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[opening music clips, including a shout protest against Merill Lynch – for financing new mega-coal plants in Texas]
Professor Mark Jaccard predicts a strong future for fossil fuels. He says their use will only rise, despite fears of climate change. We may not be doomed though. The carbon dioxide could be trapped and put back in the ground.
This is Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock – and I don’t like what Mark Jaccard is telling us about the continuing future for fossil fuels. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t right. I don’t like what climate scientists are predicting for my kids’ futures either – but I listen to them.
We’re going to examine why fossil fuels may co-exist with renewables, and how we can survive a world energy system three times its current size.
Mark Jaccard graduated from Simon Fraser University. He is an environmental economist. He was Chair and CEO of the British Columbia Utilities Commission for 5 years in the 1990’s. From 1993 to 96, Dr. Jaccard contributed to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He has advised the Chinese government and large industry on energy policy. He has coauthored two books on climate policy, including the 2005 book “Sustainable Fossil Fuels.”
On February 10th, 2007, Mark Jaccard spoke at the University of British Columbia as part of the Vancouver Institute series. the complete speech is available from the Radio Ecoshock website at www.ecoshock.org. His topic was “Fossil Fuels: Friend or Foe.”
So what is the fuss? Contrary to many leading green thinkers, Jaccard doesn’t think energy conservation is the place to start. If we are concerned about the environment, he claims we begin with emissions control. After all, he argues, if we didn’t use the environment for a free dumping ground for carbon waste, fossil fuels would continue as the best source of condensed solar energy on the planet.
Jaccard also contradicts the Peak Oil movement, saying we aren’t going to run out of oil or coal any time soon – and certainly not soon enough to save the climate. He points to existing technologies to retrieve so-called heavy oil from many parts of the world, including Canada’s Tar Sands. And there is at least 250 years worth of coal left, if not more.
Finally, he says installing emissions controls to capture and store carbon dioxide is cheaper than re-tooling modern civilization to use alternative energy.
Is this another oil industry stooge? Not really. Jaccard says he doesn’t receive a dime from the fossil fuel industry.
In fact, as a young graduate student, he started out with the common assumption we would phase out fossil fuels within a generation. But as an academic, he questioned everything, and ended up with a very different point of view.
[clip “as a graduate student….” – clip 8]
Let’s give him a fair hearing. After all, the future may not turn out the way we expect.
First of all, let’s look at why fossil fuels may not run out in time to save us from climate change.
Even as oil becomes more difficult to retrieve, fossil fuels may not even become expensive enough to drive a conversion to alternative sources like wind or nuclear. We’ll go to tar sands, or even making oil from coal.
Jaccard doesn’t rate energy conservation very highly. As head of the BC Utilities Commission in the 1990’s, he ordered conservation programs, but found consumer behavior frustrated many of these efforts. For example, the utility offered discounts on new, more energy efficient refrigerators – but didn’t reclaim the old ones. Some people just put the old fridge in the basement to cool drinks, and so now they had two.
Similarly, he finds many people have energy saving compact fluorescent light bulbs in a drawer – because they don’t like the quality of light, which they associate with offices or hospitals. Jaccard also looked into why people buy cars. Personal mobility was just part of the picture. Identification of social status, and even an expression of male sexuality, was also a factor in buying gas guzzlers. So the mere logic of energy efficiency may not be enough to overcome the illogic, and emotions, that drive consumer choice in the real world.
Jaccard believes the free market system is better than the alternatives. He is a fellow of the conservative C.D. Howe Institute, and advises large corporations. And yet, here he is calling for massive government action to regulate carbon emissions, in order to save the climate.
In his speech, it seems to me Jaccard downplays some of the benefits of real energy conservation.
Friends, we don’t know what real energy conservation looks like, especially for consumers. People assume it is their right to buy a propane heater for the backyards, essentially to heat the outdoors and throw the carbon up the stack. It is our right to drive wherever we want, even tremendous distances, just because we feel like it. And we can choose to do it in a vehicle that gets 8 mile to the gallon. It is just as legal to put up 100,000 Christmas lights up on the house.
All this craziness would disappear with carbon rationing, which is not part of Jaccard’s prescription. Does he prefer to operate as a realist in a consumer-choice system, even if the climate goes to hell?
Not really. Jaccard seems sincere in his concern about our future, even though he doesn’t call himself an environmentalist. He just thinks that policy needs to be based on real human behavior. The future may not be radically different from the past. Humans will likely insist on driving around, and using lots of energy. In fact, as more of humanity moves from a rural low-energy lifestyle to cities, Jaccard predicts the total world energy system will at least triple in size.
In this 3-times energy world of 2100, renewable energy may have grown several hundred times its current size, but fossil fuel use may also double or more. That spells disaster, unless we can enforce clean fossil fuel technology.
[there are many clips inserted here, in the audio version]
Jaccard’s research, outlined in his book “Sustainable Fossil Fuels,” finds that we can still use oil, or coal, to generate electricity, and provide that power for public transportation – provided the carbon dioxide is captured, and returned either to the ground, or to the very deep ocean. He has studied the costs of using existing pipelines, and drilling expertise, as well as building whole new networks of pipelines and underground storage facilities. Jaccard reports even this huge addition to the fossil fuel system is cheaper, and easier to implement, than trying to shut down the whole fossil fuel system, to be replaced by renewables or nuclear. He says we should go with what we know now, and what we are already doing – but just modify the system to capture greenhouse gas emissions.
Again, there is a real worry that Jaccard is giving permission for the oil and coal companies to keep on producing deadly carbon fuels, under the cover of a future solution. At some point, I hope to discuss that problem with him.
Professor Jaccard gives an fascinating if poignant example in his dealings with Bangladesh. That government is only too aware that large parts of this densely populated and poor country may go underwater in the future due to rising seas, driven by burning fossil fuels. Yet Bangladesh needs power urgently, and has discovered gas fields off it’s coast in the Bay of Bengal. Can this poor country install the expensive new alternative technologies, such as wind or tidal energy? Should Bangladesh develop and use it’s natural gas, thus adding to it’s own doom?
Here is what Jaccard says about it: [clip]
[Basically, he advised the government of Banladesh is would be cheaper to develop their offshore gas fields, and burn it, EVEN MANDATING THAT THEY CAPTURE the carbon, to be piped back to the gas fields. The reduced cost of using this resource, without polluting the atmophere, would give the government more money to build schools or hospitals, or dikes to prepare for the coming floods due to climate change. He calculates it is possible to burn the fuel without guilt, using existing technologies to put the carbon back underground or underwater.]
Jaccard says people who care about the climate should all have a 5 year ban on saying the words “Kyoto Protocol.” That agreement, he says, could never work for at least two reasons. One, it was unrealistic given consumer preferences and international development. Many countries, like Canada, agreed to targets and came out with high-sounding plans – but then went on to pollute more and more.
Two, Kyoto was never an international agreement. It was really just Europe, Canada and Japan. Countries like China and India only signed on because they didn’t have to do anything – they were exempted as developing countries.
Jaccard now thinks Kyoto should be junked, and a whole new, really workable international agreement is necessary. Even while those negotiations go on, he says developed countries need to take a leadership role by implementing one of two solutions. Either legislate a cap and trade system for carbon, or a carbon tax. Both systems will work, he says, given tough national legislation.
He thinks once a carbon tax, or cap and trade, is implemented in the richer countries, the international business community will then pressure other governments, like China, to enact similar rules, just to level the playing field for international trade.
In addition to banning the words “Kyoto Protocol,” Jaccard leaves us with three final conclusions:
First, when politicians talk about targets for emissions, forget it. Targets mean nothing without a real cap, a limit, on greenhouse gas emissions.
Second, policies calling for voluntary action by industry or consumers haven’t worked, and will not work. That is just a smokescreen for continued pollution of the atmosphere while talking green.
Finally, as he has said all along, don’t count out fossil fuels as a continuing mainstay of the world energy system. But, if we want to keep on living in the climate known to our ancestors, we must fiercely regulate all emissions into the atmosphere.
After the speech, I asked Dr. Jaccard a couple of questions. First, what did he think of Richard Branson’s $25 million quest to find technology to remove existing carbon from the air?
[ clip ][We remove carbon when we burn wood in a gasification project, because the trees originally captured carbon, and when we capture it back from the smokestack carbon scrubbers, and stick in the ground, we are removing carbon, while still generating energy. Jaccard also describes an early day experiment in Alberta to grab carbon from the air – but so far the energy cost to do it is too expensive.]
And then, in the end, we did agree that despite our current market system, humans could agree to make big changes, to save the world.
[final clip, in the end we agree that society can re-arrange itself, as it did in World War Two when faced with an ultimate threat. Jaccard says he is not a proponent of fossil fuels, just a realist. He thinks we must use government to organize our energy revolution to save the climate.]
Find out more on the book “Sustainable Fossil Fuels” at the website of the Energy and Materials Research Group, www.emrg.sfu.ca
Clips in this report came from a speech presented by the Vancouver Institute on February 10th, 2007, recorded by David Gold.
This has been Alex Smith reporting for Radio Ecoshock. Find Professor Mark Jaccard’s full speech, and further discussion, free, in the Energy section of www.ecoshock.org.
Or download it here (caution, the one hour speech is 55 megabytes, it may take a few minutes to arrive, and should not be attempted by a telephone modem.)