Once upon a time in a northern dominion called Canada, a thriving oil industry provided fuel for vehicles, trains and airplanes. There was also a large natural gas industry that kept the people warm during the long, cold winters and supplied the raw material for plants that manufactured plastics, detergents, fertilizer, synthetic clothing and a great many other items needed and used by people every day. That oil and natural gas industry employed more than a million people and its exports were the biggest contributor to the county’s international balance of payments. People working in the industry were proud that their operations were among the most technically advanced and environmentally responsible in the world. Then a report written by a scientific advisory group called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was published. It stated that the Earth was warming and carbon-dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels were the likely cause. And so it came to be that lowering emissions of the very substance that plants need to breath (in the same way as animals need oxygen) and that provides the fizz in soda drinks and the bubbles in champagne, became the world’s most important environmental priority. Suddenly, after fuelling the world’s progress for centuries, oil, natural gas and coal became environmental pariahs. Eco-elves flew in from far and wide to proclaim Canada’s oil and gas industry a major contributor to global warming. But in the real world, the industry contributed just a small part of Canada’s emissions, and Canada’s emissions were only two per cent of global emissions. Nations of the world gathered in the magical Kingdom of Japan and promised they would reduce the use of fossil fuels. But a decade later, fossil- fuel emissions had gone up, not down. So world leaders gathered in the French Fifth Republic to once again pledge reduction of fossil fuels. But even as world leaders announced this pledge, three dozen countries, including two with more than a third of the people in the world, continued to build hundreds of new coalfired power plants. Coal was already the biggest source of carbon dioxide and those new plants would raise coal emissions by another 40 per cent. That meant that, even if Canada were to disappear into stardust, its tiny share of global emissions would be replaced in a matter of months. Amazingly, these realities mattered not to Canada’s starry-eyed prime minister, who vowed that his little northern country would set an example to the world. His paladins imposed special taxes on the users of fossil fuels, creating hardship for the people while also weakening the dominion’s competitive position with its largest trading partner. The prime minister journeyed to the main oil and gas producing province, hoping to use his imagined charisma to convince workers worried about losing their jobs that “phasing-out” their industry was necessary to stop global warming. People asked the prime minister what was to replace all that fossil-fuel energy? He proclaimed that it would be “green energy” generated by the wind and the sun. But the people knew that the wind only blew some of the time. And that, in this northern land with little sunlight during short winter days and none on long, cold nights when energy is needed most, solar was useless. And the government had not learned from experience in a province called Ontario, where billions of dollars spent on green energy had yielded only small amounts of very expensive and unreliable power that needed backup fossil-fuel power plants to prevent blackouts. The folly of relying on green energy was undeniable. But, alas, neither the eco-elves or the prime minister took heed. Neither did they face the truth that trying to force down Canada’s already tiny global emissions would hamstring the country’s most important industry, only to have its fossil-fuel production, and emissions, replaced by production from other countries. The prime minister and his paladins remained convinced that their green dream would come true, if only they believed. And so this fairy tale of doing good for the world became a nightmare for this small northern dominion. Sadly, the rest of the world didn’t even care.
Gwyn Morgan is a retired Canadian business leader who has been a director of five global corporations.