On one side seems to be just about everybody who wrote for the National Post last week. Consider, for example, this piece by Colin Craig, president of a think tank called SecondStreet.org.
In “How we helped pay for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” Craig claims that the Trudeau government’s failure to build oil and gas pipelines to Europe and Asia has compelled our overseas allies to rely on Russia for energy, hence fueling Vladimir Putin’s war machine.
Setting aside the obvious partisanship (the Harper government didn’t build overseas pipelines either), the argument assumes that deriving energy from fossil fuels is the only way to grow an economy.
Surely, one could also use Craig’s premise – that oil and gas revenues are paying for Putin’s war – to conclude that if the West had fully weaned itself off fossil fuels by now, we could have so disrupted Russia’s economic centre of gravity that Putin would not have been able to attack Ukraine in the first place.
On the other side are people like environmental journalist Arno Kopeky, whose recent essay in the Globe and Mail comes with the headline: “Increasing fossil fuel production will not lead to peace.”
Kopeky argues that “From the moment they were discovered, fossil fuels have been intimately tied to the largest outbreaks of violence in our species’ history.”
To him, fossil fuels are basically evil.
Setting aside the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people who have been lifted out of poverty by the productivity increases achieved through fossil fuel energy, the argument seems to assume that all of these fuels are equally problematic.
It’s as if burning coal and burning natural gas cause the same environmental damage.
When such arguments form the framework of a debate, I wonder whether either side even wants to convince the other to change its mind.
It seems to me that a serious conversation would have to begin with an agreement on some basic ideas:
The discovery and successful exploitation of fossils fuels around the world has led to extraordinary growth, but that growth has come at a cost to the environment.
It has also enriched and empowered a number of brutal dictators along the way.
The long-term solution is a global economy that runs on renewable energy. But we won’t get there tomorrow, and there is a compelling logic – at least in the short term – to using natural gas to help wean us off coal, and then oil. (Nuclear power could also help.)
What does this mean for Ukraine? Next to nothing.
We aren’t going to build the infrastructure necessary to export liquid natural gas to Europe in time to make any difference to the current war.
But to expect Europeans to wean themselves off fossil fuels cold turkey is to disregard the extraordinary harm that would be inflicted upon the continent’s most vulnerable during the process.
In short, there is no easy solution here, and turning the crisis in Ukraine into a hyperbolic debate about fossil fuels and climate change doesn’t help anyone.
On the environment and Canadian politics, I will be watching how Lisa Raitt, Jim Dinning, and Ken Boessenkool’s new organization, Conservatives for Clean Growth, affects the party’s leadership race.
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