Wasting effort on energy?

A pair of stories in this week’s news run offer food for thought about humanity’s addiction to energy, and pokes holes in the hypocrisy shown regarding the blame game people play on carbon emissions.

A pair of stories in this week’s news run offer food for thought about humanity’s addiction to energy, and pokes holes in the hypocrisy shown regarding the blame game people play on carbon emissions.

On Wednesday, the Globe and Mail reported on a study predicting what will happen in Canada under various global warming scenarios. The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy and the Royal Canadian Geographic Society have echoed an earlier (and more credible) article by scientist and author James Lovelock, who said that we should abandon costly and useless efforts to slow global warming and redirect those resources instead to adapting to it.

The Canadian effort tries to put a happy face on the process.

Sure, large parts of Halifax and Vancouver will be under seawater and the Great Lakes will be smelly, mucky dead zones, but we’ll be growing wheat on the tundra (assuming there’s soil on the tundra).

We won’t have to pay much for snow removal in the next decades, and our extended golf seasons won’t be disturbed as often by rain. Places that can grow food will have long growing seasons and farms that are still productive will probably command high prices for their crops.

The forests of B.C. will eventually burn but there will be new forests growing in other places.

The report is almost an absurdist exercise, but there you are. If the world is warming, the world is warming and we will just have to make the best of it, because there’s no way we can undo in decades what humanity has accomplished in centuries.

Particularly when we read reports done on a book published in June on global energy consumption.

How do you express how much energy we burn every year, all around the world? Authors Hewitt Crane, Edwin Kinderman and Ripudaman Malhotra have calculated a number everyone can understand: a cubic mile of oil. That became the title of their book published in June: A Cubic Mile of Oil: Realities and Options for Averting the Looming Global Energy Crisis.

Every year, the world burns a cubic mile of oil (one CMO). All other sources of energy: gas, coal, hydro, wind, solar, biomass and nuclear add up to another two CMOs, and that three-CMO figure is going to become nine CMOs, as developing nations assume a western standard of living. (You didn’t think we would be accepting theirs, did you?)

Every source of energy we can bring online will be needed to do that. One review of the book suggested the world would need to open one Three Gorges Dam a month for 50 years to supply that gap with hydro power.

If we did it with coal, we’d need 3,900 new coal mines, or 1,000 uranium mines, or 3 million wind turbines. Or a combination of all the above — and more.

Maybe the ‘dirty oil’ hypocrites will even have to accept a world that burns oil from the tarsands.

The point of all this is that nowhere does anyone suggest we can possibly conserve our way into the future. Turn off your lights, ride your bike to work and you’ll definitely see benefits — but slowing global energy consumption and slowing global warming won’t be among them.

Even rising prices don’t seem to slow growth in consumption. In the last two great oil price spikes (remember gasoline at $1.25 a litre?) consumption still increased.

Consumption is inelastic — nobody voluntarily accepts a lower standard of living, few people uses less energy, only more.

So don’t blame the producers of a commodity that everyone — critics included — is using more as time goes on. This train will not slow, even though the world gets hotter.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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