A fossilized vision of the future

 

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As the planet continues to warm, the battles lines in the debate over the causes continue to retrench and harden.

Where once climate science informed popular understanding about carbon dioxide emissions from human industry, and the effect these have had on average global temperatures over the past century, now this research is being hijacked by two diametrically opposed ideological camps bent on formulating fundamentally irreconcilable solutions to the present crisis.

On the one hand, the rising tide of environmental radicalism argues that the only way to save the world from ecological catastrophe is to abandon every mine and every drill. “Leave the carbon in the ground, where it belongs,” the mantra goes. “We must become clean and renewable; and we must do it now.”

It’s a nice, even necessary, idea. But it fails to recognize the essential truth about global society’s dependence on the stuff: It’s cheap and addictive. Virtually nothing we do or consume is unaffected by oil, gas and coal. Going cold turkey overnight is simply no option.

On the other hand, the burgeoning call for more drilling, more mining posits that fossil fuels are the glue that binds civilizations together. Without them, the argument goes, humanity will simply devolve into brutal clans forever warring over scarce resources; after all, internationalism is predicated on more or less equal access to the same suite of energy resources.

This, too, can be persuasive. Still, the reasoning also conveniently ignores the inconvenient truth of our shared predicament: Science indisputably proves that our time plundering the earth for cheap sources of energy is running out; sooner or later our industrial habits will make much of the planet uninhabitable.

In either scenario, the outcome is disastrously similar: millions will die and millions more will become economic refugees, merely waiting to die.

To avoid the coming zombie apocalypse, there is, of course, a third option: We could start using our minds (which are, I am reliably informed, in great abundance) and stop flapping our gums from the ramparts of our two fortresses of solitude.

If we can’t quit fossil fuels altogether, and we can’t live with them as we do today, then why don’t we stop thinking about them as commodities to burn and begin to appreciate them as strategic assets to deploy in the effort to build a largely clean, broadly renewable future?

In other words, use them as the feedstock for new manufacturing technologies that more effectively capture and distribute in-situ wind, solar and tidal sources of energy. Use them to power research into cleaner forms of short- and long-range transportation systems. Use them to, in effect, eliminate them as anything but the necessary evils they are for advanced research and development.

To some extent, this process is already underway in countries that maintain offshore drilling operations and yet pull as much as a third of their non-locomotive energy from clean, renewable sources.

Lamentably, it’s not underway in any convincing fashion in Atlantic Canada. New Brunswick may possess one of the world’s greatest wind resources, but its infrastructure woefully lags its renewable energy potential. Thanks to its high concentration of universities and advanced institutes, this province could become a living laboratory for this type of urgent research, the results of which might actually spark a durable, sustainable economic development boom with global consequences.

Naturally, this would require the sort of foresight, vision and collaborative determination we rarely witness in this province.

But without this resource available to policy makers, politicians, industry representatives, and environmentalists, our fossilized vision of the future is secure.

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