As A Pragmatic Environmentalist, I Find The Leap Manifesto Wanting

04/11/2016 02:58 EDT | Updated 04/12/2017 05:12 EDT
Mark Blinch / Reuters
Author Naomi Klein (3rd R) speaks during a news conference to launch the "Leap Manifesto: A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another " in Toronto, September 15, 2015. The Leap Manifesto is a group consisting of activists, artists, and celebrities that call for strong environmental policy changes and initiatives. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Lost in the excitement of the Mulcair vote during the NDP convention in Edmonton this last weekend was the news that the NDP passed their support for "The Leap Manifesto." The Manifesto consists of a list of "15 Demands" that range from the somewhat reasonable; to the ridiculous; to the sublime. It would take numerous blog posts to address them individually. Happily, I have been writing blogs for a while and the Manifesto addresses a number of topics I have previously covered. Here are some quick takes:

Demand #2 says:

The latest research shows we could get 100 per cent of our electricity from renewable resources within two decades; by 2050 we could have a 100 per cent clean economy. We demand that this shift begin now.

Arguably the first half of Demand #2 (100 per cent electrical energy in 20 years) may be possible with a Herculean effort, but achieving 100 per cent clean energy by 2050 (i.e. 100 per cent fossil fuel free energy status) is simply a pipe dream. I detailed what it would take to achieve a fossil fuel-free British Columbia in my post Dispelling Some Myths About British Columbia's Energy Picture. The take-home message:

In order to achieve a "fossil fuel-free B.C." we would need to somehow replace the almost 60 per cent of our energy needs currently being met with fossil fuels through alternative sources.

Given that B.C., which is incredibly rich in hydro, cannot reasonably achieve a fossil fuel-free status in the timeline presented, the idea that Saskatchewan or Ontario could achieve similar results without a heavy investment in nuclear power, is inconceivable.

Demand #3 says:

No new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future. The new iron law of energy development must be: if you wouldn't want it in your backyard, then it doesn't belong in anyone's backyard.

This is a typical NIMBY/BANANA demand that reflects a common misconception about energy amongst the non-technically inclined. I address the problem in a post On Renewables and compromises, Intermission: Energy Density and Power Density. We live in a power-hungry society and small-scale renewable are incapable of addressing our energy needs. If we are going to survive in a renewable energy future we will need a lot of energy from large industrial facilities and you simply cannot put a commercial-scale geothermal or hydro facility in anyone's backyard.

The activists who prepared these demands also appear to be unaware of where the wood, metal, concrete and aluminum needed to create their infrastructure comes from. None of these can be scaled down to something you would build in your backyard.

I must say of all the demands the one I find most amusing is Demand #6.

NIMBY only works if you are rich enough to be able to import your raw materials from somewhere else. While I agree that most of the initial signers of the Manifesto might be that rich, the rest of us aren't and so we will continue to need to hew wood and draw water.

Finally, as I wrote in my post I Support The Energy East Pipeline As A Pragmatic Environmentalist, there is a legitimate case to be made that, as we wean ourselves off fossil fuels, we still build a pipeline to allow Canadian oil to be used to fund our energy transition.

I must say of all the demands the one I find most amusing is Demand #6:

We want high-speed rail powered by just renewables and affordable public transit to unite every community in this country - in place of more cars, pipelines and exploding trains that endanger and divide us.

I cannot imagine greater proof that this list was written by a bunch of urbanites than a suggestion that we connect the country (and all cities) by high-speed rail, powered by renewables. With improved transit and smart planning we should be able to reduce our energy needs for transportation in our biggest cities; but the vast majority of Canada cannot be served by mass transit. There is not enough money in Canada to give every driver an alternative to driving.

All the transit in the world will also not address the need for panel vans and work trucks. Contractors, suppliers and salespeople cannot rely on the transit system. Try to imagine a plumber attempting to transport a new sink or toilet and all her supplies/tools to a job site on a bus?

Finally, no amount of transit will reduce the need for the transport trucks that bring the groceries to market. The last time I looked it was pretty much impossible to move a pallet of milk or apples on transit.

Let's finish with: Demand #9

We must develop a more localized and ecologically-based agricultural system to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, absorb shocks in the global supply - and produce healthier and more affordable food for everyone

The "smaller is better," "local is better," "organic is better" memes in agriculture are some of the most pernicious myths to come out of the modern environmental movement and show a profound lack of understanding of how food is grown and energy is used as I write in my post: Local Isn't Better When It Comes To How Your Food Is Grown.

The authors of the Manifesto are well-meaning but appear to lack the real-world experience to understand that Canada is a HUGE country. Building a trans-continental railway was an incredible achievement. The thought of connecting every community in Canada by rail (powered by renewables no less); while also building all those renewable energy sources; while eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels; all by 2050; doesn't even warrant the description "pie in the sky" it is simply magical thinking.

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