Get rid of gas… hey, where’s the gas?

Here come the unicorns. Or so we’d better hope. Because if they don’t hop onto the treadmill and start churning out power things are going to get kind of chilly and hungry. Not to say awkward.

Look no further than the absurd statement by B.C. Premier John Horgan that if gas prices didn’t fall soon he would do some unspecified thing to bring “some relief”. According to the Globe & Mail, “Horgan said he can’t explain a 12 cent a litre increase and perhaps the industry should invest more in refineries and the federal government should invest more in supply.”

No, neither you, nor I, nor the Globe have entirely taken leave of our senses. That really is the same John Horgan bitterly opposed to pipelines and tankers including expanding Trans Mountain to bring Alberta oil to British Columbia, a province in which various mayors and city councils have done everything possible to annoy and scare away companies that invest in energy.

So it is Horgan who has taken leave of his senses. Convinced fossil fuels are setting the sky on fire he’s been pushing hard, and sanctimoniously, to keep cheap gas away from his citizens. And now he wonders witlessly why somebody doesn’t give them cheap gas.

To some extent what we are seeing exposed here is mere hypocrisy, the politician who values saving his seat above saving the planet. Which looks pretty ugly on people who glibly accuse climate skeptics of being in it for personal advantage. But to some extent we are seeing something much more dangerous than dishonesty, namely misguided sincerity.

Advocates of harsh measures to curtail or eliminate fossil fuels tend to believe that we are this close to having abundant sources of alternative energy from wind to solar. They do not know, do not care to know, and do not check awkward facts like wind, solar and battery power supplying just 2% of world demand and 3% of that in the United States. And with rare exceptions they are viscerally opposed to nuclear partly due to fear of everything atomic because of nuclear weapons and partly from deep, inarticulate, metaphysical rejection of anything practical.

Economist Kenneth Boulding once observed that those on the left believe all utilities can be maximized simultaneously. Which is how economists talk. But Boulding was far from being some cranky right-winger; he was a Quaker peace activist and author of an essay “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth” about resource depletion. Nevertheless he rightly worried that many of his fellows genuinely did not believe in tradeoffs.

Far too many on the left still don’t grasp that there is no free lunch, that you must invariably give something up to get something else. Thus we hear people seriously say we should not penalize drivers of cars and trucks with a carbon tax because it is the fossil fuel companies that are responsible for all those emissions. Or that we can transition completely away from hydrocarbons within 12 years (and after lunch, retrofit every building in America carrying materials by bicycle or some such). And when you warn about impracticality or real costs you speak a language they do not comprehend with results infuriating, comic or both familiar to tourists. Just ask John Horgan.

If it really were true that all the world’s scientists called man-made climate change an urgent crisis, which it’s not, we would be in a pickle because without fossil fuels we would see our prosperity vanish. (An amusing video along the lines of “Zinc oxide and you” recently depicted a hapless suburban millennial seeing everything made from petroleum vanish.) It would require us to think long and hard about how to adapt, and how fast, and whether adapting to whatever changes in climate do occur might not be more effective in preventing misery and death. But thinking long and hard about that topic requires a general disposition, and ability, to think long and hard about anything.

Those who believe in powering modern civilization by putting unicorns on treadmills, or spend years trying to get rid of fossil fuels then gape at expensive gasoline, seem ill-prepared for such a task. Which is a problem. And awkward.


About the Author

Dr. John Robson is Executive Director of Climate Discussion Nexus. He holds a Ph.D. in American History from the University of Texas at Austin and has worked as a historian, policy analyst, journalist and documentary filmmaker for three decades. He has been examining the climate change issue for many years, including both the science and the policy debates.