The Extinction Rebellion are the homeopaths of the climate change community

We have had another week of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) “raising awareness” by blocking roadways, gluing themselves to bridges and airplanes and generally behaving in a manner intended to get lots of publicity. Having watched and listened to XR leadership, I remain frustrated by it all. While XR likes to shroud their actions in the mantle of “the science” as I showed in my last post their major claims aren’t supported by the science. Stephen Colbert coined a term: “truthiness” which he defined as “the quality of seeming to be true according to one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic, factual evidence, or the like”. XR does a similar thing I will call “scienciness” which involves using the language of science to say things that aren’t true, but sound like they should be true. In this they remind me a lot of the practitioners of Homeopathy. They use a lot of sceincy-sounding words but when you dig more deeply you discover that most of what they are saying has no foundation in scientific fact.

What do I mean by this? Well, consider their favourite argument that billions will be killed this century (the whole extinction part of XR). Here is Roger Hallam making the claim on the BBC:

“I am talking about the slaughter, death, and starvation of 6 billion people this century—that’s what the science predicts.”

The reputable science says nothing of the sort. The IPCC certainly doesn’t say this nor does any reputable scientific organization. The closest explanation of this argument I can find is from Rupert Read on the BBC:

The risk of catastrophic and irreversible disaster is rising, implying potentially infinite costs of unmitigated climate change, including human extinction” – the Eco-extremists at the International Monetary Fund.

However, Mr. Read’s argument is simply an example of exceptionally bad scholarship. Let’s start with his source. The quotation is from a paper by Signe Krogstrup and William Oman titled: Macroeconomic and Financial Policies for Climate Change Mitigation: A Review of the Literature. Now admittedly both individuals work at the IMF, however, the work is not from the IMF nor is it the position of the IMF. Rather, the article includes a massive disclaimer which says:

IMF Working Papers describe research in progress by the author(s) and are published to elicit comments and to encourage debate. The views expressed in IMF Working Papers are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the IMF, its Executive Board, or IMF management.

Reading the article itself you discover that the authors have made a general point and attributed it to a previous work:

There is growing agreement between economists and scientists that the tail risks are material and the risk of catastrophic and irreversible disaster is rising, implying potentially infinite costs of unmitigated climate change, including, in the extreme, human extinction (see, e.g., Weitzman 2009).

The problem is the paper they are drawing from says no such thing. It is taken from the 2009 paper On Modeling and Interpreting the Economics of Catastrophic Climate Change by Martin Weitzman. In that paper Dr. Weitzman discusses extremely unlikely risks to explain how the statistics makes it impossible to rule them out altogether.

The point of the Weitzman article is that these risks are essentially nil, but are not exactly nil. Weitzman argues that

Perhaps in the end the climate-change economist can help most by not presenting a cost-benefit estimate for what is inherently a fat-tailed situation with potentially unlimited downside exposure as if it is accurate and objective

This is not what is being argued by Krogstrup and Oman.

To understand what Weitzman means by a “fat-tailed risk with potentially unlimited downside exposure” consider that there is a similarly low chance an asteroid will destroy the earth in the next decade. If you were following Mr. Read’s logic our only response would be to abandon all other activities while developing a protective system around our planet, but science-based policy doesn’t work that way. We don’t spend all our time trying to eliminate de minimis risks.

As for the topic of our biodiversity crisis, the XR web site says this:

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report produced in 2019 shows the biodiversity crisis is on a par with the threat posed by climate change. The main direct causes of biodiversity loss are habitat change, direct exploitation (e.g., fishing, hunting and logging), invasive alien species, pollution (including nutrient loading), and climate change.

The thing they appear to miss is the IPBES lists ecological risks in order and places climate change as a tertiary risk. We could eliminate climate change tomorrow and it would not have a significant effect on the biodiversity crisis because the primary causes are human land use decisions and human exploitation of species. XR tries to muddy the water but the IPBES is extremely clear on this topic.

The other thing the XR people like is the trappings of science. Consider this Reuters story where the academics try to portray themselves as something they aren’t.

Wearing white laboratory coats to symbolize their research credentials, a group of about 20 of the signatories gathered on Saturday to read out the text outside London’s century-old Science Museum in the city’s upmarket Kensington district.

The actual list of scientists is a mishmash of academics in the humanities with a smaller number of biologists and a limited number of academics in the natural sciences. What is most amusing is almost none would wear lab coats in their academic work, which explains why they would think wearing a lab coat in public makes them look like real scientists.

As someone who had to wear a lab coat in my lab, the thing to understand is that no serious scientist wears their lab coat in public. A lab coat is intended to protect the wearer from dangerous chemicals and in doing so it thus poses a serious risk to anyone who comes in contact with that lab coat. To explain, lab coats are designed to protect the user from spills by keeping the spill on the outside layer of the fabric. That means the outside fabric of the lab coat is potentially dangerous since any spilled material will remain on the outside of the coat. If you are wearing a contaminated coat and it touches someone, the compounds on that coat will then be transferred to that person.

As such you never wear your lab coat outside of the lab unless you want to expose your colleagues to nasty contaminants. To do so would be like a surgeon wearing blood-soaked scrubs around the hospital. Admittedly, some old-school academics used to wear a spare lab coat to teach, but that was usually to protect their clothes from chalk dust and the result was their offices were always full of chalk dust that came off their coats. These poser academics wearing lab coats “to symbolize their research credentials” are doing so much in the same way as my son wearing his Whitecaps jersey symbolizes his soccer prowess.

Earlier in this post you heard me talking about homeopaths. Well, in my opinion, the homeopathy’s relationship to medical science effectively parallels XR’s relationship to climate science. Put another way, XR activists are the homeopaths of the climate community.

Homeopathy derives from the science of the early 1800’s. That would be the era of luminiferous Ether and pre-dates the establishment of the germ theory of disease. It was an era when blood-letting was still regularly practiced and is based on an entirely faulty understanding of the chemistry of liquids. Most Homeopathic tinctures don’t even contain the active ingredient being used to treat the malady because the process of making the tincture dilutes the active ingredients completely away. Because homeopathic remedies are made up of either clean water or sugar pills, Homeopathy only works via the placebo effect.

So why are so many willing to trust Homeopathy? Because practitioners can really talk up a good story. Take a read of this word salad from a Homeopath

Homoeopathy does not search out the disease in material human organism, but penetrates deep into the plane of Will, Intelligence (understanding/judgement) and Memory to reach to find out subjective individual symptoms, and find out homoeopathic indicated potentiated medicine.

You can read that sentence a dozen times and get a dozen things out of it, but none are real because Homeopathy is all about convincing users that there is some unknown scientific truth behind their sugar pills.

In a similar way, XR is all about confusing and scaring the public with information that is not supported by any reputable academic or institutional bodies. XR doesn’t believe the IPCC because it isn’t extreme enough for them. They claim to follow the science, but in reality they simply like the sounds and trappings of science but don’t want to be constrained by the limitations of the science. Their credo is scienciness. They are the homeopaths of the climate change community. They try to sound like they have a scientific basis for their extraordinary claims but any detailed examination of their claims show those claims to be full of gibberish.

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Taking a serious look at the unserious demands of the Extinction Rebellion

As anyone who watches the news knows, the good folks at the Extinction Rebellion (XR) have been increasing the intensity of their protests in the last few weeks. An organization that started in the UK has now exported its message, and tactics, to North America and our authorities have utterly kowtowed to them.

Having given lots of notice that these radicals were going to illegally block traffic on major commuter routes, our brave men and women of law enforcement, under the direction of our craven political class, abandoned their role as protectors of the law and instead served as protectors of the lawless. Look at the pictures from Edmonton where a handful of activists managed to close a major bridge while the police physically protected these lawless protesters from the public they were harming.

In what sane world can a handful of lawbreakers behave in such a manner? Honestly, if these people walked into a bank and demanded all the money in the vaults (to help fight climate change of course) I honestly believe our opportunistic politicians would be providing them a police escort and asking if they needed bags to help carry the money away.

Given the newfound prominence of XR it seemed rational to try to understand what the organization stands for. What I discovered is an utterly bizarre group of misfits that is proposing simply ridiculous solutions to our global climate crisis. The mass media, meanwhile, has completely ignored what the XR actually stands for and has given this organization all sorts of free publicity and far more positive press than it deserves. Frankly, the easiest way to discredit XR is simply to take them seriously and look at what they are actually demanding. In this blog post I will do just that and let XR speak for itself.

Let’s start with some things I believe/understand. I accept that climate change is a serious threat to the ongoing health of our shared planetary ecosystem. Combined with the effects of human land use and human exploitation of natural resources (very different topics from climate change) climate change represents a contributing factor in a possible sixth great extinction.

I agree we need to fight climate change and if you agree with me that we need to fight climate change there are a lot of organizations you can support from the political to the activist NGO’s. All these organizations provide a megaphone for various activist approaches to fight climate change.

If you choose to follow XR instead of one of these mainstream groups then it has to be because XR stands for; something different than the run-of-the-mill activist groups and XR does indeed stand for something different. What it stands for can be identified by its Three Demands:

1: Tell the truth Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.

2: Act Now Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.

3: Beyond Politics Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

Demand 1 – Tell the Truth

The first demand is utterly unexceptional. Lots of groups are looking to declare a climate emergency. There is nothing particularly special here that sets XR apart.

Demand 2 – Net Zero by 2025

Demand 2, however, should really raise a lot of warning flags. I would ask every reader look at the nearest calendar. In my house the calendar is directly above this computer and I can I see it is October, 2019. XR is demanding we achieve a fossil fuel-free status by 2025! These people are demanding we get off fossil fuels in a little over 5 years.

I want to say that again because it should be the the first thing anyone talks about when discussing XR. They are demanding that we GET OFF FOSSIL FUELS BY 2025.

I don’t understand why the first question every reporter asks a representative of XR is how they could conceivably demand we get off fossil fuels by 2025? When they say “extinction” do they mean of the human race?

Let’s look at this in the context of British Columbia. As I detailed in a previous post: fossil fuels represent approximately 59% of all the energy used in British Columbia. According to the Globe Foundation Endless Energy Project Report (Globe Foundation) domestic transportation accounted for 87% of motor gasoline and diesel fuel sales in BC in 2000 (the last year this data was fully compiled). I’m sure someone is going to say: “what about electric vehicles”? In 2015 plug-in electrical vehicles represented 0.33% of new vehicle sales in Canada. Electrical vehicles represent a rounding error in total cars and personal trucks on the road in B.C. As for hybrids, well they depend on fossil fuels to operate and would stop doing so absent fossil fuels.

As for transport trucks, the ones that carry the containers of foods and other necessities from the farmers, docks and rail yards to the warehouses? At this time Canada has exactly zero electric transport trucks carrying long-haul routes. Admittedly Mercedes Benz is testing a potential electric transport truck but that truck currently has a maximum range of 200 km which means it would just barely be able to go from Vancouver to the valley to pick up a load of food and return to town. As for carrying loads of food over the Rockies? Not a chance. Moreover, that is a single prototype. If you took the current generation of transport trucks off the road entirely, the store shelves would go bare in days.

Having addressed personal vehicles and commercial trucks, how about freight trains? Care to guess the number of electric freight trains that exist in Canada?  I’ll give you a hint, it is a round number that is one less than 1 (ref). So absent fossil fuels there won’t be any trains to transport food or necessities from the dockyards and farms to the rail yards either.

Well we’ve addressed trucks and trains how about electric container ships or electric cargo planes? That is an easy one are there are exactly zero of either operating in this world. There are some suggestions that a new generation of container ships could be designed to operate using  some form of hybrid electrical/sail/biodeisel but that is still on the drawing board and we don’t even have a prototype out there.

As for home heating, according to the National Energy Board, in British Columbia 58% of households rely on natural gas for heating.

Given this understand how can anyone take seriously a group that DEMANDS that over the span of 5 years we eliminate 59% of all energy used in BC and replace it with alternatives (most of which do not exist). I can’t repeat this enough XR DEMANDS that we replace virtually every car, hot water heater, furnace, truck, train, plane etc…in 5 years? How can anyone take this group seriously and why are reporters not holding these people to account for this ridiculous demand?

Moreover, this is not even their most ridiculous demand since we still have to look at Demand 3

Demand 3 – Citizen Assemblies

For those wondering, many of the founders of XR were classically educated academics in the UK. So needless to say they studied their Greek history and know about the history of Athenian Assemblies and the Athenian idea of being ruled by citizens chosen by lot. This is how XR proposes we solve our climate crisis.

XR proposes that a group of citizens will be chosen by lot and they will be trained in the field of governance and then they will be given the job of solving climate change. XR is sort of hazy about how this assembly will be chosen. They also are quite vague about how this assembly will deal with the whole “we have no alternatives for critical technologies” or even how an assembly will achieve this aim in 5 years.

What XR is not vague about is that they believe that a randomly chosen group of citizens, given a few hours of education, will do a better job of understanding energy transition than the hundreds and thousands of experts who have spent decades becoming knowledgeable in their fields of study.

Now admittedly the XR folks aren’t fans of expertise, because experts and specialists keep trying to explain to them that their demands are impossible. So it can be understood why they would want a group of average citizens (who may not be as well informed) to come up with the solutions instead.

The next time you go to the grocery store, look around. Imagine that every person in that room is taken aside and put in a room and given instruction by the XR zealots. Do you imagine that group of people will somehow be able to address (fix?) the global lack of technology and infrastructure necessary to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels, and do it all in 5 years from today?

The funny thing is the XR folk don’t seem to be the types to leave it to citizen panels to built the airplanes they like to fly in; the university office buildings they have their offices in; or even to take over their positions as grad students in classical Greek philosophy. No those are jobs for experts. Instead XR just wants its Citizen Assembly to re-design our entire technological state and determine how our economy transitions from one utterly dependent on fossil fuels to one that doesn’t use fossil fuels at all…and do it all in five years. So not a really challenging task after all.

Conclusion – Stop taking these unserious people seriously

After their day of action I made a point of listening to the representatives from XR as they made all sorts of grandiose claims about their protests. But the one thing I didn’t hear was reporters making them present a cogent defense of the basis of their protest. For some strange reason reporters didn’t press these disruptors about what would happen if their demands were met. How were they going to feed our population in a world of 2025 where fossil fuels were no more? How were they going to choose their citizen assemblies and how did they expect a group of average people to address a global lack of infrastructure or technology

I deeply wish the media actually took these people seriously and asked them some serious questions. Because when you take a serious look at XR, and its list of demands, it becomes clear how completely unserious they are. While they are great at protesting and super at creating interesting visuals for the evening news, they are completely unserious when it comes to coming up with a solution to climate change. Rather, their biggest skill appears to be alienating unconvinced voters so as to make it harder to actually come up with workable solutions to this global problem.

As informed citizens we need to speak up when the media give groups like the XR a free pass. We need to hold our politicians accountable when they instruct our police to support the lawless as they break the law. There is exactly one reason why a handful of protesters managed to close a major thoroughfare in Edmonton. It is because some craven politicians in city hall were more afraid of the reaction of these protesters than they are of Edmonton voters. Perhaps Edmonton voters should keep that in mind come next municipal election day.

Posted in Climate Change, Climate Change Politics, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Why environmental professionals and policy specialists are often frustrated with the climate strikers

What parent hasn’t experienced this situation? Due to circumstances outside your control you are going to be late for a family commitment. You got out of the house late, or an accident on the highway has you stuck in traffic. In either case, you simply aren’t going to get to that commitment in time and from the back seat comes a plaintive cry: “dad, you have to drive faster, we are going to be late!”.

We all know that a child who is going to be late for their soccer game, doesn’t understand that all the cars are moving at the same speed and there is nothing you can do. They are concentrating on their own issues. They don’t understand what it will take to get to our destination. They only want to get there faster because “our coach said we HAVE to be there by 5:15 pm“.

We have all been that parent. We can cajole. We can try logic. But all we get from the backseat are complaints that we are not going fast enough and are going to be late. As parents did we appreciate those moments? Of course not, we are doing our best and are struggling within the limitations of the world around us.

Well that is what it likes to be an environmental professional being lectured by the children of the Climate Strike about energy policy. They are the metaphorical kids in the backseat, demanding that we go faster without any realization of what it will take to achieve the outcomes they seek.

Now I know a lot of you are going to say that my analogy trivializes the risks associated with climate change and my response is that you are missing the point. Demanding that we “drive faster” while providing no other insight as to how to achieve that goal simply does not help. Like the coach example, they often point out that their position is supported by the IPCC. But the IPCC projections won’t bend space-time to allow us to reach our goals on time.

I know people talk about moving the Overton Window and “enhancing public awareness”, but the reality is that polls agree we are already at a state where people want to fight climate change. The hard part is figuring out how we can achieve that goal. I keep listening to the demands from the Climate Strikers and it is all about stopping all fossil fuel use now and blaming the previous generations for the conditions of the present. I read that:

What Thunberg and her fellow protesters want from their governments is to “keep fossil fuels in the ground, phase out subsidies for dirty energy production, seriously invest in renewables and start asking difficult questions about how we structure our economies and who is set to win and who is set to lose,” 

What I don’t hear is a recognition that we currently have a transportation (and thus food supply) system that is utterly dependent on fossil fuels and will be for the next 20+ years. We simply don’t have widely available fossil fuel-free options for transport trucks, container ships, cube vans or airplanes. Were we to “keep fossil fuels in the ground” our food supplies would quickly dry up and people would starve. This means to fight climate change we need to figure out how to address non-transportation uses while we innovate in the transportation field.

In addition, climate change, while an important priority, is not the only priority for world governments. Climate change has the potential to kill millions in the future, but energy poverty is killing millions today. We live in a world where 1.1 billion people live in energy poverty and each year 4.3 million people a year die from preventable indoor air pollution directly resulting from that energy poverty. Governments in developing nations are going to prioritize the health of today’s people over those of tomorrow.

The thing climate strikers have to understand is that there are no short-cuts to cutting our carbon emissions. It is easy for climate strikers and their activist supporters, who go to bed well-fed and warm in Canada and Europe, to tell the world they should use less energy. But the governments of China and India still have deep poverty and hardship to fight and will ignore those cries because they are dealing with louder and more pressing cries of citizens who need food and shelter today.

The climate strikers talk about how our emissions are going to condemn them to a life of squalor and misery, except that is not true. Kids today enjoy their lifestyles because generations before them built the world we have now. We have a smaller percentage of humans living in abject poverty than we have had in history. By virtually any measure you can identify the lives our kids enjoy is better than the lives their great-grandparents lived.

Moreover, if we actually implemented the changes they demand these same children would be on the streets protesting those changes. Any attempt to completely change-over our economy, in the timeline presented, would necessarily take massive resources away from other priorities. It would mean less money for schools, universities, hospitals, sports facilities, roads and sewers. As long as the battle is in the abstract these students are all for it, but tell them that they won’t have seats in university, that the sports and music programs in their schools are being shut down and that their grandparents can’t get the surgery they need and all of a sudden priorities change.

There is a reason we don’t leave complex policy decisions to well-meaning children, it is because while they may be well-meaning they are not trained to understand the consequences of their demands.

Consider Ms. Thunberg’s recent trip across the Atlantic. No one can deny that the young lady endured discomfort and not insignificant risk to cross the Atlantic in a sailboat. But unfortunately her journey typifies the empty symbolism of the Green movement. You see, her highly symbolic trip actually resulted in higher emissions than if she had simply jumped on a trans-Atlantic flight with her dad.

Assuming she took an economy flight with her dad, the return trip would have resulted in 4 total Atlantic crossings (2 each way). By sailing, however, the trip has resulted in a minimum of 6 crossings as two crew that traveled with her on the ship to the US will be flying back to Europe, while 4 crew from Europe will be flying over the help bring the sailboat home. The net effect of this trip was a substantial increase in total emissions for the trip.

This is what happens when you seek simple solutions to complex problems. It was a gesture, but one that generated a net excess of emissions. Just like clearing rain-forests to build palm oil plantations for biofuels; cutting US low-land forests to provide wood pellets for UK power plants; and shuttering nuclear plants in Germany and then needing to use more coal to replace the lost nuclear power. All these bad ideas were implemented because well-meaning people suggested solutions but didn’t understand the complexity of the problem they were attempting to address.

Now I recognize that we need to raise the bar when it comes to our fight against climate change. We need to do more, but as someone who has been working to bring about change I have had just about enough of being blamed for things outside my control and being told it’s my fault that we are not going to meet a deadline that literally didn’t exist when we were designing our plan to meet a different deadline.

So no it is not misogyny, it is simple frustration at being told again and again that we are not doing enough by people who don’t understand the topic enough to understand what it will take to achieve this goal.  

Do I resent the climate strikers? No of course not. I am simply tired of being told I need to drive faster by individuals who don’t yet understand how to drive.

Posted in Canadian Politics, Climate Change, Climate Change Politics, Uncategorized | 25 Comments

Is shale gas a major driver of recent increase in global atmospheric methane? Not according to the most recent observational and satellite studies

Ah, the scientific method. We all remember it from our school days. Observations are made. Observations lead scientists to develop hypotheses intended to explain the observed phenomenon. Those hypotheses are subsequently tested against experimental data. A hypothesis that is found to be in contradiction of the data, no matter how compelling that hypothesis may be, must be discarded and new hypotheses generated that better reflect the data at hand.

You may ask why I am starting this post with a simplified explanation of the scientific method? The answer is because last week we had a classic example of a compelling hypothesis being confronted by a wealth of data from a well-conducted empirical studies and the hypothesis being found to be lacking. In this case we are talking about Cornell Biologist Robert Howarth‘s latest paper: Ideas and perspectives: is shale gas a major driver of recent increase in global atmospheric methane?

As anyone who has read this blog knows, I follow the BC liquid natural gas (LNG) debate pretty closely and Dr. Howarth’s is a name easily recognized in this debate. I can’t count the number of times I have heard the expression “natural gas is a bridge to nowhere which I have debunked in the Canadian context. I have repeatedly demonstrated that Dr. Howarth’s research is simply not applicable to BC LNG. My opinion is consistent with the peer-reviewed academic literature on this topic.

This week I was directed to Dr. Howarth’s his latest work. This new article looks at the global increases in methane concentrations and concludes that:

shale-gas production in North America over the past decade may have contributed more than half of all of the increased emissions from fossil fuels globally and approximately one-third of the total increased emissions from all sources globally over the past decade.

Now let’s admit, that is a pretty interesting hypothesis. We know global methane concentrations have been increasing and we know that the US is extracting a lot more natural gas, these two must be related mustn’t they? As Dr. Howarth puts it:

Shale gas makes up 2/3rds of all new natural gas development over last decade. An emissions rate of 3.5% for full lifecycle (which should surprise no one) gives you about 10 Tg per year of new atmospheric methane. My paper is entirely consistent with this, giving me confidence.

In his paper Dr Howarth presents his hypothesis and supports this hypothesis with some very interesting isotope analyses. Now when I say “interesting” I don’t mean “convincing” because it really isn’t all that convincing to those familiar with this type of analysis. A friend (who happens to be a geochemist) I spoke with on the topic pointed out that isotopic fingerprinting of shale gas is simply not as clear cut as Dr. Howarth suggests it should be. That being said this blog post is not about whether Dr. Howarth got the isotope argument right, it is about a more fundamental issue: whether Dr. Howarth’s general hypothesis can stand up when confronted with actual data about methane concentrations in our atmosphere.

The thing Dr. Howarth glosses over in his paper is that methane is a highly studied gas globally. We have satellites and ground stations that can detect methane signatures and our governments monitor methane concentrations in the atmosphere on an ongoing basis. We know a LOT about what is happening on this topic.

In the US, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maintains a Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network that includes the Earth System Research Laboratory methane tracker. If releases from North American shale gas extraction were increasing, that should be evident in all the methane sampling and observations. Especially, if as suggested by Dr. Howarth, the North American shale gas extraction were responsible for one-third of the global increase in methane over the last decade.

As a scientist, I decided to go look at the data from the methane tracker and was surprised to see that there is no signal of massive increases in methane emissions that would be necessary to tip the global balance. The spike is simply not there.

For those of you who don’t want to wade through the data, a peer-reviewed article was recently published in Geophysical Research Letters, by Lan et. al., (2019) titled: long‐term measurements show little evidence for large increases in total U.S. methane emissions over the past decade that summarizes the results. The “Plain Language Summary” for this paper says:

In the past decade, natural gas production in the United States has increased by ~46%. Methane emissions associated with oil and natural gas productions have raised concerns since methane is a potent greenhouse gas with the second largest influence on global warming. Recent studies show conflicting results regarding whether methane emissions from oil and gas operations have been increased in the United States. Based on long‐term and well‐calibrated measurements, we find that (i) there is no large increase of total methane emissions in the United States in the past decade; [my emphasis] (ii) there is a modest increase in oil and gas methane emissions, but this increase is much lower than some previous studies suggest; and (iii) the assumption of a time‐constant relationship between methane and ethane emissions has resulted in major overestimation of an oil and gas emissions trend in some previous studies

So we have Dr. Howarth’s hypothesis that says that US fossil fuel emissions of methane are responsible for “one-third of the total increased emissions from all sources globally” while the people responsible for looking for this spike says that fossil fuel emissions have seen “no large increase” in US emissions in the last decade. These are two mutually exclusive statements. Sounds like time for more data.

In his paper Dr. Howarth refers back to an earlier paper A large increase in U.S. methane emissions over the past decade inferred from satellite data and surface observations by Turner et al., (2016) from which Dr. Howarth draws this information:

Since virtually all shale-gas development globally through 2015 occurred in North America (mostly in the United States but also western Canada), we conclude that at least 33 % of the increase in methane fluxes came from North America. This is consistent with the work of Turner et al. (2016), who used satellite data to conclude that 30 % to 60 % of the global increase in methane emissions between 2002 and 2014 came from the United States.

The Lan et al., (2019) paper notes the existence of the Turner et al., (2016) paper and questions some of its conclusions. That being said, the Turner et. al., (2016) paper includes an important qualifier that Dr. Howarth seems to have missed. Turner et al., (2016) write:

The U.S. has seen a 20% increase in oil and gas production [US EIA2015] and a ninefold increase in shale gas production from 2002 to 2014 (Figure 1, bottom), but the spatial pattern of the methane increase seen by GOSAT [Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite] does not clearly point to these sources [my emphasis]. 

The Turner paper literally says that the satellite data they used did not see the methane increases in the vicinity of where the shale gas was being extracted. This is pretty darned important. If the increase in methane, is as large as Dr. Howarth indicates it should be (i.e. enough to significantly effect global numbers) this should be visible in the satellite data…and yet it isn’t.

To summarize: Dr. Howarth’s hypothesis is that shale gas extraction has resulted in a massive increase in North American methane emissions. According to Dr. Howarth’s hypothesis, that massive increase is so intense that it could be responsible for “one-third of the total increased emissions from all sources globally over the past decade”.

But the Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network sees no large increase in US methane emissions and the GOSAT satellite did not see increases in methane in the areas where “a nine-fold increase in shale gas production” was taking place.

The empirical data does not support Dr. Howarth’s hypothesis. Rather the empirical data makes it clear that shale gas is not the source of the increased North American emissions. From a Canadian perspective this makes a lot of sense. In Canada shale gas is being extracted under tight regulatory regimes that do not allow the practices that were the norm a decade ago. Most natural gas wells are “green completed” which avoids the venting and flaring that were the norm in the past. Newer infrastructure is just that – newer – which means that it meets the current generation’s best practices and typically includes in-line monitoring and leak detection. Finally, our gas is being extracted from extremely deep formations which provide less opportunity for seal failures or for gas to migrate to the surface.

To conclude; in this story we have a compelling hypothesis that has been confronted by a whole lot of very solid empirical data and that empirical data says that the hypothesis is wrong. As we know from our understanding of the scientific method, when confronted by data that contradicts the hypothesis, the hypothesis, no matter how compelling, must be discarded. Dr. Howarth’s suggestion that shale gas is responsible for the increase in global methane emissions simply isn’t supported by the empirical data available at this time.

Posted in LNG, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Why political demands we radically speed up decarbonization represent wishful thinking

This blog post started as a potential Twitter thread that got out of hand. It grew out of recent demands by major political organizations that Canada increase its pace of decarbonization. First it was the Canadian pact for a Green New Deal which demanded we:

cut Canada’s emissions in half in 11 years while protecting cultural and biological diversity.

Then the Green Party’s Mission Possible, which is looking to establish our new target of:

60 per cent GHG reductions against 2005 levels by 2030; zero emissions by 2050.

Most recently we have the Assembly of First Nations calling on the other levels of government to:

reduce emissions in Canada by 60% below 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

It is like each organization is attempting to claim the moral high ground and trying to outbid their rivals to prove their environmental plan is the Greenest.

The problem with these demands is they betray a lack of understanding where greenhouse gas emissions come from and what it will take to achieve our decarbonization goals. It is unclear whether this lack of understanding is a political ploy or reflects a true misunderstanding of the scope of the problem we face. In either case, it appears necessary to explain what we face in achieving our decarbonization goals. In doing so I hope to explain why the unrealistic goals of these organizations reflect an unhelpful form of wishful thinking.

The first thing to understand about decarbonization is it is not just about giving up on high-carbon energy sources but replacing them with lower or zero-carbon energy sources. We can’t simply give up on producing food, we have to decarbonize the food production system. We can’t simply give up on transporting food to communities. We have to decarbonize the means by which food reaches communities. We cannot simply give up on heating our homes in winter. We must switch from higher-carbon heating (coal, fuel oil natural gas) to lower-carbon heating like electricity or heat pumps.

Switching over modes of energy generation, and consumption, means replacing existing infrastructure with different infrastructure. In some cases, it means replacing existing technologies with still undeveloped technologies or technologies not currently available in the mass market.

These replacement technologies, and this new infrastructure, won’t simply materialize overnight. They need to be designed, tested and built. Each step in that process consumes time and resources. Moreover, since these technologies often depend on similar supply chains, accelerating the development of one may limit our ability to develop another. As an example, there is not enough lithium available to create all the batteries needed for a complete transition to electric vehicles and for battery back-ups for electric homes.

Also recognize that Canada does not operate in a vacuum. Other jurisdictions are also seeking to reduce their carbon footprints and so are also laying claim to limited resources to achieve their goals. Every electric automobile built in North America, and sold in the United States, is one less North American electric automobile available for purchase in Canada.

It is also important to understand that supply chains are limited. As has been demonstrated in the last decade, trains that are moving one commodity are not available to move another. This is why we have had massive backlogs in grain transportation for the last 10 years.

Going back to our initial challenge. Building infrastructure takes time. Right now, Metro Vancouver is planning for an upgrade to the transit system. Given the limitations of our planning processes they anticipate the newest major transit infrastructure won’t be completed for over a decade.

Yet here we have political groups demanding that we completely upend our national energy system within a decade.

Understand, to achieve a 50% reduction in GHG emissions means replacing all that energy with some other form of energy, likely electricity.

Before you can replace that energy with electricity you must build facilities to generate that electricity. That means building thousands of individual solar, wind, tidal, wave or hydro units and each one of those units involves planning and financing. You can’t just say I am going to build a wind facility and then do it the next day. You must identify appropriate sites; you must get the appropriate permits; you must carry out environmental assessments and adjust your plan to reflect the results of the assessments; you must secure financing; you must undertake First Nations consultation and you must incorporate the results of that consultation in your project.

Each “must” step above takes time and that list is just the steps before you start construction.

Now let’s look at the scope of the problem. As I described previously, a 50% reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions would require we

  • Essentially eliminate the personal vehicle
  • Eliminate our oil sands and natural gas industries
  • Retrofit every household in Canada that uses natural gas for heat and/or hot water
  • Eliminate all our fossil fuel electricity capacity
  • Build the electrical capacity to provide the power for all those EVs, hot water heaters and heaters and
  • Build an entire electricity transmission system to move all that power around.

Moreover, we need to do this while

  • Dealing with the massive recession that comes from destroying our oil & gas industry
  • Paying for a massive upgrade to our public transportation infrastructure to deal with the fact we virtually eliminated personal automobiles
  • Paying for massive retrofits for virtually every household in the country that uses natural gas or fuel oil for heating and hot water
  • Paying for a massive increase in renewable electricity capacity to deal with the sudden jump in demands and the loss of fossil fuel electricity infrastructure
  • Paying for the massively upgraded transmission capacity to move all that new renewable electricity from where it was generated to where it is needed.

To understand the complexity, let’s briefly look at one single step: upgrading our electrical grid.

From a planning perspective, building an upgraded grid would involve identifying a route. That route needs to be surveyed which takes time. An environmental assessment would need to be carried out on the new route to identify the potential ecological effects of the project. Since it is a massive project that assessment would have to include seasonal information. Once an initial route has been identified, consultation will have to be undertaken with any affected communities and First Nations. These consultations must be carried out in the spirit of understanding and will likely require re-routing portions of the project. Any re-routing would require subsequent environmental studies. Given all this pre-planning, for a single linear development we are already 2+ years into the process and haven’t put up a single meter of line.

When it comes to construction, we must consider seasonality. You can’t cut trees during the nesting season and you can’t build river crossings during the fisheries runs. Work will also have to slow down or stop during the heart of winter. This adds more time. Ultimately, to achieve our goal we need to build a backbone of high-power transmission lines which will then connect to a series of laterals and we haven’t even started the process on these laterals. This is not the work of a decade; this is the work of multiple decades.

Moreover, that is just the transmission lines, we haven’t even started on all the solar facilities, wind farms, tidal and wave plants.

Do these appear to be a series of steps that are even vaguely possible to complete before 2030? We are talking about completely remaking our economy on the fly. All the while respecting the needs and desires of legitimate interests including our natural environment, our First Nations partners and our global neighbours. This in a country where a motivated local government can’t get a transit line built in under a decade. Don’t even get me started on the costs. If you imagine medical wait times are long today, imagine what they will be after we completely ignore any investment in our medical system for a decade so we can dedicate ourselves to the hopeless task of getting that energy system built.

To conclude, my understanding is that these groups often see their goals as aspirational rather than literal, at least that is what I hope is true. Admittedly, the Green Party claims their plan is “possible” which is why they named it “Mission Possible“. Looking at the steps involved, however; there is simply no way any reasonable group of policy experts could honestly believe we could achieve these goals in a decade and anyone who claims otherwise is either lying to you or is ignorant and neither of those choices looks good on a political party. But even if we imagine these demands are merely aspirational, I don’t see the point. What point is there in demanding the impossible? All it does is cause the hesitant to plant their feet more strongly while feeding red meat to opponents.

If we are going to achieve our climate goals it will be through incremental change. Set tough goals and then work like the dickens to meet those goals. Certainly, we need to set long-term goals and clarify our aspirations but demanding the sun, the moon and the stars is not how you get things accomplished. As for the people saying “it is a climate emergency we have to get this done” my response is: How? We live in a world of linear time and finite resources, simply demanding the impossible contributes nothing.

Posted in Canadian Politics, Climate Change, Climate Change Politics, Leap Manifesto, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

On the Channel 4 News video – Uncovered: Canada’s Dirty Oil Secret – An embarrassing hit piece full of errors and falsehoods

Recently, I was directed to a report prepared for viewing on Facebook called Uncovered: Canada’s Dirty Oil Secret by Channel 4 News which is reportedly a news program. After watching the report I wasn’t entirely sure what to say. My first response after watching it was to write:

It is factually wrong and uses strategic interviews with recognized opponents who say things that are demonstrably untrue and then presents their words uncritically on the screen

While my statement is true, it doesn’t make for much of a blog post so I suppose I will have to provide a bit more detail. The following is my attempt to highlight some of the incredibly bad journalism in this execrable video.

The report is only 10 minutes 20 seconds long, but it packs a lot of misinformation, errors and falsehoods into that short span. Let’s start with the introductory statement:

Canada, as much of the world sees it. A progressive country. A land of unspoiled wilderness. But in Alberta’s devastated oil sands an image of a very different Canada

It takes only four sentences to get what can gently be called misinformation. The Athabasca oil sands lie beneath 142,200 km² of land. Disturbed oil sands area encompass less than 1% of the oil sands area. It is very hard to understand how surface impacts that occupy less than 1% of an area can fairly be called “Alberta’s devastated oil sands“.

Fourteen seconds into the video and we have another falsehood.

Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, driven by intensive oil and gas extraction

While it is true that Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world; that extra warming is not driven “by intensive oil and gas extraction“. As explained by the global climate models, warming will occur first in the extreme north and extreme south of the planet. Canada occupies more of the extreme north than any country other than Russia and that is why we are heating faster than countries near the equator.

Now I have to be clear here, if I tried to conduct a second-by second debunking of this video I would be here all week, so I will stick to the highlights hereafter. Let’s go to 34 seconds into the piece:

[the pipeline] will carve through sacred indigenous lands….two different cultures dollar versus the wind, the water…raise carbon emissions while risking devastating oil spills…there will be no cleanup whatsoever.

This section is a load of hokum followed by a direct mistruth.

The vast majority of the pipeline will go along an existing right-of-way that has undergone intense archaeological study. Pretending that the lands under the majority of the pipeline are “sacred” is a false narrative. Arguing that First Nations have a different culture ignores that First Nations are bidding to own the pipeline. As for the mistruth, the claim that there would be no clean-up of spills is calumny that the editors must know is categorically false. That they chose to present it in their video immediately indicts their motives.

I know the argument the editors will make: we are only presenting what these people have to say. The problem is that presenting information that you know, or should reasonably know, is false and doing so under the guise of providing an “opinion” simply doesn’t cut it for a reputable news organization.

We are less than a minute in to this report and we have encountered enough falsehoods that I need a break. Unfortunately, they don’t give us a break it just continues. At minute 1:

I’ve come to ground zero of Canada’s environmental devastation. Fort McMurray, Alberta. It’s hard to imagine that the ravaged land below was once carpeted with forest

[Inigo Gilmour] Canada’s tar sands, Canada’s most shameful environmental secret. Below me is what’s been called the largest and most destructive industrial project in human history.

Let’s start with the visuals. The camera work is careful to provide incredibly narrow shots, likely because wide shots would have shown that the impacts while significant, are not widespread. You can actually see unaffected forests in the top of the shot in numerous shots.

Now I want to note a curious feature of this report (featured in the title). The video presents a bizarre narrative that the oil sands are simultaneously a single, massive industrial project and yet they are also some massive secret. This “secret” theme repeats throughout the piece. Channel 4 apparently believes the oil sands are Canada’s Manhattan Project that we keep hidden from the world. If only the North Korean nuclear program was kept as well hidden as the oil sands.

As for the claims by Mr. Gilmour. Once again they choose to use quotations because what he says is far from the truth.

The oil sands aren’t one big project but a number of projects separated from each other by massive swathes of forest. They are not one of the largest and most destructive projects in human history. They don’t come close. They pale in comparison to the Soviet destruction of the Aral Sea and if we are talking ecological destruction, I would argue the City of London and its boroughs have less biodiversity and natural habitat than the city of Fort McMurray and its environs.

This is a funny thing about the ecological hypocrites from urban European cities. They look at Canada which has protected massive areas while leaving others unaffected by development and complain we aren’t doing enough. What percentage of England has been set aside as permanent ecological reserves? How much of England been dedicated to parks? What does England’s natural biodiversity look like?

Let’s jump now to 1:35.

The new Trans Mountain Pipeline will span over a 1000 through western Canada. Its export serving the Asian market. It will treble oil production from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day.

Apparently our narrator did not get the memo about there being no Asian market for Alberta crude. As for the next line, it is simply wrong. The pipeline will not increase production to 890,0000 per day it will provide transport for existing production. Any reasonable editorial fact-checking should have caught this error.

The next couple minutes involve the narrator interviewing Chief Alan Adam who lives downriver of Fort McKay. He claims that the oil sands have affected the river including claims that the oil sands developments have added heavy metals to the river. This is simply not the case. The Athabasca River and its tributaries run directly through the oil sands. Natural hydrocarbon seeps have been contributing impacts to this river system for tens of thousands of years.

As described in the academic literature, studies of the rivers and lakes upstream of the oil sands often find higher concentrations of mercury, trace metals, methylmercury, napthanic acids and other dissolved organics upriver of the oil sands. Put simply, the independent, academic research indicates that the river impacts are mostly natural in origin with only minor anthropogenic contributions.

As for the “state of the health of the community”. Alberta has brought in teams of professional epidemiologists to assess the conditions in the Athabasca region. They did a comprehensive analysis and eventually established that the rates of various illnesses were consistent with what would be expected in these communities. No cancer clusters existed. The final report was completed in 2014 (presented in full at the Alberta Health Cancer page). This report debunked the claims of activists (as described in the CBC follow-up report:“Higher cancer rates not found in oil sands community, study shows”).

Now comes a realization. I am over 1100 words into this post and only one quarter of the way through the video. Having demonstrated that virtually everything being presented is done through an anti-oil sands (of Tar sands in their case) lens, I will now stick to debunking the apparently deliberate misinformation and outright errors for the rest of the video.

At 4:30 the narrator claims the pipeline will produce “8.8 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide” which the narrator claims is equivalent to 2.2 million additional cars on the road every year.

At this point it is eminently clear that no one involved in this project has a clue what they are talking about, because even a well-educated child would recognize the error in this sentence. They are pulling from the City of Vancouver presentation on the Trans Mountain and the correct number was 8.8 million tonnes. Apparently the gang that couldn’t shoot straight doesn’t understand the topic well enough to recognize that MT means million tonnes rather than metric tonnes. This error actually caused me to laugh because it so clearly displays the ignorance of every member of this team that they would get such a basic piece of information so completely wrong. Remember, this report supposedly went through a fact-check and they still got a number off by a MILLION.

Of course what is an anti-pipeline video without Kanahus Manuel who makes her appearance around 6:20 into the video. She makes a number of false statements including saying that in case of spills “there will be no clean-up whatsoever” that “this is a bitumen pipeline” that bitumen from the pipeline “will actually sink“, that “there’s no exact cleaning methods” and that there were pipeline spills in their territory “where clean-up never happened“.

Every one of these statement is untrue. I’m not going to sugar-coat this because Ms. Manuel cannot possibly be this ignorant this long into her struggle. She can’t possibly not know the truth. She appears to be lying and the producers of the video have failed in ensuring that the report presents a true picture of the situation.

What is the truth? Every spill on the Trans Mountain has been carefully documented and has involved a clean-up. The details of every spill are preserved by the National Energy Board. The pipeline will carry diluted bitumen which is chemically different from bitumen. Diluted bitumen floats on water and the science is clear there are numerous means of cleaning a dilbit spill. It is hard to imagine that the editors of the video could allow this many errors in a row by accident.

At 7:45 we get to the Stoney First Nation and the narrator repeats a claim that the Stoney were not consulted on the pipeline, except that is not true.

At 9 minutes is another incredible claim. That the pipeline will result in 250 oil tankers a month in the Burrard Inlet. Try as I might, I can’t figure out where they got that number from. It appears to have been created from thin air. The project is expected to generate about 400 tankers a year [okay I seem to remember the actual number from the NEB was 408 but I could be off by a couple]. Once again it is hard to attribute this bad number to ignorance, but given the serious errors made prior to this it is entirely possible that the video producers are so completely uninformed that they chose not to look at any of the documentation on the project and just repeated a number presented by others. In any case this is the sort of thing a competent fact-checker should have caught and fixed. It doesn’t just make Channel 4 look bad, it makes it look incompetent.

The next line is Reuben George suggesting there is 87% chance of a spill with a million people getting sick within hours. These numbers are simply nowhere near the truth. According to studies by experts the increase in major spill risk is negligible and the suggestion that a million people will get sick is the result of Mr. George’s consultant making an embarrassing mistake confusing a pseudo-surrogate with an actual compound in oil. Mr. George then repeats long debunked economic arguments and ends with a threat.

I finally, and thankfully, come to the end of this painfully bad propaganda piece. After watching this video I can only express disgust and dismay. It is full of misinformation, half-truths, easily identifiable errors and what some would call outright lies. That so much bad information got through the “fact-checking” and so many falsehoods made it through the editing process erases doubt I had about the motives of the producers. Channel 4 needs to pull this video and fix it. The errors are an embarrassment to any organization that claims to present the news.

Author’s Note:

In an earlier version of this post I mistakenly indicated that Channel 4 was associated with the BBC. That was incorrect. This post has been revised to address this error. My apologies to the BBC for associating them with this drek.

Posted in Climate Change, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The Green Party’s “Mission Possible” a cool name for a policy proposal that is not ready for prime time.

On May 16th Elizabeth May unveiled the Green Party’s Mission Possible, their 20-step “Green Climate Action Plan“. While I have to admit “Mission Possible” is a very cool name, the plan repeats what we saw with their Canadian “Green New Deal“. It is simply not ready for prime time. When you start looking at the details it becomes clear that the Green Party’s needs to assemble a policy team that understands energy issues, infrastructure development and logistics because this plan demonstrates a woeful lack of specific expertise on these topics and more. As this is only a blog post I won’t address all 20-steps here. Instead, I will address a handful of the steps on topics with which I am familiar.

To begin let’s start with the biggest challenge: modernizing the grid. This one is particularly important because many of their subsequent steps rely on easy access to copious amounts of low-carbon electricity.

9 – And modernize the grid

By 2030, rebuild and revamp the east-west electricity grid to ensure that renewable energy can be transmitted from one province to another.

While a necessary goal, if we are going to achieve our long-term climate ambitions, Canada’s vast and challenging geography has limited our ability to create a nationally integrated power grid. Even the most optimistic view has a new grid costing $25 billion and taking a couple decades to build. A more realistic appraisal puts the cost of a national backbone of 735 kV transmission lines at around $104 billion and taking 20 years to complete.

While a reasonable observer would note that $104 billion, while expensive, is doable; my biggest concern with “Mission Possible” is the time it allocates to achieve these goals. Put simply, building infrastructure takes time. Even war-time mobilizations can’t eliminate Canadian winters or the breeding/nesting seasons so unless we decide to ignore every environmental law on the books we will be limited to clearing and building over limited portions of the year.

One other thing is for certain. Building this grid will require a massive, permanent transfer of land rights. As we know from watching the pipeline debates, linear developments affect every community they go through and I can’t see affected First Nations voluntarily giving up rights to tens of thousands of hectares of land without consultation. Given recent history, I can’t see major work starting until years after the projects are proposed and, as demonstrated by the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, federal ownership of the project does not mean it will get a free ride through the courts. I have no doubt that any costs to build the transmission system will need to be supplemented with large sums to compensate individuals and First Nations affected by the grid upgrades.

As for the pace of the work? Well consultations take time and the court has made it abundantly clear you can’t rush consultations.

After the national backbone has been built we still will need to work on all the feeder lines that will have to go to every city, town and hamlet. Building transmission lines in Canada can be intensely expensive. Consider that the Northwest Transmission Line project in BC cost over $2 million a kilometer to build. As for the costs? If your single main line is $104 billion what will be the costs of 10’s of thousands of kms of feeder lines. Even taking into account the existing infrastructure we are talking stupendous sums to complete this task. It is simply not possible that we could achieve this goal by the year 2030.

This leads to an obvious problem, if the electricity isn’t there then where are all the electric vehicles going to get their electricity?

10- Plug in to EVs

By 2030 ensure all new cars are electric. By 2040, replace all internal combustion engine vehicles with electric vehicles, working with car makers to develop EVs that can replace working vehicles for Canadians in rural areas. Build a cross-country electric vehicle charging system so that drivers can cruise from St. John’s, NL to Prince Rupert, B.C. – with seamless ease.

Many others have written about the challenges of decreasing the number of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles on our roads so I won’t repeat their criticisms here. Instead, let’s consider the load forecasts. As I previously calculated to simply replace the gasoline burned in BC (and accounting for increased efficiency of electric vehicles over ICE vehicles) would require approximately 15,800 GWh of electricity (or about 3 Site C dam Equivalents [5,100 GWh]). Want to replace all those diesel vehicles? That is about the energy equivalent to 11,400 GWh (2.2 Site C Dams). These are not trivial numbers and they represent British Columbia’s demand only. In combination with other steps (discussed below) the increase in electricity demand will require us to essentially double our national electricity generating capacity. Renewable are great, but the scale of this problem seems not to have been noticed by the policy folks at the Green Party. We are talking about absolutely massive increases in our electricity generation system with all the associated costs and time limitations built into those upgrades.

12- Complete a national building retrofit

Create millions of new, well-paying jobs in the trades by retrofitting every building in Canada – residential, commercial, and institutional – to be carbon neutral by 2030.

I live in a relatively efficient 25-year old house. Like most of my neighbours, my heat and hot water are natural gas and my house was not built to passive housing standards. To re-fit my house to become “carbon neutral” would require removing and replacing the heating and hot water systems (and a lot of insulation upgrades which I won’t go into in this post) and I am not alone.

According to the National Energy Board, in British Columbia 58% of households rely on natural gas for heating, in Ontario it is 67% and in Alberta it is 79%. In order to achieve step 12 we would need to retrofit all those houses by 2030. Consider that according to StatsCan Ontario had 5,169,175 households in 2016. 67% of that number represents around 3,500,000 houses needing retrofitting or about 350,000/yr by 2030. That is essentially 1,000/day every day of the year between now and 2030, so it will certainly create jobs.

I would also note that any requirement to retrofit will require some sort of compensation to home-owners required to expend thousands of dollars to replace perfectly functional hot water heaters and furnaces. Sure one might argue that the government could simply refuse to provide compensation, but a program that alienates 67% of households in Ontario would never pass political muster. No sane government would try it and so the only way it happens is if the government pours billions of dollars into the program.

Since this blog likes to consider energy, let’s also consider what this means for load forecasts. According to our natural gas supplier the natural gas for household use represents about 64 Petajoules (PJ) of energy in British Columbia alone. Put another way 64 PJ is equivalent to about 17,750 GWhr or more than 3 Site C Dams worth of additional power in BC alone. These numbers are starting to add up pretty fast now aren’t they?…and we haven’t even considered the commercial or institutional retrofits.

13- Turn off the tap to oil imports

End all imports of foreign oil. As fossil fuel use declines, use only Canadian fossil fuels and allow investment in upgraders to turn Canadian solid bitumen into gas, diesel, propane and other products for the Canadian market, providing jobs in Alberta. By 2050, shift all Canadian bitumen from fuel to feedstock for the petrochemical industry.

A lot of people agree that it is desirable that Canada be self-sufficient in oil. While a positive idea, it ignores the geographic/infrastructure realities of Canada. In 2018, Canada produced about 4.6 million barrels per day (MMb/d) of crude oil. The problem is that western Canada produced about 95% of that oil and the vast majority of the consumption takes place in Eastern Canada. In 2017, the Hibernia, oil field generated about 220,800 barrels/day (b/d). The Irving refinery in Saint John, meanwhile consumes 320,000 b/d all on its own. Put simply all of the Newfoundland and Labrador oil production is insufficient to supply that one refinery in the Maritimes, it doesn’t come close to replacing the oil imported to supply the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario.

The Green Party has spent the better part of a the last two decades blocking the mass movement of oil from western Canada to Eastern Canada. We simply cannot get the oil from where it is produced to where it is used absent a massive investment in infrastructure (like say an Energy East pipeline). Absent that investment we cannot end oil imports in Eastern Canada.

As for the idea of developing a 4 MMb/d petrochemical industry in Alberta? That is simply magical thinking. Due to their volatile nature petrochemicals are generally produced close to where they are consumed so good luck finding foreign investors willing to cover the costs. This would be another multi-billion dollar government investment in fossil fuel infrastructure….you know the type of subsidy the Green Party loudly supports every day. Since this blog is getting long, I won’t delve further into that topic.

14 – Switch to bio-diesel

Promote the development of local, small scale bio-diesel production, primarily relying on used vegetable fat from restaurants. Mandate the switch to bio-diesel for agricultural, fishing and forestry equipment.

This represents another case of the Green’s identifying a technology that sounds good on paper but has significant concerns when you look more deeply. It ignores the challenges of scale. Specifically, how many restaurants do the Green’s think exist in Saskatchewan to replace all the agricultural diesel?

Additionally, switching over to pure bio-diesel poses significant challenges for modern engines. Bio-diesel produces less energy per liter and has significant issues with filter plugging and engine compatibility when it represents more than about 20% of the blend. It is another case of the Green Party saying something that sounds clever until you take a close look under the hood.


I think I can stop here. I have looked at only 5 of the 20-steps and shown each one to be impossible/impracticable in the time-frame provided. I haven’t even mentioned that step 7 – “Ban Fracking” would make it impossible to develop geothermal energy resources or that the “ban fracking” statement is inconsistent with most recent science (the Scientific Review of Hydraulic Fracturing) on the topic.

Rather let’s just recognize that from my brief review it is clear that the Green Party either lacks the internal expertise to create reasonable policy or it has chosen to ignore that internal expertise when producing its policy proposals. I say this because I am not providing particularly earth-shattering insight here. The information I have noted is understood by literally hundreds, if not thousands of informed analysts across the country and any one of them could provide a detailed analysis of the flaws in this proposal to build on what I have presented here.

If the Green Party wants to be taken seriously in October, it has to start imagining that its signature polices are going to be looked at more closely than they were in the past. This “Mission Possible” document makes it clear they are not yet ready for such scrutiny.

Posted in Climate Change, Climate Change Politics, Renewable Energy, Site C, Uncategorized | 13 Comments