Imagine a world that is suddenly robbed of its fossil fuel resources. Imagine a highly advanced alien culture swooping into orbit above our planet, cloaked and stealthy in their starships, silently teleporting into their vast cargo vessels all the oil and gas and coal in our ground and all the crude and bitumen in our ocean-going containers, trains and pipelines and all the refi ned stuff in our storage facilities, automobile tanks, and furnaces from Saudi Arabia to Saint John, New Brunswick.
Now, imagine waking up on Day Zero. What would that day look like and feel like?
If it was a typical mid-winter morning in Canada, the white would be falling, the temperatures would be peaking at about minus eight, and the roads would be waiting for a phalanx of ploughs and salt trucks to clear them. Except, nothing would work. Not cars, not snow-blowers, not electric ranges, or natural gas- and propane-reliant appliances. Not outdoor barbecues, indoor water heaters or even, ironically, refrigerators.
As winter waxed into spring, even this traditionally merciful transition would bring its own catastrophes: Farmers, absent of seed, could not plant; doctors, lawyers and peace offi cers, without access to energy to power their practices, could not protect and preserve public and social institutions.
Within decades, of course, what’s left of humanity would adapt. But that adaptation would be to a world of pre-industrial brutality. Every man, woman and child would be out for themselves. Scarce resources would make us the new kings, queens, earls, dukes, lords, sheriffs, reeves, serfs, and slaves of this wretched patch of the cosmos.
Now, let us, all of us for another moment, engage in one more thought experiment. Imagine a planet, a real one this time, that needs not fear extra-terrestrial rapacity, but only the stupidity of its own inhabitants.
Those in one camp insist that our fossil fuel resources are virtually endless (we’ll call this the “what-me-worry?” oil-andgas lobby).
Those in the other subscribe to the notion that we must now cease and desist our ritual extraction of petroleum products from the good Earth (we’ll call this the “I-adore-disengenuousdocu- scare-fi lms-about-the-shale-gasindustry” climate-recovery contingent).
Funnily enough, this “experiment” fi nds purchase, right now, in the Atlantic region, in the early 21st century. And it’s as absurd as a bad science-fi ction movie.
In New Brunswick, a moratorium on shale-gas drilling is pending. The reason: the newly elected Liberal government of Brian Gallant determines that, despite 15 years of incidence-free hydraulic fracturing in the province, the nascent industry there has not suffi ciently demonstrated its commitment to water safety and environmental stewardship.
In Nova Scotia, a ban on the practice, thanks to political pressure from the great and ecologically moral minority, is in place. Period.
Meanwhile, the oily and the gassy in those jurisdictions profess to be mystifi ed. What’s all the fuss? Don’t we need fossil fuel, as we have always needed it, to power the standards of living to which we have all become accustomed over the past century or so?
Both sides of the issue are dramatically wrong. More importantly, though, both miss the bigger picture and, therefore, the only point that should matter to intelligent, reasoning people on the cusp of major climate change.
The day our good Earth stood still
Our world’s societies need resources of fossil fuel to build and deploy the very technologies they will use to transition to more sustainable energy manufactures and practices. That’s how, in the future, they will remain competitive.
In more enlightened, far-thinking jurisdictions – such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and a few corners of Colchester County, Nova Scotia – the process has never been about all or nothing, but balance.
Utter deprivation leads to the same destination as gluttony: calamity.
The only conversation that makes any sense now is the one that charts the course across this divide to civilized consensus. Then again, we could always ask our alien invaders to take us along, with our resources, for the ride. We’ll show them a thing or two about how to manage an extinction event.