by Matt Palmer
Today I am linking to another article from Canada West Foundation’s Let’s Talk Energy Website. The post is written by Dr Joseph Doucet, Interim Dean at the Alberta School of Business at U of A. In his article he makes a great case about how we should be thinking in developing a National Energy Strategy. His argument is that if the the strategy is only about the justification for the oil sands, then it will not work. I believe this is correct. A strategy needs to include a discussion and examination of all potential sources of energy from across Canada.
Dr Doucet argues we need to be thinking broadly about energy. “Energy is not the endgame.” He feels we should be thinking about how energy fits into not just the economy, but our social development, and our standard of living. I believe this is true, but I would suggest we can take this even deeper, that we need to look at energy from a philosophical level, being thoughtful and serious about the “why” of energy.
The “why” of energy resource development is important for a number of reasons, and will lead us to a deeper understanding of how our energy systems work. How does resource development enhance our values and beliefs? Are our actions in resource development aligned with our values and beliefs? Certainly economic growth is important in as much as that growth may enable greater social development, and increase our standard of living. But, in the long run we must ask how do these elements fit in with our desire to have a happy and fulfilling life? In the current US election campaign we’ve being hearing the phrase “pursuit of happiness” time and again. I can’t remember who said it, but a wise person’s response to this was “If you are always pursuing happiness, you’ll miss the happiness in this moment.” In this light, the “why” of energy takes on a different significance.
I also believe the why is important because not all energy resources are equal in terms of the services and commodities that they provide us. The simplest way to undertsand this is to compare wind with oil. Harnessing wind provides us with electricity, That is a great value. Wind is also important to the global ecosystem. Wind patterns impact our climate. Oil and oil sands provide multiple commodities and energy services from gasoline to petrochemical feedstocks. The later component is the gamechanger when it comes to understanding why oil will continue to be important to society for a long time to come.
Fuel sources like wind, solar, nuclear, coal provide us with energy in the form of electricity. The discovery of hydrocracking transformed the course of human history in a profound way. That discovery has come with many unintended consequences positive and negative. The use of oil as a fuel source changed the way we move around the world. The development of plastics, medicines, and technologies from petrochemicals radically inhanced our standard of living, and our quality of life. On the other hand, those products have impacted our environmental footprint on the planet. So the why of different fuel sources (oil, natural gas, wind, solar, nuclear) are comparable and different.
Investigating the why of energy resources will take us a long way down the road to a better understanding of how our world works, and what we desire and hope for as a society. In terms of a National Energy Strategy awareness of how the why fits in will then lead us to ensuring that all energy sources are developed with the highest environmental and ethical standards that keep our actions aligned with our values and beliefs.