Author Jeremy Rifkin makes case that Canada is risking its economic future by keeping spigot wide open for oil and gas
Global demand for oil and natural gas will crash within a decade, according to Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends.
And in his new book, The Green New Deal: Why the Fossil Fuel Civilization Will Collapse by 2028 and the Bold Economic Plan to Save Life on Earth, Rifkin argues that this could have extremely serious economic ramifications for Canada and the United States.
That's because these two western industrialized nations have been slow to adapt to a world in which it's possible to generate zero marginal-cost renewable energy.
The Maryland-based economics and energy consultant even includes a section in his book about a $40-billion investment into a natural-gas pipeline, LNG plant, and export terminal in British Columbia. It's cited as an example of the blind eye that the Canadian government is showing to global economic realities.
"While the Trump administration is at least up-front about its avowed commitment to exploit every possible opportunity to bring natural gas online for both domestic consumption and export," Rifkin writes, "the Canadian government uses every public opportunity to flaunt its leadership in decarbonizing Canada and its prominent role in rallying the world to address climate change."
"But when it comes to issuing permits and underwriting gas projects, Canada has missed no opportunity to be at the head of the pack," he adds. "The negative economic consequences of these misguided policies to keep the fossil fuel spigot wide open in North America are ominous, for the United States, Canada, and the world."
Citing research from the Rocky Mountain Institute, Rifkin declares that in the U.S. alone, this could lead to US$1 trillion in stranded assets by 2030 for the power and electricity industry.
He predicts this will occur as solar and wind energy prices fall even lower cheaper and offer up zero planet-warming emissions.
He also points out that rising solar- and wind-power generation led to losses of US$148 billion in the European electricity sector from 2010 to 2015.
That's because the Europeans stimulated these industries with feed-in tariffs to reward homeowners and businesses that sold renewable power back into the grid.
"It's worth remembering that the fossil-fuel-based power and electric utilities in EU countries collapsed when renewable energies comprised only 14 percent of the total market, leaving a heap of stranded assets behind," Rifkin writes.
Now, many of these subsidies have been scaled back because these renewable energy sources are far more economically competitive.
It's worth noting that Canada is the fourth-largest producer of crude oil and fifth-largest producer of natural gas in the world. And it aims to sell an increasing share to Asia now that the United States is self-sufficient in fossil fuels.
However, according to Rifkin, China is also the top producer of solar and wind energy technology. He points out that the country's latest five-year plan calls for the installation of these renewable energy systems in every region of the country.
Rifkin has been an advisor to some of China's highest-ranking energy executives. And he acknowledges that the country is increasing natural gas consumption over the short term to offset the phasing out of coal use. But he insists that the country's longer-term goal is to jack up solar and wind power generation and eliminate virtually all fossil-fuel use.
"The disruption is already beginning to happen," Rifkin declares in The Green New Deal.
The book is a follow-up to his 2011 bestseller, The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World.
In 2017, Vice Media released a documentary based on the book, which explored how distributed renewable energy generation and the sharing economy were going to bring transformative changes. Rifkin talked about his ideas at a lecture in 2018 at the University of British Columbia. (See below.)
Yet he suggests in his new book that much of the rest of the world has failed to take notice of the growth of distributed and more decentralized renewable-energy generation in Europe and China.
"The major gas-producing nations are upping natural gas production, installing pipelines across continents, and establishing cross-ocean supply lanes in a frenzied pace to capture the global market," Rifkin writes.
In The Green New Deal, he also delivers a critical analysis of the costly LNG Canada plant in B.C. and its associated pipeline. The project is being fought by Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and B.C.'s environmental movement.
The B.C. NDP government, on the other hand, has offered to give up $6 billion in revenue over 40 years to help the Shell-led consortium, according to the Vancouver Sun.
In addition, the Trudeau government provided $275 million to support the project.
That's created a widespread impression that this capital investment will yield a bonanza of government revenues in the future. But Rifkin warns in his book that this optimism is misplaced.
"Less known by the public is that energy forecasters and analysts who have scoped the project are reticent and even guardedly pessimistic about the wisdom of locking British Columbia and the rest of Canada into a natural gas future that will be amortized over many decades," Rifkin writes.
"The Brattle Group published a nuanced report on the future prospects of LNG back in January 2016—two years and eight months prior to the formal announcement of the project—raising serious concerns about Canada shipping LNG to China, in light of the blitzkrieg competition there from solar and wind energies," he continues. "Its reticence should have raised some red flags but apparently was either ignored or not taken seriously."
The report indicated that North American suppliers need delivered LNG prices in Asia to be in the US$10 to US$11 range per million British thermal units to be profitable.
According to Reuters, spot LNG prices fell this month below US$5 per million BTUs—less than half what the Brattle Group said was necessary back in 2016 for North American LNG projects to be profitable.
Reuters has also reported that prices will fall below US$4.60 per million BTUs by March.
In The Green New Deal, Rifkin bluntly states that in the U.S. and Canada, "the commercial case for the continued introduction of large-scale natural gas projects no longer exists because of the ever-cheaper cost of generating solar and wind electricity".
"Whether it is the rush to invest massive amounts of finance capital in natural gas extraction and power generation or in carbon capture and storage technology, when the former is no longer cost-competitive and the latter is not technologically feasible or commercially viable, it brings to mind the old adage, 'if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging,' " he writes. "Just leave the fossil fuels in the ground."