"Let's leave fossil fuels in the ground."
I don't know how often I've seen someone say this online and in real life.
Quite frankly, this phrase - and others like it - show the growing disconnect between protest movements and the natural resources that underpin our contemporary lifestyle.
Where do we think our energy comes from, or how our food is grown? Do we believe that our computers, vehicles and appliances are all created from thin air, or that our homes materialize on a whim?
Of course not. Surely, most of us understand that everything we consume or use in our contemporary lifestyle comes from something and somewhere.
However, the growing knowledge gap many of us have regarding supply chains - and the vast amount of human effort and technology that goes into manufacturing and shipping the daily products we rely on - has left a void in public discourse. For many urbanites living in countries like Canada, Germany and the United States, any conversation in the "public square" to do with energy, mining, forestry, agriculture, renewables, etc., can sometimes be quite unrealistic.
For example, amid a global energy crisis that has seen energy prices skyrocket as countries scramble for supplies, Canadian environmental groups continue to oppose projects like Coastal GasLink and the Trans Mountain Expansion. That too, even though global demand for oil and natural gas (and even coal) is still hitting record highs.
"We don't need these pipelines," they say, but clearly we do. And we need more of them too, for increased oil and gas export capacity from our coastlines to nations abroad. These are the very infrastructure projects that will play an instrumental role in providing the world with more of the oil and natural gas it needs - from one of the most sustainable energy producers on the planet.
Big green environmental groups also support nitrogen fertilizer emission reductions amid a looming global food shortage. This is a bit shocking, to be honest.
It turns out that food equals energy, and when supplies run low, countries stop exporting agricultural products to shore up domestic food supply.
But perhaps the real stunner is that many environmental groups also oppose the very mines that will provide the raw materials to make wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles and other transformational energy technologies possible in the first place.
A wind turbine, for example, requires 900 tons of steel, 2,500 tons of concrete, and 45 tons of plastic to be produced .
A single electric-car battery weighs about 1,000 pounds. To make one, about 500,000 pounds of raw materials must be dug up, moved and processed somewhere on the planet .
If Canada isn't going to develop its vast mineral and metal reserves to manufacture these technologies and others like them, where exactly will these materials come from? Will we rely on countries like China for our lithium processing and rare earths?
Such a situation would be reminiscent of the EU's reliance on Russia for more than half of its natural gas and a third of its oil, at least until the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 when the importance of having responsible and reliable supply sources was finally brought into the limelight.
If we are going to transform from mainly fossil fuel energy systems – of which today still account for more than 80% of global energy demand - to a materials-based one, the amount of mining needed is incredibly vast.
For example, some experts say developing 300 new lithium and 62 new cobalt mines by 2035 to keep up with Li-ion battery demand  would be extremely difficult to achieve, given that it can take more than a decade to bring such projects online. And the process of discovering economically feasible mineral plays is a whole other lengthy process on its own.
Environmentalists need to be much more pragmatic about their stance on the development of Canadian natural resources.
The perfect example of NGOs and activists making unrealistic, contradictory demands is how they have repeatedly delayed Canadian pipeline operations by organizing protests, tying themselves to machinery, blocking roads and railways, and even damaging equipment, effectively delaying these projects and driving up costs then complaining about those costs afterwards. Environmental groups continue to object to the Trans Mountain expansion's rising price tag, the pipeline they have obstructed and taken to court repeatedly in an attempt to delay and cause cancellation.
If these environmentalists had their way, Canadians would solely rely on foreign producers for all the natural resources we already produce here at home. We would be beholden to dictators across the globe who aren't exactly known for their stability or reliability.
We need to start having honest and pragmatic discussions surrounding natural resources and their critical role in global prosperity, energy security and the environment.
Let's face it. Everything humans do in the world - whether it be purchasing new shoes, going on vacation or building a wind turbine - has an environmental impact. And in today's global context, it has become abundantly clear that it absolutely does matter where you source your natural resources from not only for climate action, but also for national security.
As we've learned, offshoring GHG emissions associated with resource extraction to less stable and responsible producers does nothing to advance the important goal of making the world a cleaner, safer, better place. What it does do is reduce domestic emissions, but then those GHGs are simply emitted elsewhere with less environmental oversight.
Canada and other countries would do well to realize that offshoring resource production to less responsible and reliable producers comes with huge risks.
For example, state-owned oil companies invest much less of their annual budgets into renewables, cleantech and innovation, which are foundational to any energy transformation to come. According to the Economist, nationally owned oil companies invest just 5 per cent of their budgets into the energy transition, versus 15 per cent for European and North American producers.
Such environmental and security risks are too great to ignore, especially in a world where sustainability is front and centre in the minds of many governments and business leaders.
The first step towards more natural resource awareness includes looking at current global events through an objective lens. We must ask ourselves: is the world a better place when we let foreign nations who don't care as much (if at all) about social progress, human rights and the environment obtain a larger market share for the critical resources we use every day?
The answer is NO.
So then, what are we as Canadians going to do about that? How will we ensure that future generations have the best chance of not enduring the hardships many Europeans and other people worldwide are currently experiencing?
By taking matters into our own hands.
For Canada, that means developing our natural resources and doing everything we can to provide the world with more of our food, oil, natural gas, wood, minerals and everything else in between.
Canada extracts and produces its natural resources to some of the highest environmental standards on the planet. That is a fact that all Canadians should know and be proud of.
Canada's economy is heavily reliant on its natural resource industries. They account for nearly one-fifth of our nation's economy, about half of our exports, and employ millions from coast-to-coast. Frankly, without our resources, Canada would be an entirely different place, a much poorer one at that with much less global influence. Our high standard of living and quality of life would drop drastically, and we would not be able to do as much internationally to help promote democracy, human rights and social progress abroad.
By supporting the responsible development of our natural resources, we are essentially supporting a stronger Canada that can do more not only on the world stage, but also here at home.
Indigenous communities - many of which are found in rural locations where few economic opportunities exist - are now looking at natural resource partnerships as a way to uplift their peoples out of abject poverty. By creating long-term and well-paying resource sector jobs, this also helps retain youth and promotes the overall health of their communities.
It's time that we view our natural resources as the blessing they are, and recognize the fact that we extract and produce them to some of the highest environmental standards in the world. And, with growing global demand for food, lumber, energy and everything in between, we should be doing everything we can as a country to position ourselves as a supplier of choice for all of the above.
That means building new export facilities for liquefied natural gas, more oil and gas pipelines, and ensuring our railways can move more commodities across North America and to our coastlines for shipping abroad.
But perhaps most importantly, that also means educating everyday people on where all our goods come from. That includes anti-resource development protestors in Canada and abroad, who may not necessarily know just how critical natural resources are to everyday life - and the potential consequences of relying on autocracies for such commodities.
With awareness comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes a choice: we can either continue to let less responsible producers obtain growing global market share for energy, minerals, and other precious commodities that make the daily products we all rely on possible, or we can take action today and put our full support behind the natural resource sectors for a bolstered economy, improved resource security and a better off environment.
What say you?
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“Ontario could be slow-walking into an electricity disaster that should serve as a warning to other provinces that care about keeping the lights on for their citizens.” https://t.co/H5l2OF8Kli— Canada Action (@CanadaAction) October 11, 2022
1 – The Wall Street Journal – If You Want 'Renewable Energy,' Get Ready to Dig!, Date Accessed: October 2022 (https://www.wsj.com/articles/if-you-want-renewable-energy-get-ready-to-dig-11565045328)
2 – USA Today – Electric cars emit fewer emissions and are better for the environment, Date Accessed: October 2022 (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/10/17/fact-check-electric-cars-emit-less-better-environment/3671468001/)
3 – Green Car Congress – Benchmark: world needs more than 300 new mines by 2035 to keep up with Li-ion battery demand; need for recycling. Date Accessed: October 2022 (https://www.greencarcongress.com/2022/09/20220910-benchmark.html)
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