Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ The Green Solution

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Half an Hour, Feb 08, 2016

Canada's PostMedia, concerned as always about meeting Canada's climate change targets, has published an article in the Toronto Sun arguing that Trudeau's emissions reduction targets are (and I quote) "impossible". In support of this conclusion the cite "math".
Here's Lorrie Goldstein: Reducing our emissions by 127 Mt would mean the equivalent of shutting down all of Canada's electricity sector (85 Mt) plus half of the building sector (43 Mt), in less than five years. Achieving the mid-level reduction of a 146 Mt reduction would mean shutting down the equivalent of Canada's agriculture sector (75 Mt) and most of our emission-intensive and trade-exposed industries (76 Mt), in less than five years. You get the idea. Of course, with "math" you have to have numbers. Goldstein doesn't tell us where the numbers came from, but they're pretty easy to find. Here they are: Our total emissions are 716 megatonnes (Mt). And yes, the electricity sector is responsible for 85 Mt, or 12% of Canada's total. And the rest of Goldstein's numbers can be found in the chart as well. But math? Well, maybe the math of a ten-year old. People who actually do math can read for themselves how these numbers are created. Here's the formula: Emissions = activity data × emission factor So, yes, if you reduce the activity to zero, you reduce the emissions to zero. But who, other than a toddler, would do it that way? Let's take Canada's electricity sector, for example. We could shut the entire sector down to eliminate 76 Mt in five years. But that would be a ridiculous way to do it. Let's look at how we generate electricity in Canada: About a quarter of Canada's energy production requires fossil fuel. The majority is created from hydroelectric and nuclear, with wind accounting for about 4 percent. Why would we shut down all of that just to mitigate the damage caused by fossil fuels? Nobody would do that. Here's some more math. Fossil fuels produce about 130 megawatts in Canada. The cost of installing wind power is roughly $2 million per megawatt. So for an investment nation-wide of $260 million, we could eliminate fossil fuel from Canada's electricity generation. That's two thirds of Trudeau's target right there! So we would need 42 Mt savings on 630 Mt of emissions. If we made everything else 10% more efficient, we could exceed that target by a lot. Remember, emissions = activity data × emission factor. Is it reasonable to think that, instead of, say, eliminating the transportation sector, we could make it use 10% fewer fossil fuels? We could look at buildings (86 Mt) for example.Instead of eliminating the entire sector, as Goldstein would have us do, we could search for a 10 percent reduction in heating costs, perhaps emulating Germany, which despite being one of the cloudiest nations on the planet, still manages to produce a surplus of home-generated solar power. One of the major carbon-producers in the energy-intensive industries (76 Mt) is concrete production. Even passive techniques as on-demand mixing and concrete recycling could create significant energy savings. Yes, there is a cost associated with this, and with the other ways to reduce the emissions factor.It costs money to electrify trains, to invest in public transit, and to convert from diesel to LPG or even fuel cells (transportation, 170 Mt). But with selective applications of public money to provide incentives, as well as increasing the cost of dirty technologies, all of this is manageable. What we don't need are columns like this one published in PostMedia exhibiting what amounts to baby-logic. These are changes we need to make, and having a tantrum won't alter that fact. Accomplishing our climate change goals will ultimately mean not only saving the planet, it will create more efficient industries. And if we can be among the first to accomplish this, we will be able to export these technologies. It is actually an era of opportunity, not crisis.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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