New ideas could stop reliance on foreign oil

Roy Strang
Peace Arch News
November 22, 2008


Whether you side with the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and attribute global warming largely to our burning of fossil fuels, or if you join Lawrence Solomon and the “deniers” and cite solar activities and cosmic radiation as the causes, you must accept that we are approaching an energy crisis.

Debate on the reasons for climate change is unfortunately diverting attention away from examination of energy security.

It’s been 35 years since then-president Richard Nixon set out to make the U.S. independent of foreign energy. At that time, the U.S. was importing only about 30 per cent of its oil; today it brings in almost two-thirds of its requirement.

In Canada, more than half of the oil consumed is imported, and imports have been estimated to rise by 23 per cent in 2008 from 2007’s volume.

One approach to dealing with the problem is to use new technologies for extracting energy from coal liquids, oil shale and tar sands.

However, available methods are expensive, environmentally harmful, and sometimes both. “Clean coal” is touted as an alternative, but there’s not yet a single, large-scale demonstration project nor significant investment, although coal resources are large. Now that we have new federal and municipal governments, and will shortly have a new provincial government also, isn’t it a good time to move forcefully in a new direction, to invest in current and developing techniques to replace our outdated and damaging carbon-based fuel energy?

The sea, wind and ocean currents are all available energy sources, and are free aside from the costs of harnessing them.

Let’s develop solar thermal plants in our sunniest regions; build wind farms where we know the winds are reliable; and tap geo-thermal sources and ocean currents and tides. Link these power sources into a national grid using modern high-voltage, low-loss underground cables to bring electricity from rural areas, where it is generated, to urban communities where it is used.

A second initiative would be to promote and foster the development of hybrid cars capable of plugging into the national grid, which could be charged in off-peak hours. Building codes should be amended to encourage, even mandate, energy-efficient new construction and to retro-fit existing buildings.

The technical know-how is there. Do our new governments have the will to make use of it? Knowing that oil is a finite resource, which will be exhausted one of these days, they should be preparing for that day while there is still time. And if IPCC happens to be right, they will also reduce or minimize the cause of global warming as an additional and desirable outcome.

I was remiss in last week’s column on daylight saving time in failing to thank Mr. P.M. de Rosa for the idea and the data.

Dr. Roy Strang writes weekly on the environment for the Peace Arch News.

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