents a good start and “contains many ideas that deserve to be considered”. I agree that the Leap Manifesto has many positive points. The problem is that when you are asked to sign the Manifesto you are not being asked to agree to one part or another, you are being asked to agree to it all. There are some good parts, some questionable parts and some parts that are simply ridiculous to anyone with any scientific training or an understanding of how energy is generated and transmitted. Ultimately, the problem with the Leap Manifesto is that when you make ice tea with bathwater, no matter how sweet the ice tea component, you get a drink I am unwilling to swallow. So even though I agree with parts of the Manifesto, I am about as likely to sign it as I am to drink ice tea made with bathwater.