Confessions of a fossil fuel addict

I'm full of questions about our complicated and pervasive relationship with fossil fuels. I struggle with my addiction to these fuels and I'm not alone. I need help. I drive a car. I heat my house.

I’m full of questions about our complicated and pervasive relationship with fossil fuels. I struggle with my addiction to these fuels and I’m not alone. I need help. I drive a car. I heat my house. I buy food from Outside, brought to me by trucks powered with diesel.

These are just some of the obvious signs of my addiction. What about the more subtle ones – watching TV in a Yukon winter when the power to supply my TV is provided by diesel generators, using my computer to write this note when the machine was created using metals mined who knows where, at what human and environmental costs, using petrochemicals to manufacture and transport it to me? The list goes on and on and on.

What else can I do? The car is energy efficient, the windows and doors of my house are weather-stripped, there is lots of insulation in the roof, the walls have extra depth, the composter and recycling bins are active, the garden provides food for the freezer and cold storage, the wild berries are picked and converted to jams and jellies, even my clothes are a bit threadbare because they are worn for so long.

I don’t think all these things are making much difference but, because I need to do something about climate change, they will continue.

One criticism of people like me who don’t want to continue with oil and gas ‘business as usual’ is that we are NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard). They are correct. I believe in the science of climate change and that humans are a major contributor to the unprecedented changes we are already seeing.

As a global NIMBY, I would prefer to see no further oil and gas development anywhere and a rapid transition to renewable energy.

Critics ask why it is OK to leave the dirt and devastation to other communities while we keep enjoying the benefits of fossil fuel. Why are we not willing to get our fuel closer to home and save the carbon emissions from transportation of the fuel from the south?

My reply is: Why are we willing to keep using a fuel that is slowly killing our planet?

We keep debating the relative merits of one fossil fuel over another. These discussions remind me of my younger years when my circle of friends went on about filtered versus non-filtered cigarettes. Bottom line – eventually, they both make you sick.

I am not naive enough to think we can go directly to being fossil-fuel free. There will be a transition period. Of course I am aware of the contradictions in what I want for the future and what I am doing now. What I want are options for making the switch more quickly.

I resent that, due to lack of political will, coming up with options that decrease our dependency on fossil fuels will take a very long time but the oil and gas industry will get the go-ahead to explore almost immediately.

In making this transition to a renewable energy future, what are some of the issues that we will face and how does this all relate to oil and gas exploration in the Yukon?

Just because we have a supply, should it be used? Where would our will go for increased greenhouse-gas emission reduction?

Where is the work on reduction in demand? What are the renewable energy alternatives? What further improvements can be made to energy efficiency?

The National Energy Board designates all gas production in coastal waters and north of the 60th parallel as frontier production, deemed to have more challenging and therefore more risky operating environments, along with the need for special infrastructure to bring the gas to market (Is Natural Gas a Climate Change Solution For Canada?, The Pembina Institute, 2011).

Part of the problem in our system is that we can more easily calculate the benefits but the real risks only become apparent once the disaster occurs. Nowhere is there a discussion of the intrinsic value of the environment. Everything is being weighed and measured using a financial scale.

The precautionary principle states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action. In the current Whitehorse Trough situation it looks as though the precautionary principle has been reversed with the onus on the public to provide proof of negative outcomes.

In Canada, how much of our problem is distribution rather than supply? Eastern Canada has to import oil from outside Canada while, at the same time, we are trying to pipe it to the U.S. and China. Is the oil and gas activity in the Whitehorse Trough really about our local needs? Is it, instead, about development and growth regardless of cost?

If you want to know who benefits from any sort of development, just follow the money. Does the trail lead to a corporation that must supply its shareholders with large returns on investment regardless of any other consideration?

If they say that their efforts are creating jobs, who gets the jobs, how long do they last, where do they pay taxes, how are the workers treated, what contribution does the company actually make to the community? Is that contribution worth the risks? Reading about the ill effects on communities where oil and gas industries prevail is stomach-churning.

Do we really understand the intertwined environmental and socio-economic costs that come with development? Our arguments from the silos of our interests do nothing to identify the interdependency of all the benefits and costs of our various actions.

What do we want our community to look like? We already have a major housing crisis, the Whitehorse food bank had a 35 per cent increase in use over last year and homelessness has become such a fact of life that people are no longer shocked by it.

If this is the price of development and growth, I don’t want them.

Our government stated, in the 2009 Energy Strategy for Yukon, that its vision was that the Yukon government would be a leader.

To date, I do not like the direction you are leading us.

Judy Harwood Dabbs

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