A high-profile adviser on renewable energy to the European Union says Canada is making a huge mistake in placing so much emphasis on the oil sands as the key component of the country’s energy policy.
Jeremy Rifkin, a Maryland-based author and consultant, said in an interview Tuesday that focusing on the oil sands “is putting [Canada] back in the 20th century, when Europe and Asia are absolutely moving into the 21st century.” Because other economies are shifting dramatically to renewable energy, he said, “this is a really, really historic mistake for Canada…..[It] could potentially become a second tier country.”
Mr. Rifkin helped design the EU’s long-term sustainability plan, which is in the early stages of being implemented across the continent.
He said the oil industry will never be able to remove itself from a growth-collapse cycle that is created by gyrating oil prices, and so it needs to be phased out. While the industry will have to be kept on “life support” during the transition to renewables, over time new technologies will generate a far superior return on investment.
It is a “curse” to be one-resource economy, Mr. Rifkin said. At the same time, “Canada is [now] the bad guy” because of the negative reputation of the oil sands and its contribution to the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Mr. Rifkin calls the European approach a “third industrial revolution.” It includes a sharp shift to renewable energy, which will be collected mainly through massive numbers of wind, solar, geothermal and biomass generators distributed broadly – and often attached to buildings. Hydrogen and other storage technologies will ensure the power is available when it is needed, and Internet-like technology will control the complex distribution of power. Electric and fuel cell cars will draw power from that grid.
The shift to this kind of distributed, clean power is absolutely crucial to prevent a devastating increase in the planet’s temperature, and a mass extinction of human beings, Mr. Rifkin argued at a Toronto hydrogen conference on Tuesday. “We have to be off carbon in 30 years,” he said.