David Suzuki: Oilsands and pipeline debates hindered by lack of Canadian energy plan

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      The ongoing pipeline debates have become mired in conspiracy theories, distractions, and misinformation. Is there nothing we can all agree on?

      To begin, who would deny that our most basic human needs are clean air and water, productive soils, and a diversity of species? It isn’t controversial to argue that we must protect these necessities of life.

      We also need energy—from a mix of sources. Oil will be in that mix for the foreseeable future. But surely we can all agree that burning fossil fuels at the current or greater rate is not healthy for humans and the environment. Rational people also agree that doing so is driving dangerous climate change that threatens human existence.

      Where does that leave us? Canada has tremendous natural wealth, especially energy resources. But we have no plan to guide us in the way we extract and use them or in how we get energy to Canadians. Indeed, one rarely reads of a national energy plan without seeing a reference to the “hated” National Energy Program brought in by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government in 1980 and killed after Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government won the 1984 election.

      That plan was a response to the 1970s energy crisis, when oil prices skyrocketed. Its aims were to promote energy self-sufficiency and Canadian ownership, maintain supply, keep prices in check, promote oil exploration and alternative energy sources, and increase government revenues. But it ticked people off in Alberta. They saw it as federal meddling in provincial affairs.

      Regardless of the successes and failures of the NEP, history shouldn’t prevent us from joining the rest of the developed world in getting an energy strategy in place. To that end, the David Suzuki Foundation is formulating a long-range plan, working with the Canadian Academy of Engineering on the Trottier Energy Futures Project.

      It’s where I find common ground with people ranging from industry and union leaders to Alberta’s new conservative premier, Alison Redford, and several other Canadian premiers. Redford calls her idea a “Canadian Energy Strategy” to avoid the dreaded NEP association.

      With so many bright people considering various plans, surely we can find a way to resolve some serious problems we’ve created. A solid strategy, developed with input from Canadians from all walks of life, would help us make more rational decisions about the oil sands and pipelines, as well as about other energy sources, including renewables and cleaner alternatives.

      Should we send more of our raw bitumen to refineries in the U.S. or China via new pipelines? Keep in mind that the Keystone pipeline, now on hold in light of President Barack Obama’s decision to reject the current proposal, is not for supplying the U.S. with oil, but to take the bitumen to Texas for refining and eventual export.

      I agree with former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed, one of the NEP’s staunchest opponents, on this one. Lougheed has sensibly argued that shipping all our bitumen to the U.S. or China for refining means sending jobs to those countries instead of keeping them here.

      Lougheed has also argued that we should behave like owners of the oil sands; that we need to slow down development, get our share of the wealth, and save some of the riches and resource for the future.

      I couldn’t agree more. We Canadians have to remember that oil corporations—whether they’re from China, the U.S., Canada, or wherever—are tenants on our land, not landlords. We should be calling the shots, and deriving the benefits.

      It’s time to get beyond conspiracy theories about small amounts of U.S. funding for environmental groups, insults about “radicals”, and cheap marketing slogans like “ethical oil”. (The David Suzuki Foundation gets less than 10 percent of its funding from foreign sources, very little of which is used for climate and energy work.)

      We shouldn’t sell any more of our raw materials or resource industry, expand oil sands production, or build new pipelines until we have a plan in place to ensure that Canadians benefit first—from the energy, the jobs, and the wealth. And we should make damn sure that whatever we do, we do it in a way that minimizes the impact on the environment.

      David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author, and cofounder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation editorial and communications Specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.



      Canadian Citizen

      Jan 24, 2012 at 5:14pm

      I do not care what david suzuki says on any of these issues because he has made millions on the enivorment scam!


      Jan 24, 2012 at 6:17pm

      Why does the first comment on every Suzuki article slam him for making money from his decades of work? The cynicism on the internet makes my head spin sometimes.


      Jan 24, 2012 at 8:03pm

      Whaaaaaat? C'mon, we have a National Energy Plan, baby, it's like this:

      Dig the dirt, wash the scum out with super-heated river water, and ship it in a pipe, where it groans along like a painful bowel movement!

      bill mack

      Jan 24, 2012 at 8:12pm

      Ticked Off people in Alberta? Those hard working Albertans had to walk away from their mortgages because their employers pulled out of Canada. It is well known that Suzuki hates Alberta, but where would he be without the CBC?


      Jan 24, 2012 at 8:35pm

      Amazing how he can turn the NEP which sucked billions out of Alberta into a spat with the parents. The Alberta gov't has already dropped roylaties to 5% on almost every well. If the feds come begging, Albertans will be left with nothing.


      Jan 24, 2012 at 8:40pm

      Excellent idea and about time. I hope Premier Redford is successful in bypassing Harper on this.

      One of the grievous errors the Trottier report starts with is the idea that eliminating 80% of our GHG's by 2050 is good enough, soon enough, and the best we can do.

      Peer reviewed science published in reputable journal as opposed to junk science from the world's leading global warming denier organization Greenpeace, tells us that global warming may trigger civilization even biosphere ending uncontrollable methane escape from frozen methane deposits in as little as 5 years. We don't have until 2050.

      Lets hope the Trottier study doesn't get the same dubious award greenie superstar George Monbiot bestowed on Greenpeace.

      "..This year, the environmental movement to which I belong has done more harm to the planet's living systems than climate change deniers have ever achieved. .."

      Joe Romm has in a recent paper shown that the old
      Greenpeace favorite natural gas as a bridge is a particularly deadly dead end.


      That the wind/solar/gas backup scam gets almost all its energy from the gas means this wind/solar cannot even be a part of a solution until some cheap form of green storage can be developed. The cheapest available - pumped hydro - adds a buck a kwh to the wind/solar dead end.

      Large scale geothermal is massively polluting with sulfur emissions, causing earthquakes,and dependent on not yet invented technology, biofuels are earth raping air polluters potentially killing as many as coal, and wave/ tidal are far to expensive to be of any use.

      Carbon sequestration is a foolish idea, enormously costly, unproven technology with deadly CO2 gas pipes laid down all over the countryside waiting to wipe out entire communities.

      The worlds number one greenie superstar and climatologist James Hansen maintains that only nuclear power whatever its perceived but nonexistent warts and at near the limit of our resources could replace fossil fuels over the next 15 years - the only in time clean energy solution available to Canada.

      Note that wind energy requires an impossible 100 times as much steel and concrete per kwh as nukes. The windfarms necessary to replace the Darlington nuke plant would need 1300 sq. miles of land. We need over 50 Darlingtons nationwide to replace fossil fuels.

      As the fossil fuels are replaced with nuclear the fossil fuel jobs and revenue is replaced with nuclear jobs and revenue at a 40% per rate of return on investment. Most Canadians already accept nuclear as an energy source despite almost forty years of anti nuclear propaganda from Big Oil and its Big Media stenographers.

      Lets hope Trottier for the first time, comes up with a plan based on reason and not politics.


      Jan 24, 2012 at 8:44pm

      BC and Canada should be self sufficient and sustainable in energy. We have to look at how we are going to get our energy. We must do a complete and thorough study of all ways we can generate energy, whether it be hydro, coal, solar, geothermal, wind, nuclear, wood, biofuels, gas or any other source of energy. All methods must be examined in public and these results must be made public. These studies are not to be done in private behind closed doors. The BCUC was too public for Campbell, so he ended its service. It told him that some power plans he had were not in the public interest. Only after such a study can we use an energy source. We must do this so our energy sources are sustainable and not harmful to the environment.
      For example, with the Site C Dam project, we would look at the need, if any, the costs to the environment, people displaced, farmland lost, loss of a carbon sink, water use downstream and the generation of energy without producing GHG’s.
      No undertaking such as mining, housing developments, highways, etc. can be done without an open environmental and sustainability analysis. We must be careful not to remove too many plants or trees, as we need them to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. Other wastes must be recycled rather than thrown into landfills or oceans. Recycling must become a major activity in our sustainable culture.

      We must develop a national and provincial energy plan so we can look forward and know we can have a healthy life for future generations.

      Christy Clark

      Jan 24, 2012 at 8:45pm

      There is nothing wrong with making money. It is the friends that one keeps that inevitably lead to judgements of ones character.

      Nuc Proponent.

      Jan 24, 2012 at 10:55pm

      You want an energy plan? Well I have one for you. Chevy Volt in every garage or dirveway and a nuc powerplant in every county. Do it right of course. Study what happened at the other Fukushima (Daini) power plant (only 20 kms away) which survived the earthquake and tsunami and was safely shut down. Study what France is doing to their reactors right now in response to Fukushima Diachi. Make sure when we have natural disasters that there won't be meltdodwns. If you havn't built the power plant yet build a PWR or CANDU. America had a melt down at 3 Mile Island which was a PWR in 1979 survived it very nicely. I would expect the same for CANDU. Go ask GE-Hitachi how to deal with nuclear waste. They have some ideas of how to get rid of the real bad stuff current reprocesing methodes can't touch. They are saying 300 or is it 600 years storage time not tens of thousands. Part of their solution involves CANDU. Get the US to speed up its laser cannon research. We can I believe shoot down North Koreas missles. Iran's are next in only a few years. After that the big missles. Put envoronmental controls on mining uranium to minimize its environmental impact. Better yet have GE Hitachi get with the Russians to turn their liquid sodium breeder reactors into Integral Fast Reactors. These things can make 50 times as much energy out of a pound of uranium as can current methodes, and out of any sort of uranium. Get fusion going as fast as possible. Experts think they can do it by 2040 or something like that. If we can make that methode work goodbye meltdowns and nuclear waste.
      Ok so you are afraid of nuclear power and want to do it the non nuc way? Consider this. Renewables so far have always required big subsidies. There has to be some sort of fossile fuel backup when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow. Plus I have read stories of fire departments refusing to put out fires in buiildings with solar panels because of the poisonous gasses they give off when they burn. Gas with new technologies is real good in terms of environmental impact. But there is some. Plus a decision to reject nuclear power is likely to result in continued use of coal, oil and oil sands for a while which is a big envirnomental disaster if it isn't done right. I grew up in California and remember killer smogs. They could come back. I remember acid rain in Upstate NY. I have read about desolate areas resulting from oil drilling, and lets not forget Deepwater Horizon. I have seen David Suzuski's programs on the oil sands, and see the Canadians sleep walking right into a Chernobyl scale disaster.
      All in all I think nuclear done right is better than anything else. And I am saying this as a former anti nuc.

      hey seth!

      Jan 24, 2012 at 11:42pm

      Move to Fukushima, asshole. You are already brain dead.