Climate change: when are we going to start talking about the costs and other implication of abandoning fossil fuels?

Dorothy Dobbie
Issues in the news

Let us set aside for the moment the issue of whether or not climate change is an existential threat to humankind. A good portion of the world believes it is and is bent on reducing the threat by limiting carbon emissions. 

However, they are ignoring some realities that must be contemplated before shutting down fossil fueled energy.

First is this notion that we can achieve net zero carbon emissions by the year 2030, just a little better than seven years from now. Even the most fervid proponents have basically conceded that this will not happen and have reset the target (again) this time for 2050.

Why is this necessary? Well, here are a couple of hard cold facts:

1. The methods in play to reduce emissions are illusory. The Canadian strategy of using to carbon taxes to reduce emissions will have virtually no impact on reducing fossil fuel consumption. This is clear from the effect of the current price of gasoline. People are still driving because, in this world and how it is structured, they must, and they want to. A 50 per cent increase in the price of gasoline has not substantially curbed usage – it has just made everything far more expensive. An example is the impact on heating with what used to be relatively inexpensive natural gas. Today, federal tax on heating our homes is close to 25 per cent of the total bill. 

2. Even if you want to, you can’t stop heating homes. But the high cost of fuel currently has a negative monetary impact on those trying to find alternative methods, because costs are front-end loaded, inefficient and don’t completely replace fossil fuel needs anyway.

3. If you to get “off the grid”, which is almost impossible, and opt for solar (only possible where you have huge amounts of land to accommodate the panels needed) or wind (again, only useful for rural dwellers), these two methods provide only sporadic power. Storing the energy created at peak times is incredibly expensive and resource hungry. We just cannot produce enough nor do we have efficient-enough batteries to accommodate that storage. There is currently a raft of ideas about energy storage that have not been proven and are often so inefficient that the cost of creating them cannot be recovered. One study* estimates that electrifying the U.S. economy without hydrocarbon-based generation, including the cost of battery backup for 31 days at 2020 demand would require storage costing $77 trillion, almost four times the current U.S. GDP.

4. Even with hydroelectricity, transmission costs based on the current generation system are prohibitive and inefficient. Many more dams would need to be built close to consumption to meet demand, something that takes decades and huge amounts of money.

5. Most alternative methods of producing energy are much less efficient than fossil fuels. You name them: wind, solar, hydrogen, nuclear, heat pumps, biofuel: none of these methods can hold a candle to the simple efficiency of using what the sun and the plants and time have created for us.

6. Finally, the Chinese are increasing emissions faster than the First World can mitigate theirs. This, despite massive vehicle electrification. “Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 (the last year before the Covid recession) were 20 megatonnes lower than the increase in China’s emission between 2019 and 2021 (during the pandemic when things were shut down).”**

So, what is the best course of action? If the people who make the rules on this planet are bent on changing our energy sources, they need to set a more realistic timeline – say 50 to 80 years from now – and to critically examine all their flawed premises.

We must face how we would power all the proposed electrical vehicles if we replace fossil fuels as quickly as we are told we need to. However, proponents of energy change are reluctant to discuss these realities publicly because the public would be up in arms. But if we do not face the facts squarely, we are in for some turbulent times ahead.

*Quote Sources: * Robert Lyman, Canadian economist and policy advisor in the Canadian government.

**Parker Gallant a Canadian banking analyst specializing in the energy sector.