Is Canada's Public Service Infected By Unicorns and Fairy Dust?

By: Heather Douglas
Published: The Roughneck - September Issue

         "Lovers and madmen have such seething brains
           Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
           More than cool reason ever comprehends."
                        William Shakespeare (1564-1616), A Midsummer Night's Dream

      The eggheads in Policy Canada (Horizons), a think tank housed within the Public Service of Canada, recently pontificated that renewable energy will soon be so cheap it will be the norm. Perhaps the civil service has fallen so deeply in love with the notion that "dirty oil" is ruining the planet their brains have developed a form of temporary absurdity.
      In June, 2016, Policy Canada published a report entitled, Canada in a Changing Global Energy Landscape, where they gleefully preach the notion that renewable energy - solar and wind - will soon replace fossils fuels. The federal government's policy wonks, who were always presumed to evaluate every issue through an unbiased and impartial lens, believe this shift away from coal, oil and natural has will occur much quicker than anyone thought.
      The report hypothesizes the costs for renewables will nose dive, there are looming breakthroughs in electric storage and electric car technologies, and the globe will turn its collective back on fossils fuels causing the price of a barrel to plummet.
      What's driving these changes? The authors cite cost reduction, digital economy, as well as climate change and air pollution. "Many components of a renewable-based electricity system are declining in cost much faster than predicted due to advances in technology, economies of scale, and accelerating learning curves as experience with these system grows," they wrote.
      "The digital systems run on electricity and as the global economy shifts to become increasingly digital, the relative proportion of electricity in energy use will increase," they added. Furthermore, "developing countries are embracing renewable energy to meet their economic and development goals with trading off environmental quality and human health."
        The Fraser Institute dusted off its eyeglasses and called the report environmental wishful thinking. "Energy systems are massive, and being massive, they have massive momentum - they're slow to change, requiring many decades for one fuel to replace another," wrote Kenneth P. Green, an environmental scientist and director of the organization.
       " The risks of believing in fairytale high-speed change is in not realizing the kind of economic wreckage that can ensure by trying to rapidly rebuild the energy systems that are key to out prosperity, that keep the lights on and planes flying, and that give us a quality of life that is the envy of much of the world," Green added.
        What if the feds decided to implement Policy Canada's recommendations and mandate the elimination of these sources of fossil fuels within the next 10 to 15 years?
        Ultimately, policies that prohibit the use of conventional fuels would impede these lesser-known but no less valuable uses. This would have an enormously negative impact on the entire economy and also means that product development scientists must find new feedstocks -for industrial and consumer goods - in warp time.  
         According to Ranken Energy, an E&P company based in Oklahoma, approximately 46 percent of a barrel of oil used in North America is refined into gasoline, jet fuels, diesel, and lubricants. The rest - about 54 percent - is consumed in the fabrication of more than 6,000 products consumers need and use on a regular basis to:
  •          Save lives - anesthetics, antiseptics, aspirin, dentures, heart valves, prosthetics, etc.;
  • Clean humans and houses - cold cream, deodorant, shaving cream, mops, trash bags, shower curtains, plastics, etc.;
  • Enable the assembly of cars - sports car bodies, wheels, motor oils, etc.;
  • Entertain our children - balloons, crayons, juice boxes, cartoons on TV, etc.;
  • Track our friends and enables us to access the latest news and sports - cell phones, computers, iPads, Xboxes, etc.
  • Clothe us - blouses, dresses, pants, shoes, etc.; and
  • Keep us fit to participate in sports -footballs, skates, motorcycle helmets, footballs, fishing gear, skis, etc.
  "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"
       Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

        Maybe the Ottawa mandarins are not fools but steely-eyed realists. Perhaps they understand that conventional fuels are the backbone of the Canadian way of life. Canada's fossil fuels are efficient, abundant, and environmentally sound sources of energy. Possibly they think burning hydrocarbons to heat homes and to power vehicles is a colossal waste - and will soon be obsolete. Maybe they are actually advocating that every barrel of Canadian oil and cubic metre of natural gas produced - 100 per cent - should be refined into feedstock to manufacture industrial and consumer goods.
        Every lifestyle poll indicates that Canadians are not willing to make "significant changes to their current standards of living" yet want "to transition to clean, affordable energy." When probed about the 54 per cent of a barrel of petroleum which prevents deaths, enables spotless homes and clean paws, amuses the grand-kids, and gives them the latest electronic toys, their enthusiasm for shutting down fossil fuels diminishes.
       The energy industry needs to rethink how hydrocarbons are used. Burning it as fuel makes less and less sense. Whether it takes one or five decades to achieve, we support sustainable practices, the transition to clean, affordable energy, and focusing on producing the feedstock needed for consumer products.
       We salute the steely-eyed realists.

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