A challenge to the climate activists, Leapers and anti-pipeline activists: show us your plans

I started this blog to provide a venue for pragmatic discussions about evidence-based environmental decision-making. The problem with being both pragmatic and evidence-based is that it grounds you in the mundane realities of the world. It prevents you from taking the flights of fancy that seem to be the strength (and weakness) of the environmental community. My colleagues in the environmental community like to think big. They like big ideas and big plans. The problem is that their plans tend to concentrate on the big picture while being light on the details. What is most annoying is when I point out the holes in their plans and the needs to identify achievable goals; I get responses that question my sincerity or dedication to the “cause”. It is as if there is a requirement to put my scientific mind in neutral in order to be considered an environmentalist. Well I am a scientist, a pragmatist and an environmentalist and I want to make real advances not simply generate good in sound-bites.

So I am going to challenge the climate activists, the Leap Manifesto proponents (Leapers) and the anti-pipeline activists. Provide a cogent, evidence-based mechanism to implement one of your plans? You see in all these discussions I keep hearing negatives about my ideas but never any positive, practical alternatives from you. Specifically: in the last year I have presented a cogent, environmentally-balanced and pragmatic viewpoint on pipelines and have been insulted and heckled. I have pointed out specific limitations in the renewable energy dreams of the Leapers (and their 100% Wind, Water and Sunlight acolytes) and have been assured that I must be working against environmental causes. I have poked holes in the numbers of the innumerate climate change activists and have been called a “denier”. I challenge you to present a plan that can actually achieve a goal, heck any goal, because right now all I get from you is platitudes and hand-waving.

Climate Change

Let’s start with climate change since these are the most self-righteous of the activists. As we enter the second year of a post-Paris Agreement world it is becoming increasingly clear that the activists do not have the slightest idea how to achieve the goals they claim are imperative. Under the Paris Agreement Canada’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) (note I have linked to our INDC as the NDC library does not have Canada’s submission), Canada has agreed to:

achieve an economy-wide target to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.     

Now I will give some credit where credit is due, Canadians for Clean Prosperity have presented a means to possibly get part-way to our 2 degree Celsius NDC by 2030 but it involves a massive rise in carbon taxes coupled with some pretty significant policy changes and even then they only achieve 13-14% below 2005 emissions by 2030?

The issue is that Canada’s INDC was created when the goal was still to avoid 2 degrees Celsius. Since the NDC was produced we agreed to an aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Now consider the research by Dr. Simon Donner and Dr. Kirsten Zickfeld of the University of British Columbia. They have calculated what it would take to achieve the aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius and have presented it here. Under their model Canadians we would need to emit essentially zero carbon dioxide sometime before the year 2030 or as they put it:

It would require a 90% to 99% reduction in emissions below 2005 levels by 2030. The budget is equivalent to less than seven years of emissions at current (2013, year with most recent data) levels  

Now think of that. By the year 2030 we would need to essentially emit no carbon dioxide? That means no gasoline automobiles, no diesel trains, no container ships, no trans-continental airliners, no diesel transport trucks, all by 2030? In the 14 years between now and 2030 our society would have to invent, prototype and mass produce engines capable of moving all the essential staples of our civilized society around the world. Within that time window we will have to get the entire existing fleet of automobiles, passenger trucks, transport trucks, airplanes, tugs, etc… out of commission and replaced with these, as yet, still hypothetical technologies.

In reality it would take a monumental effort to simply address personal vehicles but to achieve our aspirational goal we have to do away with all fossil fuel-reliant technologies? No a World War II level mobilization will not do the trick, we need at least an order of magnitude greater effort to change virtually every vehicle out there. The activists say words like, “but we have to do it for the future” and my simple answer is: show me how?

Now let’s play devil’s advocate and imagine a scenario where, by some miracle, we achieve that goal, that still leaves us only part-way to our goal since in that same time frame we still need to develop the electrical infrastructure to power those electric vehicles. I will go into more detail on that question when I deal with the Leapers.


In order to electrify all those vehicles we would need to massively ramp up our electricity system? By how much? Well let’s ask the hero of the Leaper movement: Dr. Mark Z Jacobson of Stanford. I have previously described what Dr. Jacobson has to say about Canada in his 100% WWS scenario….that would be the one promoted by the Leapers. As I wrote in my previous post, their proposal is simply not tenable. It is reliant on us inventing new technologies that are subsequently implemented on an industrial scale, all by 2050. Consider it asks for us to have 27,323 0.75 MW wave energy devices when we still don’t have a working prototype for the first unit? It is really hard to industrial facilities to tool up to build something that has not even been invented yet.

Besides being virtually impossible the Leaper approach would be devilishly expensive. Once again, I must give some credit, at least some economists associated with the Leap Manifesto tried to explain how they will pay for all this but they fell sadly short. They have proposed a set of policy alternatives that they estimate would raise $48.85 billion dollars a year. Now this list is essentially a poison pill for any politician who attempts to implement it, but that’s not the half of it since it doesn’t even cover the $53 billion a year Dr. Jacobson indicates it will take to pay for the power generating units for their 100% WWS program. Remember that $53 billion a year was prepared by their own expert Dr. Mark Z Jacobson from Stanford. Virtually every expert who has looked at his numbers suggest his costs are unrealistically low and still those numbers don’t include the infrastructure costs associated with the energy plants and necessary to build that infrastructure (roads etc…). It also excludes the costs or time to carry out the environmental assessments and all the consultations on all those projects or to purchase (or compensate owners for) the land used by that infrastructure.

That $53 billion/year is simply the capital costs of the actual units themselves. And those aren’t one-time only costs since that infrastructure will not last forever. It is well understood that wind turbines and tidal power units have relatively short serviceable lifetimes. Barnacles, salt water and winds take their toll and these units seldom last the 25 years. Yet the Leapers need them to last much longer in order for their numbers to work. Moreover, because of where we would need to install these units we won’t simply be able to abandon them, we will need to decommission each unit and reclaim the land under it. None of these costs are factored into the equation?

So let’s look at what we need by 2050: new technologies to generate power, new technologies to power vehicles and the replacement of all the existing vehicles in use today….all in 34 years in this case? Which brings me to the:

Anti-Pipeline Activists

As I have shown above we aren’t going to be anywhere near ready to get off fossil fuels before 2050. That means we will need updated infrastructure to move that oil, so how do the anti-pipeline activists respond? They simply insist that we should just stop using oil. Now I have addressed that topic in detail and it is not pretty scenario.

Having quickly dispatched the anti-oil pipeline folks, let’s look at LNG. The major complaint about LNG is that it will blow us over our Paris Agreement numbers but as I point out, we shouldn’t let that stop us. There are 1.2 billion people living in energy poverty in the world today and they are not going to sit idly by as the rest of the word advances without them. Each year 4.3 million people a year die from preventable indoor air pollution. Let’s not let some confusion about how we calculate carbon emissions leave those 1.2 billion Indians, Indonesians, Malaysians and Africans using coal to power their future instead of cleaner, lower-carbon, BC natural gas.


It is clear that our nation and our planet are facing some monumental challenges in the next few decades. It is equally true that we are not going to be able to address all these challenges in the time-frame indicated. What does that mean? Well as a pragmatist it means we will have to make compromises. If we know that India has a choice between coal and natural gas, then we should make sure it chooses natural gas. If we know that 100% WWS is not possible, then we had better include hydro and nuclear into the energy mix for our renewable energy future. If we know we are not going to achieve our aspirational 1.5 degrees Celsius target then we should throw it away and fight for a target we can achieve. Wishing for unicorns is not going to make them appear. We need to identify our priorities and work as hard as we can to achieve them. We have to stop chasing rainbows and instead try and chase achievable targets. That means it is time to stop making enemies out of potential allies. It is time to recognize that standing on the sidelines throwing out insults is not getting us anywhere. We need to come up with pragmatic plans to achieve our joint environmental goals.

This entry was posted in Canadian Politics, Climate Change, Climate Change Politics, Environmentalism and Ecomodernism, Leap Manifesto, Pipelines, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to A challenge to the climate activists, Leapers and anti-pipeline activists: show us your plans

  1. Morley Sutter says:

    Your analysis is “spot on” but there is another problem: there is no actual evidence that reducing CO2 will prevent temperature from rising. The observation that average temperature did not rise for approximately 18 years beginning in 1998-99, while CO2 continued to increase, suggests that if CO2 does “control” temperature, that control is very loose and lowering CO2 might well have no effect on temperature.
    In biological complex control systems, only inhibiting the rate-limiting step will reduce production of the output of the process.


  2. CriticalThought says:

    Still bitching about your twitter war with Sou I see, when everyone else has moved on? Sounds like someone really got under your skin.

    My only disagreement, and probably a bit contentious:

    >”The major complaint about LNG is that it will blow us over our Paris Agreement numbers but as I point out, we shouldn’t let that stop us. There are 1.2 billion people living in energy poverty in the world today and they are not going to sit idly by as the rest of the word advances without them.”

    We should let that stop us. A) Asia’s growth is declining and they have plenty of natural gas – they don’t need it from BC B) Basic economics will tell you that poor countries will not switch to more expensive fuels when they have bountiful cheap fuel. China is still building plenty of coal plants. In other words if you think extracting, processing, transporting, shipping and burning natural gas over seas will help reduce global emissions you’re mistaken. They will continue develop more coal plants as well as invest in natural gas. No significant replacement of coal will occur with natural gas otherwise this would have already been seen, and it hasn’t.


    • Blair says:

      You are wrong, but don’t let that stop you. The critical countries for LNG export are all natural gas poor. As for replacement of coal with gas, the US has shown how effectively the transition can reduce emissions.


      • CriticalThought says:

        >”You are wrong, but don’t let that stop you.”

        I could say the same for you and your faith on ECS values 1.5C and less.

        And what are those ‘critical countries’ Blair? Indonesia (1.49% of global emissions)? Malaysia (0.52% global emissions), African nations like Niger (0.04% global emissions)? Or are you talking China (20.09% global emissions) who has plenty of natural gas supplied from Russia? No, you must be talking about India alone then who consumes 55% of their power from coal, and 7% from natural gas, which btw is supplied from Qatar (~80%), Nigeria (~10%), Egypt (~4%), Yemen (~3%) and Algeria (~3%). Where does BC’s exported LNG contribute to significantly offsetting coal in India (or China) again? Oh that’s right… it doesn’t.

        When it comes down to it, it’s a numbers game, and you’ll kill millions more by warming the planet beyond 2C by continuing to supplement foreign countries growth with more fossil fuels. Kill a million in the short term through energy deprivation, or kill a billion in the long term through continued burning of fossil fuels (obviously this is hyperbole but it makes the point more clear). http://www.vox.com/2016/10/4/13118594/2-degrees-no-more-fossil-fuels

        Did you just compare the US economy to that of Indonesia and Malaysia? Lmfao, talk about trying to fit a square peg into a circular hole.


      • Blair says:

        You apper to be missing the point countries like Indonesia and Malaysia currently have very low emissions but high population densities. Indonesia has a quarter billion people, who, if provided energy at western standards will blow a monster hole in any CO2 emission plan. As for India and eastern Africa, there are another 1.5 billion people looking for energy. Ignore them at your peril becaus they aren’t going to give a whit about what you or yours may think. They want power for hospitals, hot water and cooking and will get it one way or another.


    • Tim says:

      Critical Thought (that’s a misnomer if I’ve ever seen one): It is impossible to decipher what it is you want. You say you want to stop natural gas exports from BC, and then try to list reasons as to why there is no demand in Asia or from “poor countries”. If that were true, Canadian LNG export projects would not have long term customers willing to underpin them. Since there ARE customers, your “lack of demand” arguments don’t make sense. In fact, they only underscore your energy market illiteracy.

      Then below you state “you’ll kill millions more by warming the planet beyond 2C by continuing to supplement foreign countries growth with more fossil fuels.” Can you explain how even one person could be “killed” by the planet warming by 2C? Your dramatic claims lack any grounding in reality, and you’re not scaring anyone. In your response, please provide a balanced argument and also include who would benefit from +2C warming, such as Canadians. How many millions of tonnes per year of CO2 would be saved from Canadians running their furnaces less in the fall, winter, and spring?

      But back to what seems to be your main point – explain why you are so maligned only against Canadian energy projects, Canadian jobs that support Canadian families, and contribute to Canadian tax revenues. Why not protest other energy producing nations, none of which have the environmental rigour applied to their operations that exist in Canada? What exactly are your goals, and what is it you want? Think hard before you answer.


  3. Deborah Binder says:

    Your posts are an inspiration to me. Really. Down here in the SF Bay Area, it’s near impossible to question alarmist predictions or suggest a pragmatic approach to climate change mitigation without being personally attacked. I think the “backfire effect” is fully at work in how your posts are received in some quarters: confronting some people with correcting evidence strengthens their original beliefs – and the more facts, the bigger the effect. As an active speaker in a local debate club, I’ve learned I’m much more likely to win a debate if I prepare less and rely more on rhetorical flourishes than informative arguments. So there’s a crowd whose self-certainty you’ll probably never dent. But your posts are also read by others who are much more appreciative of your efforts. Keep up the good work.


  4. CriticalThought says:

    >” As for India and eastern Africa, there are another 1.5 billion people looking for energy. Ignore them at your peril becaus they aren’t going to give a whit about what you or yours may think.”

    Blair, it seems you’re missing my point. Your entire argument is in relation to BC exports. How much LNG does India (4.10% global emissions) import from BC? Here’s a hint: it rhymes with clucking hero. Meanwhile: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkmenistan%E2%80%93Afghanistan%E2%80%93Pakistan%E2%80%93India_Pipeline I’m not ignoring “whit,” you are.

    >”They want power for hospitals, hot water and cooking and will get it one way or another.”

    They’re already getting it from other places. Jesus Christ Blair, you make it sound like BC is some sort of holy savior, meanwhile it hasn’t even entered the game! And, by the time it does, if it does, we’ll be locking them into more than 2C warming (we’re already locked into 1.5C warming), possibly 3C warming. Tell me again how 3C warming is the better option?


    • Blair says:

      Wait how much liquid natural gas does the world receive from BC? The answer to that is also zero so what is your point?

      As for why BC LNG? Well as I have written, because it has the potential to be some of the lowest GHG LNG in the world which is much better than lignite coal..


    • Bob says:

      Critical Thought. Lead us by your example. Show us by your actions. Remove all Hydro Carbons from your world. Live off the grid. Show us how this can be done. We are not as smart as you. You must have a plan, right?


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