Between failing democracy, climate change, and the growing influence of multinational corporations, the next thirty years or so look to be a critical epoch in human history. They may even be the last epoch. So it would be nice to have a plan. If we were all pushing together in the same direction, there’s no telling what we could do to save ourselves.
Don’t expect miracles. Yes, it would be nice to have a balance of carbon usage and production fairly soon, but nobody with any brains expects it to happen in the next ten years. Oil will be used for a while yet — Albertans take special note — but it must be brought under control. The days of Big Oil getting carte blanche from the government are over. As B. C. is learning to do since our forest resources started running out thirty years ago, we have to diversify.
So here’s my set of objectives — some simple, some not so easy — that the human race needs to follow in order to survive. In no particular order until the last one.
Hybrid and Electric Vehicles
It wasn’t until I started driving a PHEV (Plugin Hybrid) that I realized how economical they are. Compared to my old Mazda 5, a gas-sipper by former standards at 7.5 l/100km, 36 mpg, my new Kia Niro PHEV gets 2.7 l/100km, 104 mpg! That’s one-third the gas consumption. Think what a difference it would make to Canada’s carbon footprint if we were to cut our gasoline usage by 66%. Even a regular hybrid like the Toyota Prius runs at 5.5 l/100km or 50 mpg. Compare this to a regular Corolla at about 7 l/100km or 40 mpg, and you’re saving 25%.
In Canada, where most of our electricity is hydro power, the plugin versions are much better, because the equivalent of a litre of fuel in electric power costs about 25¢ and spews about 2 kg less carbon into the air. (That’s right. A litre of fuel that weighs less than a kilogram produces twice its weight in CO2, I suppose because it adds the oxygen atoms.)
In the long run, a full electric vehicle charged by renewable sources will be better, but for the phase-out era, when our infrastructure cannot provide the electricity and the lack of technology makes it too onerous to use, PHEV will work just fine.
Here’s a cost-benefit analysis of the $5000 SCRAPIT grant that gets a gas guzzler off the road in British Columbia and puts a new electric vehicle out there. How much carbon does that 5 grand remove from the atmosphere? Well, the average car sends out 4.6 tonnes of carbon a year, so over the 15-year life of a car, that’s about 70 tonnes, or $66 per tonne. This compares favourably to air capture, which costs $100-$200 per tonne.
Which brings us to…
Creativity in Carbon Capture
It’s not good enough to use less carbon. We have to actually remove some from the air to return levels to those of 30 years ago. This means both removal and storage. Passive systems remove the CO2 from the air and store it in the ground. More creative systems store the carbon in better ways, like oxygen-producing forests and structures like wooden houses. Carbon fibre is great stuff. Think of using carbon to replace the huge amounts of plastic our society uses.
This is where a carbon tax works. Remember, a company is by definition a selfish being. A company will not do something that loses money. So if a company gets tax breaks for finding new ways to reduce and use carbon, it lowers the price enough to make the new technology feasible. The biggest cost in most industries is building the plant to produce the product. So the biggest stumbling block for new, carbon-neutral or carbon-using processes is getting companies to stop using a perfectly good carbon-emitting factory and build a new one.
The biggest incentive in this respect would be a use of carbon that is cheaper, better, and/or stronger than the company’s present process: a win-win situation. Hence the need for creativity.
Get out in Space
Space has two things in plenty we own in limited quantities here on earth: solar power and minerals. Once we start bringing metal ore from the asteroid belt and using sunlight to process it, carbon will become a minor problem. There is also, of course, the possibility that the technology that gets us into space can be used to clean our atmosphere.
Forgive me for dreaming; I’m a Sci-Fi writer.
New Forms of Democracy
With the rise of populist demagogues and the revelations about the way Big Business affects government, we need to bolster the collective will of the people. Note I said “forms of democracy.” Proportional representation is, believe it or not, the simplest change, but there must be others. The first one that comes to mind is education of the young. Schools have traditionally shied away from teaching politics for fear of accusations of influencing young minds to one side or the other of the political spectrum.
I wish I could find out who said, “Each generation must fight for its own freedom.” No, that’s not what Ronald Reagan said. He got the idea from the older quote. But the point is still valid. One of the most important lessons you can teach to your children is that they can’t ride on the laurels of those of us that came before. Democracy: if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Forget whether you’re conservative or liberal, left or right. What’s important is the power of the popular vote versus the super-powerful malign influences that want to bend that vote for personal gain.
Get Rid of the Greed
This is the last and most important. We no longer need to be a society where the leaders are “movers and shakers” (read, “greedy bullies”). That image was created in a hyper-competitive, aggressive society where those with money were able to do as they liked, and they persuaded everyone else it was good for us. We need to get past the idea that the person who owns five cars is someone to look up to. We are at the “Ask not what your country can do for you…” stage.
What can you do?