Today’s Poll

Greening Up — Disrupting the Narrative

Michael Jessen
By Michael Jessen
February 8th, 2016

“It is impossible to argue with a story that simply reflects the experience of the storyteller.”Mary Pipher

Climate change has aroused the concern of the human family for decades through scientific analysis, media attention, and letters to the editor. Yet because a reported three percent sliver of scientists do not believe the phenomenon is either happening or human-caused, it has been possible for some people to remain skeptical or in denial.

Those few unwilling to believe have created a cottage industry of climate change refutation that has stalled action, especially in North America.

A government leader like B.C’s Premier Christy Clark can tout LNG development even though potential carbon pollution from the LNG facilities and associated shale gas extraction and processing would make B.C.’s climate targets unachievable, and would make it exceedingly difficult for Canada to meet its national 2020 target.

Clean Energy Canada reported in 2013 that Clark’s “cleanest LNG in the world” would emit more than three times the carbon pollution of that produced in current world-leading operations.

Clark’s fervent passion for LNG tax dollars and casual dismissal of the mounting severe consequences of climate change allow her to tell a story that labels project opponents as “forces of no.”

Like premiers before her (Socred Bill Bennett declared critics were “bad British Columbians” and Glen Clark called opponents of the NDP’s forest practices “enemies of B.C.”), Christy Clark spins a fictional flasehood complete with villains.

But post-Paris – where 195 countries agreed in December to voluntarily commit to save the planet from overheating by reducing greenhouse gas emissions – it is time to disrupt this narrative.

An inference can now be made that the benefits of certain actions that nations are taking to slay the dragon of global warming are – wait for it – undeniable. In fact, I will go so far as to say that proponents of these actions are “forces of know.”

These benefits are overwhelmingly positive and frame the new strategic story that must become part of our daily conversation.

In the television special Explorer: Bill Nye’s Global Meltdown which premiered last November 1 on the National Geographic Channel, Nye guided viewers through the “five stages of climate grief” – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – as a means of grappling with his own feelings about climate change.

What follows is the rationale for leaving the first four stages of climate grief behind and embracing acceptance.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

The retrofitting of existing buildings to make them more efficient and comfortable allows the building owners to spend less money on energy purchases.  Investments in renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass, and tidal result in substantially more jobs created (often triple or higher) than comparable investments in fossil fuel energy sources.

Climate Action Network Canada – a coalition of more than 100 organizations from across the country – estimates a suite of policy tools would help create 1 million jobs through investments in renewable energy, building energy retrofits, public transit, and high speed rail.

In 2013, the most recent year for which reliable data exists, Canada’s clean energy industries were together responsible for 26,900 direct jobs – up 14% over the previous year, a rate of growth that outpaced every other sector in the country.

More importantly, retrofitting and renewable energy jobs are created in local communities (rather than isolated work camps) where paycheques and purchases enjoy spinoff effects as the dollars are spent multiple times.

In addition to creating thousands of new jobs, retrofitting and renewable energy projects provide local governments with new sources of revenue from property, income and sales taxes that become available to support vital neighbourhood services, since such projects are more often situated in smaller rural communities.

Reduced health costs

Use of renewable energy also reduces the air and water pollution associated with development and use of such fossil fuel resources such as coal, natural gas, and oil sands. The health care burden – breathing problems, neurological damage, heart attacks and cancer – from these fuels has been estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars and affects millions of people.

A new analysis concludes that air pollution generated by energy production in the U.S. caused at least $131 billion in damages in the year 2011 alone. The paper found there’s been a decrease in the pollution associated with energy production as the social costs of air emissions in 2002 amounted to $175 billion indicating that stricter controls on the emission of air pollutants have proven effective.

This report corroborates the book Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use published in 2010 which conservatively estimated that the external effects of U.S. energy production, distribution and use added up to more than $120 billion for the year 2005.

The health impact costs associated with burning coal for electricity in Albertaare close to $300 million annually, undoubtedly one of the reasons Rachel Notley’s government has pledged a complete phase-out of coal-fired power plants and a move to more renewable energy by 2030.

Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy has been found to reduce premature mortality and lost workdays, and it will reduce overall healthcare costs.

Secure energy future

Strong winds, heat within the earth, moving water, and sunshine are providing a vast and constant energy resource supply that will last indefinitely unlike finite fossil fuels which will ultimately be depleted. As a bonus, they create no greenhouse gases.

The latest figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows global dollar investment growing in 2015 to nearly six times its 2004 total and a new record of one third of a trillion dollars.  Investment surged in China, Africa, the U.S., Latin America and India in 2015, driving the world total to its highest ever figure of $328.9 billion, up 4% from 2014 and beating the previous record set in 2011 by 3%.

That investment translated into the highest ever installation of renewable power capacity – 64 gigawatts (GW) of wind and 57 GW of solar photovoltaic commissioned during the year, an increase of nearly 30% over 2014.

“Wind and solar power are now being adopted in many developing countries as a natural and substantial part of the generation mix: they can be produced more cheaply than often high wholesale power prices; they reduce a country’s exposure to expected future fossil fuel prices; and above all they can be built very quickly to meet unfulfilled demand for electricity,” said Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“And it is very hard to see these trends going backwards, in the light of December’s Paris Climate Agreement.”

In just the past few weeks, the renewable energy news has been astonishing:

  • Last year wind produced 42% of Denmark’s electricity – the highest such rate yet recorded anywhere.
  • Japan has begun work on the world’s largest floating solar farm. The power plant is being built on a reservoir in Japan’s Chiba prefecture and is anticipated to supply enough electricity for nearly 5,000 households when it is completed in early 2018.
  • Morocco has switched on the first phase of a concentrated solar power plant on that will become the world’s largest when completed.  The power station on the edge of the Saharan desert will be the size of the country’s capital city by the time it is finished in 2018, and provide electricity for 1.1 million people.
  • A wind farm that will be the largest in the world has been given the go-ahead in Britain. The 1.2 GW Hornsea Project One off the coast of Yorkshire in northern England will power more than a million homes when completed in 2020.
  • The U.S. renewable energy industry installed 16 GW of clean energy in 2015, which is 68% of all new capacity installed. U.S. solar capacity has grown to 28 GW, of which 7.3 GW was installed in 2015. Solar is the fastest growing renewable in the U.S., averaging 60% annual growth since 2008.

Because renewable energies like wind and solar are distributed and modular, they are less prone to large-scale failure. Distributed systems are spread out over a large geographical area, so a severe weather event in one location will not cut off power to an entire region.

Modular systems are composed of numerous individual wind turbines or solar arrays. Even if some of the equipment in the system is damaged, the rest can typically continue to operate.

Renewable energy sources are also more resilient than coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants in the face of extreme weather events.

Climate justice

Because the Earth’s atmosphere intermixes globally, there is a huge inequity between GHG emitters and those impacted by the resulting climate change.

A just-published study has found that countries emitting the least amounts of greenhouse gases are ironically the most vulnerable to climate change effects such as increased frequency of natural disasters, changing habitats and human health impacts.

The study by University of Queensland in Australia and the Wildlife Conservation Society found that 20 of the 36 highest emitting countries – including the U.S., Canada, Australia, China, and much of Western Europe – were least vulnerable.

Eleven of the 17 countries with low to moderate emissions were most vulnerable to climate change. Most were found in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

“There is an enormous global inequality in which those countries most responsible for causing climate change are the least vulnerable to its effects,” said lead author Glenn Althor of University of Queensland.

“It is time that this persistent and worsening climate inequity is resolved, and for the largest emitting countries to act,” Althor said.

“This is like a non-smoker getting cancer from second-hand smoke, while the heavy smokers continue to puff away,” said co-author James Watson of the University of Queensland and WCS.

“Essentially we are calling for the smokers to pay for the health care of the non-smokers they are directly harming,” Watson added.

The researchers said the finding acts as a disincentive for high-emitting “free-rider” countries to mitigate their emissions.

Unless the world takes strong action to limit greenhouse gases and reduce global warming, the number of acutely vulnerable countries will rise to 62 by 2030 as climate change related pressures such as droughts, floods, biodiversity loss and disease mount, researchers said.

Climate change is not a lost cause, it is our chance.”Claudel PétrinDesrosiers

The economic, environmental, and human health superiority of renewable energies over fossil fuel sources provides compelling evidence for humanity to hasten the necessary transition. 

Arguments about climate change are passé; development of fossil fuel projects is so yesterday. Get them out of your head and wrap your mind around the new undeniable narrative offered by efficiency and renewable energy. Let it capture your imagination, your conscience, and your emotions.

This disruptive narrative is persuasive, life-changing, and offers a path to a sustainable future.  It is a story the world is coming to believe, experience, and argue for.

Michael Jessen is a Nelson-based eco-writer, consultant and member of the West Kootenay chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. His business Zero Waste Solutions assists companies, communities, and individuals to implement sustainable ideas and initiatives. He is the author of From Denial to Hope: Making the Leap and Solving the Climate Crisis; Discarding the Idea of Waste: The Need for a Zero Waste Policy in BC; So $mart: Creating Jobs, Saving Money and Energy, and Generating Tax Revenue; The Need for a Nelson Energy Saving Trust; and Think Energy Free: How to Build or Rebuild a Low Carbon Home. He can be reached by email at zerowaste@shaw.ca

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