[This is an edited version of a speech by Mark Bigland-Pritchard at the August 11th rally for net zero by 2035 outside the SaskPower offices in Regina]
July 2023 was probably the hottest month that this planet has experienced in 100000 years. To anyone who has followed climate science, it should therefore be no surprise that we have seen disaster after disaster.
- Major floods, most of them deadly, in India, Pakistan and Nepal, in the maritime provinces and the eastern US, in China, in Japan, in Korea, in the Philippines
- The ocean by the Florida Keys reaching over 38°C
- War, coups and terrorist attacks escalating across over a dozen north and west African countries as people fight each other over land resources that have been diminished by one climate event after another, year after year after year.
- A warmer Antarctic ocean reducing winter sea ice extent and threatening more rapid melting of continental ice; the same effect is already well-established in the Arctic Ocean and Greenland.
- Deadly heatwaves covering most of Europe, most of the middle east and north Africa
- Deadly heatwaves in the southern & western US and northern Mexico
- Deadly heatwaves over most of China
- Wildfires throughout Mediterranean Europe, in Kazakhstan, in the US and now in Hawaii.
- And here in Canada, record levels of forest fires – over 13000km2 burnt already, and there are several weeks of fire season yet to go.
- And in Saskatchewan, drought, causing RMs to declare a state of emergency.
All this is happening when the world has only reached about 1.2°C of heating. With each fraction of a degree of heating, things get disproportionately worse. Current climate commitments made by politicians worldwide would take us to 2.7°C (and our provincial commitments are among the worst). If that is where we get to, we will be in a world horrifyingly unlike the one that we live in today. These small numbers represent massive life-threatening shifts. What we are seeing worldwide is just the beginning.
Unless we take action to address this global emergency as if it is an emergency.
An emergency driven mostly by carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.
An emergency that requires all hands on deck – not just China and the US, but every single major per capita emitter. And that includes us.
So how do Scott Moe and SaskPower react? – let’s burn more fossil gas. Let’s feel free to break our commitment to phase out coal by 2030. Let’s pretend that the answer lies in more gas now, and expensive small modular nuclear reactors some time in the mid-2030s if they can get them built and working by then. And pervasive messaging of “can’t do” and “don’t care”.
But let’s also remember that when the NDP were in power from 1991 to 2007 our emissions skyrocketed. And it’s not as if today’s NDP leadership is presenting solid policies to address the emergency. Carla Beck’s recent defeatist statement on net zero electricity encapsulates that gross inadequacy.
The leaders are not leading. So we, the people, must provide the leadership.
We need real action to overcome this impotence. We must overcome the propaganda that the oil and gas industry are feeding people day after day after day after day. We must challenge the messages of the fossil and nuclear lobbyists. We must push back against corporate gaslighting.
Because what we need to do is possible. Wind and solar are now the most cost-effective options available – so cost-effective that Mr Moe’s ideological allies in Alberta are fabricating excuses to block them. And is his own slow-Moe approach to renewables really so different from that?
A renewables-based grid is entirely possible. Over 600 peer-reviewed papers on how to do it have already been published, for jurisdictions around the world. And here in Saskatchewan, it would need the following elements:
- UN Secretary General António Guterres has said that we have to do everything everywhere all at once. That is true, and everything on this list has to happen together. But there is a starting point for us: abandon all plans for new fossil gas power stations, schedule early closure dates for the existing ones, accelerate the coal station closures.
- Put serious effort into energy efficiency through a whole series of incentives, financing arrangements and regulations. As we electrify the whole economy, we will need a lot more generating capacity, but let’s do what we can to put a limit on how much it does have to grow.
- Massively increase our wind and solar And give priority on the grid, not to inflexible fossil or nuclear plants, but to wind and solar, so that they are producing power at every hour that they can. This is a fundamental change to the way that the grid works, and, together with the proposals which follow, means that the repeated references to “baseload” become irrelevant.
- Then because wind and solar have variable output – but also because demand is variable – we balance them by a variety of means:
- Balance them geographically – when the wind isn’t blowing in one place it is blowing in another. And if we build stronger links to Alberta and Manitoba, enabling a wider geographical spread, this effect becomes more significant.
- Balance them with flexible renewable sources. This means a little more hydro, some gas produced from pyrolysis of biomass, some geothermal operated intermittently. There are limits on how much of this can be done ethically, so we must establish a framework that respects Indigenous rights and biodiversity. By the way, nuclear is useless for this role because it is inflexible.
- Balance them by trading with Manitoba: when we have excess from wind and solar we sell it and they let their hydro reservoirs rise; when we don’t have enough we buy hydro power from Manitoba. This means that we need much stronger interprovincial connections. But let’s also have stronger interconnections in the other direction, so that we can effectively have the same arrangement with BC.
- Build our storage capacity. This doesn’t have to just mean lithium ion batteries – we have potential for other battery chemistries, but also for compressed air storage and for gravitational storage.
- And as we electrify transport, we enable vehicle-to-grid technology so that car and truck batteries can contribute to the storage requirement. And for that we want smart grid technology, which can also help us to adjust demand to fit better with supply.
The investment required will be large. But that is also true if we go the non-renewables route, with both nuclear and CCS now substantially more expensive than wind or solar. And, as Don Morgan has just suddenly discovered, the price of fossil gas is volatile (as it always has been).
We can afford to invest in the transformation we need. We are a rich province. We can do it. We just need to get our priorities straight. And that means we put people and the planet first, we invest, and we empower citizens and communities to build the new economy and reap the very considerable opportunities that it can offer.
Those opportunities should be there for current fossil workers, with whatever retraining arrangements are necessary. And they should also be there for rural communities. I suggest, though, that first priority should go to First Nations reserves.
But the first thing to do is to stop the rush to gas.