The flat earth is back

One is sometimes tempted to imagine that the Flat Earth Society is still alive and well, and working energetically to turn back the clock––or at least check its forward progress.

The president of the USA imagines climate change to be “a Chinese hoax,” and promotes the business-as-usual energy economy of coal (toxic slag, black lung disease, mountaintop removal) and oil and gas (fracking, with its accompanying water contamination and earthquakes). Well, he understands energy (sort of). His jet goes zoom! His car goes vroom!

The oil and gas industry has been making us rich for decades, and we’ve all benefited to one degree or another. Its promoters argue that there’s no reason to change what has been so signally successful, and if there are such reasons, let’s just ignore them and milk the cash cow for as long as possible.

Buying a creaky pipeline for vast sums, Canada’s prime minister promotes the fantasy that we can dramatically increase our national output of greenhouse gases without affecting our ability to protect the environment! Totally absurd, but let’s just put on the rose-coloured glasses and everything will be pretty.

BC’s Premier Horgan has greased the wheels of LNG’s forward motion with huge tax breaks for the recently approved project’s developers. Movers and shakers have been flatulently congratulating one another on our far-sighted economic sagacity. Citizens salivating over rising real estate values clearly demonstrate that personal benefits loom far larger in Canadians’ calculus than growing and increasingly horrific climate-related tragedies elsewhere.

How easy it is to ignore or forget that the top three worst wildfire seasons in BC occurred this decade. (Terrace luckily dodged the bullet. Telegraph Creek didn’t.) Nine of the ten hottest global years since human record-keeping began have occurred since the year 2000. We now have forest fires in the arctic, for God’s sake! We watch footage of smoke hanging over Vancouver with a mixture of awe and smug satisfaction. After all, it’s not happening to us.

LNG supporters argue that we shouldn’t make “good” the enemy of “best.” One analysis claims that substituting our LNG for China’s coal in the generation of electricity will be the equivalent of taking millions of cars off the road. In other words, if complete absence of CO2 production as in solar electricity might be seen as “best,” LNG is nonetheless “good.” Thus, they instruct, let’s not complain. “Thank God,” we think, “it’s ok to be greedy after all.”

Canada’s industrial experts obviously prefer doing what they’ve already proven themselves good at: drilling and digging holes, fracking, laying pipe, and accepting plenty of government support. Reportedly, Canadian governments lavish up to $3.3 billion a year in subsidies to the oil and gas industry.

All these clumsy decisions in Canada’s energy policy are being taken when for a number of years now it has become increasingly obvious that real action on climate (which is not happening “anywhere near fast enough” according to scientists) offers remarkable new growth opportunities to do with sustainable infrastructure. According to the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, we are “grossly under-estimating the benefits of this new growth story,” worth as much as $26 trillion through to 2030 compared to business as usual.

Apparently, we can’t trust ourselves, big business, or politicians, as we continue blithely down the flat-earth road toward an unlivable planet.

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