Hydrocarbons (oil, gas and coal) represent a one-time legacy of fossilized sunshine that has fuelled an unparalleled expansion of population, industrial output and food production over the past two centuries. Cheap energy from hydrocarbons has underpinned the development of infrastructure in cities like Edmonton. Urban sprawl, supply chains that stretch around the World and unprecedented levels of personal energy consumption, place Canadians at the top of food chain in terms of per capita energy consumption globally. Cities like Edmonton, which also relies on fossil fuel extraction for a part of its economic livelihood, are highly vulnerable from a sustainability point-of-view to the end of cheap energy. Conventional oil and gas production in Alberta, including unconventional sources such as coalbed methane, has peaked. The only growth in the medium- and longer-term in the energy sector in Alberta is the oil sands. Global oil production is at or near peak production levels. Alternatives to oil and gas such as coal-to-liquids or gas-to-liquids are not scalable to current levels of energy throughput, nor are the multitudes of renewable energy sources purported by some. This mandates a new paradigm of radically reduced energy footprint for cities like Edmonton. Hydrocarbons will continue to be important of necessity, but renewable energy must make up an increasing share of an overall downsized demand. Rethinking energy at the end of the era of cheap energy is crucial and is not optional – the laws of Thermodynamics cannot be repealed and Mother Nature has a way of settling such issues for those who choose to ignore them.
About David Hughes
David Hughes is a geoscientist who has studied the energy resources of Canada for nearly four decades, including 32 years with the Geological Survey of Canada as a scientist and research manager. He developed the National Coal Inventory to determine the availability and environmental constraints associated with Canada’s coal resources. As Team Leader for Unconventional Gas on the Canadian Gas Potential Committee, he coordinated the recent publication of a comprehensive assessment of Canada’s unconventional natural gas potential. Over the past decade, he has researched, published and lectured widely on global energy and sustainability issues in North America and internationally. He is a board member of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas – Canada and is a Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute. He recently contributed to “Carbon Shift”, an anthology edited by Thomas Homer- Dixon on the twin issues of peak energy and climate change, and his work has been featured in Canadian Business, Walrus and other magazines, as well as through the popular press, radio, television and the internet. He is currently president of Global Sustainability Research Inc., a consultancy dedicated to research on energy and sustainability issues.
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