One of our most important freedoms is our freedom to choose our actions. But our actions depend upon our thoughts and feelings. If we allow our anger, fear and guilt to be manipulated by what we see in the media we are less free. This manipulation is often through emotionally laden words that trigger strong feelings.
There is so much in the media (especially social media) that impairs our ability to think critically about important issues. I want to encourage more analysis of facts and less emotional reaction by offering my explanation of the less than obvious issues as I see them. You may agree or disagree, but hopefully you will at least think about the issues rather than merely having strong feelings about them.
I don’t share my thoughts here to change the opinions of people who think differently. I share my thoughts to show people who already think like me that they’re not alone.
I am a retired litigation lawyer with over 45 years of experience in constitutional, environmental and energy law issues. I have appeared at all levels of court including the Supreme Court of Canada, and in every Canadian province. I have been invited as a guest lecturer at almost all of the law schools in Canada. I am also the author of over 100 legal articles and a law book, and have been an adjunct faculty member at four Canadian law schools.
Since retirement I have written numerous articles published in newspapers, think tank publications and law journals as well as this blog. I have also appeared in several TV and radio interviews, and testified as an expert witness before committees of the Canadian Senate and House of Commons.
You left out the greatest irony of all: without CO2 there would be no green plants at all.
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You are right. Governments are demonizing CO2 as “pollution” when it is the basis of all plant life, which is the basis of all animal life.
Nicely done. BTW, I added a comment. What’s happening with the new house? – Paul ________________________________
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We are leaving Sunday to BC to see what is happening with the house.
Thank you for your new article in ERQ. It is a serious eye opener. People may wonder how this hits home might consider, as you wrote, how their own municipality and province will be forced to adjust their OCPs yet again to incorporate the massive increased taxation needed for infrastructure costs like re-wiring the power poles to accommodate the demands of all these EV chargers. If we are even told. Our towns are charging ahead with these in order to join the EV highways to make our towns attractive to EV tourists or passerbys. $1.92 a car is unlikely to come close to paying for this new infrastructure, which isn’t even likely to be on the planning level of future budgets in municipalities yet. It sure isn’t on the Sunshine Coast, BC.
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Politicians love to set targets because that gets favourable media headlines, but usually they have no costed plan for how to achieve them.
Congratulations on the publication, Andrew.
The accompanying article in the same issue, “Canada’s 2030 Federal Emissions Reduction Plan: A Smorgasbord of Ambition, Action, Shortcomings, and Plans to Plan” seems to think there is a more concrete (although totally uncosted) plan to reduce emissions by nearly half, including removing gas from electricity grids, by 2030. The authors are clearly in favour of the idea. Yet in reading it, I am reminded of a man wielding a chainsaw, engine roaring and emitting clouds of exhaust fumes as he waves it at a big tree. He seems willing to graze away a few protruding strands of bark but is unable to push the saw into the wood of the tree to achieve real effect, as if he is afraid of the powerful saw kicking back at him. There is much talk of making binding contracts with various industrial sectors to commit them to reduce emissions that can’t be legislatively undone by the next government. There are some “tells” that indicate the government is not really serious, which I will leave the reader to find, like Easter eggs in movies.
The article was written in unawareness of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Great U-Turn now in progress so perhaps this will all just evaporate like every other plan to reduce emissions since Kyoto. Let’s hope so. Nothing has to date been legislated, regulated, or contracted.
Finally, I caution everyone that Net-Zero implies that emissions into the atmosphere will be balanced at some point by removal from it. This monumental task is not even addressed in the government’s plans, other than some grudging support for CO2-sequestration in the oil and gas sector. Even this baby step is bitterly resented by environmentalists who see it as subsidized greenwashing. But unless large-scale CO2 removal is embarked upon now, which it isn’t, the cheerful idea of Net-Zero will morph instead into the much grimmer mandate of Gross-Zero: no emissions at all.
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Nice work, Andrew! But I have two quibbles:
1) Anybody who utters the phrase “nuclear backup” (as you have) should immediately get a kind of anaphylactic choking reaction and shake their head and resolve to avoid linking those incompatible words and concepts henceforth.
The notion that a nuclear generating station might be intentionally derated so that it could be made available to increase its output at sunset or in response to a cloud or a lull (or storm) in the wind is hilariously unrealistic to students of electric grids and/or nuclear power. I have always taken you to be such a student, so your inclusion of nuclear power in that category has been shocking.
In fact, fossil fueled stations and hydroelectric stations can be designed and built to be flexible or “dispatchable”, or not.
A reliable system can be built on 100% dispatchable stations, but it is limited in its ability to accommodate inflexible generators, regardless of their reliability or the predictability of their output. But lower reliability and predictability also add problems.
In that regard, the 7 years that Ontario survived with no electricity from Pickering-A and part of Bruce-A (or France’s current nuclear problem) is not qualitatively different from the recent season when the wind farms of the EU and the UK experienced unusually low wind speeds.
2) I think the most important policy recommendations in energy and environment are the ones that come AFTER your recommendation that we all discuss and quantify the costs and benefits of our policy choices rather than applying simplistic labels to them.
I think that Canada’s “carbon tax” — our federal rebated tax on fossil CO2 emissions — is an excellent model of part of the answer. Our society must decide how much collective effort we are willing to expend on abating fossil CO2 emissions, and voting for or against a government that presents a plan for an escalating rebated tax is the least bad way for us to choose that level of effort.
We also have decisions to make about the value that we place on the renewability of our energy sources, and the reliability of our electrical grids and our sources of heating and transport fuels.
In Canada, our reliability decisions have traditionally been outsourced to professionals who did their jobs well enough to keep the issue out of Question Period. The decisions on renewability and CO2 emissions were also outsourced, which worked until we started caring about them.
Now we face tradeoffs and conflicts among those values, which are comparable to the tradeoffs and conflicts that we all constantly face whenever we decide to buy or do without one product or service or another one. And the decision always involves money! And the federal “carbon tax” uses federal policy to set a price level on our CO2-emissions decisions.
I believe that a rational approach to our decisions about reliability and renewability should probably follow that model.
I also believe that Ontario voters, in dismissing the impressive Kathleen Wynne in favor of the much less impressive Doug Ford, has indicated that the electorate’s willingness to pay higher prices for renewability is very limited. I don’t expect our willingness to pay high prices for low-carbon electricity to be as high as the Trudeau government predicts, and I expect our willingness to endure less reliable electricity (or gas or gasoline and diesel) to be negligible.
But those tradeoffs among the various costs and benefits are where the rubber will meet the road in our energy and environment policies.
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Norm, two questions about carbon taxing.
1) Doesn’t a carbon tax assume that the demand for fossil fuels is elastic enough that consumers will actually switch away from high-emitting consumption in favour of alternatives (like riding a bicycle and non-existent electric trains to work? OK, well-heeled consumers can buy a Tesla and use electricity on which they pay no road taxes, true.) But if the demand for gasoline is not elastic, consumers will burn as much as before and possibly try to economize elsewhere, like eating out less or cancelling piano lessons, which makes them poorer, hurts the larger economy, and doesn’t reduce emissions. Some mobile businesses have told customers they will only come to bid on small jobs when they get two requests in the same neighbourhood, fuel being so expensive.
Empirically, I suppose we will find out soon if gasoline consumption and emissions fell during the current dramatic gasoline price increases, which are only now coming down to what they were to have been when the carbon tax was fully implemented in 2030. Be that as it may, I don’t hear many people outside the Liberal government cheering that gasoline is at long last so much more expensive that finally we are going to save the planet. And a high market price helps the oil industry while a carbon tax at the same pump price helps kill it.
2) Setting the right level of tax on carbon dioxide seems attractive because you are pricing an externality, “the social cost of carbon”. But who can say what that cost is? If the elasticity of demand is zero, or if the urgency to get emissions down to prevent Climate Extinction is existential, then the proper tax is infinitely high, i.e., a total ban on fossil fuels. But if Canadians were to convince themselves that the amount of warming in Canada was likely to produce a net good (especially if it allowed our oil and gas industry to thrive), then there should not be a carbon tax at all, because price-incentivized reduction in consumption would leave us worse off financially, economically, and climate-wise. And of course if China and India aren’t playing the same game it doesn’t matter what we do.
Perhaps this is what you mean by, “Our society must decide how much collective effort we are willing to expend on abating fossil CO2 emissions, and voting for or against a government that presents a plan for an escalating rebated tax is the least bad way for us to choose that level of effort.” We could just vote out the carbon-taxers.
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This report was mentioned in a comment today on Manhattan Contrarian, (h/t George Olsen)
The link contains a pdf which envisions no nuclear, no fossil fuel for electricity, electrification of transport and space heating, no grid-level storage beyond a smidgen of batteries, and no use of direct carbon-capture that is really a subsidy for fossil fuel projects.
Andrew, you might find it particularly interesting as it is heavily oriented to Indigenous concerns and, while it doesn’t say so explicitly, I think its introduction alludes to the imagined UNDRIP Veto. It claims that all of Canada’s electricity generation and transmission capacity, present and future, lies on “unceded or treaty land”. The need to develop this capacity will accelerate the recognition of aboriginal title. Everywhere the power lines go, presumably.
Its optimism is not diminished by either the war in Ukraine generally or even by Germany’s experience with weather-dependent generation specifically, both of which it makes reference to. Indeed, Germany is held up as an example of the success that can be achieved with sufficient will.
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