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Politicians are green until they're intimidated by the electoral price:
An economic recovery fuelled by low-carbon technology is possible, but
will voters prefer cheap energy?
By Don Pittis, CBC News
Posted: Sep 15, 2016 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Sep 15, 2016 5:00 AM ET
You can boast to your grandchildren that you lived through a
technological revolution. That is, if you're lucky.
But rather than speeding us through a capitalist-led transformation to a
high-tech low-carbon economy, politicians seem to be getting cold feet,
fearful that voters won't accept the short-term pain of the costs involved.
Everything sounded so different only nine months ago, when world leaders
held hands as they celebrated a "historic" deal to defeat climate change.
Suddenly, it seems, now that it's time to pay the bill, everyone has
forgotten their recent enthusiasm for saving the world. There are signs
politicians may be backing away from the difficult process of convincing
voters that making the transition is worth the cost.
n Ontario, Premier Kathleen Wynne appears to be retreating from one of
the essential parts of making green power work: higher electricity
costs. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being urged by a ghost from the
past, former prime minister Brian Mulroney, to push through the Energy
In British Columbia, home to one of the most environmentally friendly
electorates in North America, Premier Christy Clark has left increased
carbon taxes out of the province's latest climate plan and is pushing
ahead with new fossil fuel developments.
Nobody said fighting climate change would be easy. But despite some
enormous difficulties, we may be just on the verge of a tipping point
that experts say will be good for business and good for the entire economy.
Signs are everywhere, but there were two transformational announcements
just this week.
Only three years ago when I wrote about the Tesla battery-powered
automotive revolution, doubters outnumbered supporters of the idea. The
skeptics said electric cars were too expensive, too short-range and
Now the world's largest car companies have joined the race to perfect
the battery-powered car. This week, U.S. giant General Motors released
the all-electric Bolt, with a range of nearly 400 kilometres, outdoing
Another reason offered for why green technology would never take off was
that wind and solar were intermittent power sources requiring fossil
fuel backup. Battery technology, we were told by groups like the
Calgary-based climate change skeptics group Friends of Science, will not
Well this week, that objection, too, took another big step toward not
being true, if it ever was.
On the Scottish island of Gigha, a company called redT is installing
something called vanadium flow batteries that the company says will
prove the technology is ready for widespread commercial use.
"The technology has moved faster than anyone has expected," company
chief executive Scott McGregor told the Financial Times.
Electric cars and vanadium storage may not yet be in a state of
perfection, but they are two examples in a single week that show that
technology being created by disruptive industries is advancing by leaps
Going through a disruptive energy transition is nothing new to us. We
did the same thing when we went from wood heat to coal.
In that transition, politicians escaped most of the blame because wood
was running out and getting expensive. That's just not true this time.
It's hard to imagine that as recently as 2009 we were all doing stories
about peak oil, the moment when oil would go the way of wood, sending
prices up toward a prohibitive $300 a barrel.
For environmentalists and oil producers, peak oil now seems like a bad
joke. Another thing we also learned this week was that the glut of oil
on world markets is growing. And there is plenty more in the pipeline.
This week we heard that the Kashagan field in the Caspian Sea, one of
the world's largest new discoveries, will go into production next month.
If oil and natural gas continue to be cheap, the only thing standing
between us and a world damaged by climate change will be the resolve of
Energy has to be more expensive. Pipeline opponents must be given a
voice, even if it hurts the established giants of the doomed fossil fuel
economy. Carbon has to cost us more.
But in a democracy, politicians can't act alone. Without loud voices of
political support, environmentally inclined governments quite rightly
fear they will be pitched out and replaced by those willing to sacrifice
the future to relieve short-term pain.
Capitalism has demonstrated it's up to the job. All that green
technologies need to become the motors of a brilliant new disruptive
industrial boom is a little economic push to get them over the hump.
Changing our ways will mean a little pain. If voters are able to bite
the bullet and make it happen, if politicians can help persuade them,
that will be something to tell the grandchildren.
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