“You want a toe? I can get you a toe. Believe me. There are ways Dude, you don’t wanna know about it believe me. Hell, I can get you a toe by 3 o’clock this afternoon, with nail polish.”
-Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski
Hey feds, you want “net-zero carbon emissions by 2050” on new infrastructure? I can get you net-zero by 2050. There are ways Dude. You don’t want to know about it but there are ways.
As this bizarre century continues to unfold, where blindly succumbing to groupthink is now viewed as “leadership”, Canada’s ivory-towered, uncalloused, regionally ignorant, dismal circle of ruling elites has found a way to make a minority government work – subordinate all future infrastructure development to a heavy and hazy requirement to be “net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.” There’s nothing wrong with an emissions goal, they are of course laudable if real, like insisting on acceptable parts per million of whatever noxious substance we want to limit. But burdening industry with a political, shapeless millstone is something else entirely. The risk to industry is the beauty to the government – the target is ambiguous and nebulous, which makes a great sound bite, but yet still has enough leeway that governments can suck and blow at the same time, saying one thing to appease activists and acting another way to keep the wheels of the economy from falling off. Is that Scope 1 emissions, or Scope 2, or Scope 3? Scope 1 are direct emissions from owned or controlled resources; Scope 2 are indirect emissions from the generation of acquired energy; Scope 3 are all indirect emissions in the value chain including upstream and downstream emissions. Agreeing to “net zero” at any time without understanding how the requirements fit in this framework requires a lobotomy.
Scope 3 is a concept so outrageously academic that it can’t survive in the wild (e.g., what are the downstream emissions of any infrastructure? A bridge? A pipeline? Is a bridge different than a pipeline? Why? What about a new rail line – what are the emissions that will be created by the freight that is hauled over its life? If cars are hauled, do you know what kind of car and where it will go in its lifetime? If food is hauled, are you presumed to know who it will feed, how many kids in the families (big families are a climatic disaster, don’t you know), will it go into dishes that include meat, and if so what kind of meat, and if it’s fuel, what will that fuel be used for, and will it go into solar panel manufacturing or…. you get the picture). Or do we just plug in academic variables for all these things? Because don’t worry, some economist somewhere has modelled this to perfection, and their model has been vetted by peers and stamped with approval, and it’s all you need to know and shut your alt-right mouth if you disagree because you’re not a Ph.D. and they are, and look, things can go very smoothly for you or very difficult, which would you prefer?
And you might think well, that’s ridiculous, no one would ask for Scope 3, and yet Export Development Canada has set up a program to access EDC emergency funding for oil/gas companies, which as it turns out is like being able to access a sasquatch, and it is made clear that to access funding a “TCFD climate change report” must be submitted along with the application, and the guidebook for completing a report includes a “suggestion” that oil/gas applicants estimate Scope 3 emissions of their products. You want funding, we “suggest” you do this. Is that the same “suggestion” that Energy East had to comply with? So there are your marching orders: when you send a barrel/gigajoule down that pipeline into the great big world, do tell us what it where/how it will be consumed, in what manner, what the resulting emissions will be, for good or evil, for pleasure or necessity…How hard can that be? (One climate industry website, Greenhouse Gas Protocol, offers this fecal gem of a reason as to why “businesses should care” about this maniacal request to guess-what-your-hydrocarbons-might-be-used-for screwball scheme: “Businesses have found that developing corporate value chain (Scope 3)… inventories delivers a positive return on investment.” (Sorry, conservative readers, but if that statement doesn’t make you say WTF out loud at least a dozen times you have likely ceased breathing…Can you imagine the sheer nerve it takes to put a statement like that out on the web? It’s like me writing a textbook on surgery because I cut up my own pork chops, and then lecturing surgeons who are too obtuse to listen.)
A ray of light does shine into this insane asylum though. One outlet is available to anyone wanting to build any infrastructure ever again while meeting these regulations – a loophole of sorts exists that all the business-hating modellers have yet to figure out how to close. We will be able to meet “net-zero” targets by planting trees, apparently. That is fantastic news, because it is a real phenomenon, and everyone from a squirrel to the Dalai Lama would admit that more trees are better than fewer. Of course, there are pockets of resistance; some politicized academics insist that that is not an emissions reduction strategy, because it may allow hydrocarbons to survive as a fuel source. As such, there will be pressure from some circles to disallow hydrocarbon development to be offset by planting trees, you can bet on it.
This conundrum does twist the likes of Green New Deal advocates in knots, to the extent that there is now academic handwringing about whether more trees will indeed help fight the climate change battle. Consider this NASA piece on the topic in which scientists pose the following questions (and a great many more): Is the concept of planting trees to help combat climate change feasible? Is it scientifically sound? Is it cost efficient? What are the risks? How realistic are recent studies’ estimates of how much carbon can be sequestered through reforestation? How long will this approach take to make a dent? How do the costs of adopting this strategy stack up against potential benefits? What are the benefits? How will global climate models respond to massive forest reforestation? Will an additional billion hectares of forests actually cool the planet? Or make it warmer? And, ultimately, (this is my question, not the scientist’s, as you may well deduce w/o me telling you) considering this list of questions posed, do they understand thing one about the whole idea?
It really is a farcical article, or turns out that way, soon after the valid and scientific questions are raised. The author of the study referenced in the article, despite asking all these questions (and therefore obviously not knowing the answers), is quick to assert in the article that “planting trees will never be a substitute for decreasing fossil fuel emissions.” There is apparently no need to quantify how much of a decrease in fossil fuel emissions, or even state whether he’s talking about coal or natural gas, in order to make a statement so blindingly political that it invalidates his whole ethos of scientific rigour (true fans will notice I sourced “ethos” from the Big Lebowski also, who used it in a way (while weighing Nazis vs. nihilists) that is weirdly relevant to the climate change debate: “Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism Dude…at least it’s an ethos.” Or in other words, is a bad ethos better than no ethos?) . It’s a generic CYA statement to make sure that, like Galileo, he doesn’t commit heresy. Oddly enough, for a topic in which “the science” is resoundingly settled, other scientists, quoted in the Guardian no less (a bastion of anti-fossil fuel hyperbole), state that “New research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities.”
Hang on a second, it gets even more demented. Recall that it was in 2015, five short years ago, that yet another group of scientists concluded that the world did not, as had been rigorously estimated in 2014, contain 400 billion trees; it contained more than 3 trillion. Seven times the estimate that was acceptable the previous year. Oops.
We can surmise then that the path to “net-zero 2050” will be a tortuous (if you’re building anything) and comical (if you’re not) feeding frenzy of political machinations and whimsical declarations as the next dead-certain projection is revealed.
Nevertheless, as fuel providers for the motor of society, we will need to leave that group to fret about the politics required to skate through these next few decades. While they do that, we will get on with it, like we always do. You want a tree? I can get you a tree. I can get you a tree by 3 o’clock this afternoon. I can get you a million trees.
Herein lies opportunity, and a very good one at that. If the price of admission for building new infrastructure is planting trees, hallelujah. That is fantastic news. Bring it on. There will be challenges down the road, when, say, a new pipeline gets approval on the condition the owner plants 2 million trees (or whatever) and the usual suspects say hey, wait a minute, we still hate pipelines. Then, assuming Trudeau will still be in power (though he may violate three-quarters of the criminal code, not enough people seem to want to get behind whomever the conservatives put up, and the NDP/Green clearly scare the hell out of Canadians, so our Canuck Zoolander it is for the foreseeable future), he and his gang will be in a tough spot. We’ll let them worry about that; we have work to do, and, apparently, trees to plant.