Last year saw an intensification of the great march to “net zero,” aimed at replacing the 84 percent of global energy supplied by fossil fuels. The pursuit of this unrealistic objective featured actions ranging from the impractical to the hypocritical to the simply bizarre. It would be impossible to attend in person every performance of this global romp of political theatre, so here instead is my condensed list of what I’ll call the Fossil Fuel Follies.
The Bizarre – The City of Paris celebrated a “monumental” new artwork that consisted of shrouding the massive Arc de Triomphe in a silver and blue fabric. Turns out that fabric is plastic, a product the French government is aiming to ban. And plastic is made from petroleum that France wants phased out to achieve “net zero.”
Energy Ignorance – New York City has decided to combat global warming by replacing natural gas with electricity to heat new buildings. But half of New York’s electricity is generated by natural gas and other fossil fuels. As electricity consumption rises to heat those new buildings, the natural gas “saved” on heat will be burned to generate electricity.
Scandinavian Hypocrisy – Norway has mandated that all new cars sold by 2025 must be electric. Meanwhile, the country produces 4 million barrels of oil per day and is developing new fields to increase production. The export of crude oil is also the main reason Norwegians are prosperous enough to afford EVs.
The Hydrogen Charade – This Globe and Mail article published last August called hydrogen “the most abundant element in the universe.” That’s true about the universe, where hydrogen fuels stars including our sun. But usable hydrogen does not naturally exist on our planet Earth. Usable hydrogen is manufactured in refineries fuelled by natural gas and coal. Hydrogen industry advocates try to counter this by pointing to electrolysis of water using wind and solar power to generate the electricity. This is an impractical and extremely costly approach to creating something that’s supposedly abundant.
Caisse de Depot’s Greenwashing – Quebec’s provincial pension fund says it will divest of oil production assets by the end of the year. No mention of divesting assets that require oil to function, including airports, highways and marine shipping terminals.
Cryptocurrency’s Overlooked Environmental Impact – The Bank of Canada last year increased its work on the feasibility of adopting a digital currency. But there’s no mention of examining the environmental impact of cryptocurrency. Most cryptocurrencies utilize the ultra-complex block-chain technology. Minting new units such as Bitcoin, the first and still the leading cryptocurrency, requires a highly energy-intensive process called “mining.” The electrical power required to mine a single transaction generates an average carbon footprint equivalent to processing over 2 million VISA transactions. Bitcoin as a whole was using more electricity last year than the entire country of Finland. At least one crypto mining outfit has actually purchased a decommissioned coal-fired power plant to generate electricity to run its computers.
Germany’s Journey from Self-sufficiency to Russian Energy Hostage – Last year saw the culmination of Germany’s 11-year-long process of shutting down its zero-emission nuclear power plants. That incomprehensible decision was based on a plan to replace the lost power with wind and solar which, predictably, proved both prohibitively expensive and unreliable. That left no alternative but to import more natural gas from Russia. But those supplies have proven inadequate. The ostensible solution is still more Russian gas through a new pipeline across the Baltic Sea called Nord Stream 2.
Last March, the German government approved the project, but the escalating Ukraine crisis has led to pressure from its NATO allies to cancel that approval. Now, just as freezing temperatures drive German natural gas prices up ten-fold, Russia has reduced deliveries. Earlier this month, International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Barol stated, “I would note that today’s low Russian gas flows coincide with heightened geopolitical tensions over Ukraine.” It’s breathtaking to think both that this geopolitical mess started with the belief that wind and solar could be the answer to any large country’s energy future, and that anyone believed Russia would not exploit its energy supplies as a geopolitical weapon.
Canada Leads COP26 – In the Size of its Delegation – Canada sent 276 delegates to the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, more than host UK and twice as many as the United States. Among the Prime Minister’s entourage were his own personal videographer, photographer, speechwriter and a 17-person media team made up of press secretaries and communications directors. The number of emissions-intensive private jets required to transport this mega-team was not disclosed. All this ludicrous vanity-driven hype for a country that accounts for less than 2 percent of global emissions.
COP26 Hypocrisy – The main objective of COP26 was to “phase out” coal-fired power. But in the face of opposition from China and India, the world’s two largest coal consumers, the language was changed to “phase down.” China and India currently produce 36 percent of global emissions. Fact-checked data from the Global Coal Plant Tracker shows China has 202 coal-fired power plants under construction or pre-construction, while India has 74 such plants under construction or pre-construction. This trend has no end in sight; Chinese leader Xi recently stated that he will not allow climate change-driven policies to imperil the prosperity of China’s citizenry. The expected life of those coal-using plants is more than 30 years, negating the combined emissions reduction efforts of all other COP26 parties. If Canada were to disappear from the map, India and China’s emissions growth would replace our emissions in less than a year.
The years go by, but global dysfunction remains endemic, spinning off endless variants.
Gwyn Morgan is a retired business leader who has been a director of five global corporations.
Source of main photo: Shutterstock.