The Hot potato

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Mr. Gérard Montpetit examines the incoherence in Prime Minister Trudeau’s energy policy. Those countries which miss the turn to green energy will be the losers in the race for economic and political success in the 21st century.

The Hot Potato

Our very photogenic prime minister recently announced that Canada should « progressively phase out » the exploitation of the Alberta tar sands and our « dependence » on fossil fuelsi. One is tempted to applaud! But on a closer look, one sees that he is struggling like a devil in a cauldron of holy water outside the gates of hell.

In effect, Mr. Trudeau must choose between the anti-pipeline provinces like Quebec and British Columbia, and the interests of Alberta; between the oil industry magnates and the citizen opposition; between the oil economy with its short term goals and our international commitments for the reduction of greenhouse gases. In addition, he must protect the Canadian economy which must now face the aggressive protectionism of the Trump administration. In short, he is trying to catch all the hares at the same time; but, as in the proverb, he risks losing all by juggling so many contradictory objectives.

On the pro-oil side of this impossible equation, Mr. Trudeau has approved Enbridge’s Line 3 to the Northern United States and the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline to Vancouver. He has also approved the Pacific NorthWest project in British Columbia to export liquefied natural gas, mostly derived from hydraulic fracturing. Thus he decides to support the tar sands as Mr. Trump decides to revive Keystone XL. As Professor Annie Chaloux of the University of Sherbrooke says, Keystone XL « does not solve the incoherence between climate politics and energy politics in Canada« ii.

On the other side of this equation, Mr. Trudeau says he wishes to get out of the tar sands while constructing the infrastructure which will tie us to oil for at least 40 years! Is 40 more years of oil really « progressively phasing out«  the Alberta tar sands? That phrase seems to be an ill-advised attempt to square the circle. After his election in 2015, we all applauded when Mr. Trudeau and his minister of the environment, Ms. McKenna, accepted the conclusions of the 5th Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and said that they were anxious to ratify the Paris Agreement.

Rather than getting entangled in impossible contradiction, wouldn’t it be better to give the new forms of energy a chance? Much has been made of Mr. Trump’s assertion that climate change is a Chinese plot. But China itself wishes to level off its emissions before 2030 by becoming a leader in green energies.

As professor Matthew Kahn explains in the journal The Inertiaiii, China wants to improve the quality of life for its citizens who are faced with an intolerable level of pollution. Chinese leaders wish to conquer some promising markets by becoming a country of green technology innovation. They see this as the means to take a lead position in the race for economic and political supremacy.

If the climate deniers who surround Mr. Trump have not realized that green energies are the way of the future, the Chinese have. Mr. Trump can slow the progress of green energy in his country; he can’t stop it. All that he can achieve is to make his country an economic HAS BEEN.

Despite the conflicts of this « hot potato« , Mr. Trudeau must choose between the energies of the past or those of the future. Because, no offense to Mr. Trump, but the implacable law of the market (and of nature) is « the survival of the fittest« . Those who seize the moment in history will be the winners. Will Mr. Trudeau have the wisdom of the Chinese?

Gérard Montpetit

Membre du comité Non Schiste La Présentation

January 26th, 2017