Many people seem to think that the economy comes first, regardless the cost. Many others think that the environment comes first, regardless of the cost.
The main argument, on the side of the economy, is that life is a lot harder if you have no money and no job. That’s a very fair point.
The main argument, on the side of the environment, is that you have to be able to breathe the air and drink the water. It’s also very hard to argue with that.
My view is that balancing the two should be the top priority. We can’t sacrifice one in order to help the other.
The global population and our desire to burn oil are both increasing, and since we have burned through half of the world’s oil reserves in the last century we need an alternative. Natural gas is the current alternative of choice. There are two big problems with natural gas, when where we get it by “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing) and for those reasons I can’t support it (once we overcome both of those problems I may change my mind).
The first big problem with natural gas is that we have to pump chemicals in to the earth. We don’t know what the chemicals are, since the companies that use them have the chemical cocktail recipes protected as trade secrets. We have also seen earthquakes in locations where we have never seen them before, and where mathematics indicates that there shouldn’t be earthquakes. England and Ohio are the two most talked about examples. Those earthquakes coincidentally line up with where fracking is happening. It’s not a stretch to say that something is happening, that it could be caused by man, and that it’s very bad. We need to learn more about that.
The second big problem is that we pump out condensate with the natural gas, and the condensate is often poisonous. We have to store the condensate, since we aren’t able to filter or in any other way clean it. We are now making poisonous lakes with this water. That is a huge problem, and it’s one that we haven’t begun to address.
Solar and Wind energy
There are big benefits and big drawbacks to solar and wind energy. One of the big benefits is that it takes less cost to run the equipment. Two of the big drawbacks are that a) the sun and wind have to cooperate; and b) we don’t have a mechanism to store the energy for when there is no sun or wind.
With that said, I am still a fan of solar and wind energy. Once the equipment is in place it’s cheap to produce and it does not harm the environment. It does have an impact on the economy, and we have to factor that in to the equation. We should not implement solar and wind energy quickly enough that we destroy the economy, but we do have to implement it.
We cannot make the mistake of moving to solar and wind too quickly, and in the process destroy our economy.
Dams are a great way to generate electricity. Once they’re built they generate power consistently, and they last for years. They do have a negative impact on the local environment, where they create the lake behind them, but that is often a very localized impact. We also have fish ladders and other man-made ways to help the wildlife, once we block the natural river. We could use dams in strategic locations across the Atlantic provinces to help power all of us.
The main drawback with dams is that we need improved infrastructure — more towers in order to get the power to the consumers. We also need a larger market than just Nova Scotia. We need to partner with the rest of the Atlantic Provinces to develop the right power transmission system.
Other Energy Forms
Wind and solar are the most developed of the alternative energy forms. Tidal power and geothermal are among others that show promise, but need much more development. And we should invest in them. Like solar and wind, tidal and geothermal will take little to operate, once they are installed. Unlike solar and wind, however, the oceans will not go still and the earth will not cool down fast enough to have an impact.
Government involvement is always a discussion. Government should not own or run the systems. Government should set the rules that the systems have to work within, and then let the market drive the systems.
Government can set targets like “we need 50% of our energy generated by renewable means by 2030” or “we have to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels by 10% per year” or other environmental targets. After that they should ensure that the targets are being met and penalize (shut down) the offenders.
Fining those offenders is similar to introducing a carbon tax. It doesn’t help the environment, it just makes the government and those corporations feel better that they are doing something. If a company decides that it can live with the fines as a business expense then we have done nothing to help the environment.
Government also has to work with other governments to ensure that one jurisdiction does not counter the progress that another jurisdiction makes. This includes successor governments. We need government strategies and commitments that work in a 25+ year timeframe.
Some people believe that there is certainly a change in the climate, as there have been many times before, but that we don’t know how much impact man has had on that. They are quite right. There are many factors that we know of and there are also some that we don’t know. There are many factors that we control, and there are many that we don’t. We have very little influence over the strength of the sunspots, for example. We do have an influence how much depleted uranium we produce or how many poisonous lakes we create. We can’t ignore or excuse our impact on the environment by saying that we don’t know how much of an impact we have.
As a society we need to continuously work together and move this discussion forward. We need to accept that we’re having an effect, and we need to find sustainable and cost effective ways to reduce that effect.