by Gina Gill

    The True Cost of Burning Oil

    There is this universal belief that we adopt as a means of survival, it goes something like this, “that could never happen to us”. And so we go on with our days thinking that we have endless resources and the impacts of our actions won’t really harm us. But that’s not true.

    What we really need to do is start acknowledging the possibility that tragedy can happen to anyone and very often it is within our control. We have to consider the important questions. We have to inquire into oil and gas and ask where will we create our own demise? Will we be unconscious enough to use up all our non-renewable resources? Will we create our own environmental catastrophes?

    Dr. John Robinson concerns himself with the powerful inquiry of how we currently use oil and gas. Dr. Robinson is the Associate Provost, Sustainability at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and is a professor with UBC’s Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability and with the Department of Geography. He says, “People argue that the reason we should not use fossil fuels is because we are running out of them. That is a huge error. The problem is not that we are running out of non-renewable fuels, the problem is more likely that we don’t want to burn them because of the consequences. We have to get off oil and ultimately off gas, because we have too much of it, and when we burn them, we create climate change and other problems. That is the real issue, it is not physical scarcity of the resource but rather the environmental and social consequences of extracting them and burning them. Ultimately we have to move away from fossil fuels as an energy source and in the mean time we have to make the process of extraction less damaging to communities and environment.”

    Dr. Robinson does not expect the conversion away from fossil fuels to come easily as major changes to energy sources don’t happen overnight. In 1870, Canada was dependent on wood and it was almost 90 per cent of the country’s energy. While 50 years later, it was almost exclusively coal and by 1970, oil and gas was becoming the main energy source. “We have gone through these transitions before and what that tells us is that it takes a bit of time. You don’t just go from wood to coal to oil, you create a mix of resources and there is a bridge of time to transition”.

    “The good news is that renewables are taking off. The big story in the last ten years, I think, is this incredible explosion of renewable energy production,” explained Dr. Robinson. “It started from a tiny base of potential renewable resources, with the exception of hydro, and is now starting to gain momentum. It takes awhile to become a significant economically viable resource but renewables are growing rapidly.
    ßIn the supply side of the equation we are seeing the transition starting to gain speed in wind, solar, geothermal and biofuels but on the demand side we haven’t gotten nearly as far as we could.”

    “I am optimistic that there is a possibility of change. I think the transition has started and over the next few decades we will see the fossil fuels used as transitional fuels,” said Dr. Robinson. “The danger is we have a surplus of fossil fuel that are getting cheaper and cheaper to produce as technology advances. It’s a real race to see whether or not renewables will beat out the fossils. What we need to consider is the full cost of using fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are creating real, yet unmeasured costs, in terms of climate change and the environment, but we don’t pay for that in the price of fuel at the pumps.”

    The oil and gas industry has played a critical role in the development and advancement of the world as we know it. Now its time to diversify our portfolio of assets once again and incorporate sustainable energy solutions of the renewable fare. We need to use our current oil and gas resources as a bridge to transition into new energy. Advancing renewables, making them economically feasible, harnessing technology and having a global commitment to move in this direction, will ultimately lead to the success of a sustainable new energy future.

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