Environment Commissioner off base connecting climate and energy

Posted 13 October 2014 by in Featured

OTTAWA – OP-ED – In her first report to Parliament as the new Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Julie Gelfand promotes the myth that we can control the climate of planet Earth by changing the way we generate energy.

In “Mitigating Climate Change”, Chapter 1 of Gelfand’s report released on Tuesday, she writes, “If countries fail to reduce their [carbon dioxide] emissions, the large environmental and economic liabilities we will leave our children and our grandchildren—such as more frequent extreme weather, reduced air quality, rising oceans, and the spread of insect-borne diseases—will likely outweigh any potentially positive effects, such as a longer growing season.”

She then proceeds to assess the progress Canada has made with respect to renewable fuels, oil and gas regulations, energy efficiency standards for ships, reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from coal-fired electricity, and so on.

But what has climate change got to do with energy supply? Almost nothing.

Climate change issues are concerned with environmental hazards, whereas energy policy is concerned with supplying cheap and reliable electricity to industry and the public. Where is the relationship?

Until the 1980s, there was none. That one is now perceived testifies to the effectiveness of relentless lobbying by environmentalists and commercial special interests towards the idea that CO2 emissions from power-generation using hydrocarbon-based fuels will cause dangerous global warming and other problematic climate change.

This idea has become so entrenched that even prime ministers and presidents now misuse “carbon” as a shorthand for “carbon dioxide”, and often refer to it a pollutant. For example, during his 13-minute address at the UN’s Climate Summit 2014 in New York City on September 23, US President Barack Obama referenced “carbon pollution” seven times and “carbon emissions” five times.

Thunder Bay—Superior North Green Party MP Bruce Hyer surpassed even Obama’s rate of ‘carbon’ misnomers in House of Commons debates on Monday, committing the error 18 times in only about six minutes of speaking. The Harper government also makes this mistake—natural resources minister Greg Rickford and environment minister Leona Aglukkaq each did so once during Monday’s debate.

But CO2 is not ‘carbon’. Neither is it pollution, as Green Party leader Elizabeth May often labels it. It is an environmentally beneficial gas, the elixir of life for most of our planetary ecosystems. No evidence exists that the amount humans have added to the atmosphere is producing dangerous warming, or, indeed, any measurable temperature rise at all.

Many negative consequences flow from wrongly connecting energy and global warming issues. Foremost amongst them has been a lemming-like rush by governments to generously subsidize what are otherwise uneconomic sources of energy, solar and wind power in particular.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) asserts that worldwide investment in renewables (not counting large hydropower) amounted to an incredible $214 billion in 2013. IRENA explains that this rate of expenditure needs to more than double by 2030 in order to achieve the impossible goal of restricting ‘global temperature’ rise to two degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Politicians such Hyer and May paint alternative energy sources as environmentally virtuous because they are claimed to reduce CO2 emissions, and are both renewable and supposedly clean sources of power.

Wind and solar energy are certainly renewable when the wind blows and the Sun shines. But they are absent otherwise, so it’s tough luck if that’s when a hospital needs power to perform emergency surgery. Such intermittency also makes these sources entirely unsuitable to be major contributors to a national energy grid.

Besides dramatically increasing the cost of electricity, alternative energy sources are far less environmentally friendly than Hyer and May would have us believe. Wind turbines kill millions of birds and bats every year, and some rare species will undoubtedly be vulnerable to extinction if the pace of wind power expansion continues. Massive solar installations have a disastrous effect on desert ecosystems and incinerate important bird species.

These problems are becoming apparent even to the European Union, originally the world’s green energy leaders. For example, EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger recently stated in Berlin that European energy policy must change from being climate driven to being driven by the needs of industry.

All nations need to return to the historic separation that previously existed between energy policy and climate policy, analyzing and planning for each in accord with their own distinct requirements and resources. This means abandoning the naïve mantra of people such as Hyer, May, and Gelfand, that our energy choices affect global climate.

By Tom Harris and Bob Carter
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Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition. Dr Bob Carter is former professor and head of the School of Earth Sciences at James Cook University in Australia.

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