Field of Science

CSWA: Panel followup on Energy, Environment and the Economy

Summary:  How do North America and the world’s energy systems need to transform to address problems such as climate change, energy security and energy poverty? A panel of prominent experts shares their insights.
  • John Hofmeister, Citizens for Affordable Energy
  • Susan Eaton, geologist/journalist/consultant (last-minute pinch hitter)
  • Joseph Doucet, University of Alberta
  • Lee Wilson, University of Saskatchewan
Hofmeister:  we need an independent regulatory body to make short, medium and long term plans. 
  • Set energy supply
  • Make technology decisions
  • Manage environmental issues
  • Ensure infrastructure is built.
Doucet: Misunderstanding of/lack of clarity of challenges:  Medium term challenge is simply where more oil will come from.  Shell's 'three hard truths':  energy demand will increase; there's no easy energy source; carbon constraints.

Wilson:  North Americans fail to come to grips with changes in China and India.  They may become the superpowers.  Think about water.  We use water (pollute it) to get energy; we're having increasingly to use energy to get usable water from polluted water.

Eaton:  She's worn lots of hats, on all sides of energy and environment.  Key is educating people...

Need to include all the costs in the price of energy ('externalities').  And high energy prices drive development of supply.  But how to put costs onto the externalities?  How do we price the water used by oil sands production?

How to reduce consumption?  Hofmeister:  a big energy waste is allowing anyone to live anywhere and still guarantee grid access?  (I though he was going to say pay transportation costs, not guarantee grid costs.)  The big problem is that energy is cheap and North Americans are rich.

How to get new technologies to market (in Canada)?  For solar, the nature of the current grid is the problem (no way to store, even though in principle could store as hydrogen).  Canada is especially bad at technology transfer (risk-averse).

Most of Canada's present oil production is exported to the US.  What if we kept our surplus oil?  Would the US invade us?  Doucet: We do it because they pay lots of $, more than it costs, and this is a way for our economy to become more wealthy.  We don't need the oil, so let's sell it!  (That can't be true - he's claiming we have all we'll ever need!)  There's no cumulative oversight of impacts, so no sustainable long-term plan.  Doucet says we need to consider cumulative and environmental issues...

Canadian government won't listen to scientists.  How to change this?  Hofmeister: Need a crisis (natural or engineered).  Canada has enough energy that natural crisis is unlikely in the near future, but US is heading for a crisis (outages) within 10 years.  Wilson:  Canada used to be viewed as 'the conscience of the North' - no more.  Eaton is optimistic that environmental good sense is spreading, and generating a groundswell of change.

Canadian crisis? What would it be?  Not climate change.  Water, says Doucet.  Wilson - expects demonstrations for water -it shouldn't be commodified.  Hofmeister - don't expect government to do the right thing, except under leadership of corporate and NGO worlds.  Issues these can agree on (common sense?) can push government to do the right thing.  But watch out for China.

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