SCIENCE MATTERS: Economy reliant on fossil fuels

NANAIMO – Prime Minister Stephen Harper is determined to make Canada an energy superpower, fuelled mostly by Alberta’s tar sands.

Energy is on everyone’s minds these days. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is determined to make Canada an energy superpower, fuelled mostly by Alberta’s tar sands.

Meanwhile, Alberta Premier Alison Redford, elected to lead a province with a strong economy, now finds energy price fluctuations are reducing provincial revenues. Saskatchewan is booming from oil, gas and uranium revenues, and B.C. Premier Christy Clark plans to vastly expand exploitation of liquefied natural gas, which requires huge amounts of energy and involves the highly contentious practice of fracking.

While Quebec Premier Pauline Marois maintains a moratorium on fracking, New Brunswick Premier David Alward claims it’s an energy opportunity for his province. Former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s progressive Green Energy Act is under serious attack, and Prime Minister Harper eagerly embraces exploration for oil as Arctic sea ice and tundra melt from the warming climate.

Politicians who want to make significant change must focus primarily on re-election if they are to see their agendas come to fruition. That means they must respond to immediate economic demands while leaving longer-term problems like climate change and water issues on the back burner. Surely the enduring consequences of today’s actions or inactions must be a priority. We’ll be living with the ramifications of the current crop of politicians’ decisions and actions long after they’ve been relegated to history. Crisis is a powerful motivator, as we saw during the economic crash of 2008. In a matter of weeks, President George W. Bush and his successor, Barack Obama, committed hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out banks and automobile companies – without imposing any conditions that might get them to change their ways. I was astounded at the speed and scale of these actions, compared to the ineffectual snail’s pace on ecological issues that threaten the survival of our species and our way of life and society.

Nations that export fossil fuel too often become overreliant on that sector. That destabilizes the economy (as we’re seeing in Alberta), distorts priorities (leading to the so-called “Dutch disease” where other parts of the economy are neglected or ignored) and undermines democracy by holding government hostage (as we saw in the enormous lobbying power of industry in the last U.S. presidential election).

The future of energy in Canada will determine the fate of our society. This is about the type of country we will leave to our children and grandchildren.

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