Common-sense energy policy

From the October 2023 print edition

The most important economic story of the past decade went largely unnoticed and uncommented on in the North American press. This summer, the German Parliament unanimously agreed to re-open coal fired plants that were set to close. Granted, there were extenuating circumstances, related to Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine and the explicit

Toronto-based Michael Hlinka is a tenured professor at George Brown College. He hosts a weekly podcast about wagering on professional football. His website is

threat that natural gas could be shut down because of Germany’s response to that aggression. But here’s what makes this story so compelling: Germany’s Green Party agreed to this decision that on the face of it seems oh-so environmentally unfriendly. When push came to shove, common sense prevailed.

What, exactly, do I mean by common sense? There is a consensus among the Western elites that we’re on the verge of a climate crisis due to CO2 emissions. In January 2019, one of the darlings of the progressive left, US politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, asserted that the world would end in 12 years if climate change was not addressed. She essentially said that nothing else mattered and if you truly believed that as of January 2031 all life on the planet would be extinguished, then it would be wildly irresponsible not to do everything to end all CO2 emissions immediately.

Climate skepticism
I’m skeptical about this alarmism and have never been shy about expressing it. In the 2000’s, I did regular business commentary on CBC radio. I can’t remember how the issue was raised, but I was asked about “global warming” due to CO2 emissions, and I pointed out that when I was in high school, the theory was that excess carbon dioxide would lead to a new Ice Age. I stated that based on the evidence I had seen, I wasn’t sure that the planet was warming, and even if this were the case, whether human economic activity was responsible.

This skepticism outraged many CBC listeners. I was accused of being a “denier” which was flat-out silly. As a direct result, I was asked to be part of a panel discussion about the issue, and I was happy to participate. One of the presenters was introduced as Canada’s leading expert around climate (which may or may not have been the case) and in the course of the discussion (which occurred in 2005), he guaranteed that by the year 2010 Toronto would never see snow in the winter, and people would be “dying like flies” from heat-stroke in the summer.

Oops! To believe that we are on the brink of a crisis, you have to accept the following: Mankind is capable of precisely measuring temperatures from more than a century ago. The assertion is that average temperatures have increased by one (1) degree Celsius since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Then you have to be sure that the warming is attributable to CO2 emissions. Then you have to believe that even though there is no evidence that natural disasters have increased markedly in the past 150 years, it would be totally different if average temperatures increase similarly over the next decade.

Here’s what Germany’s Green Party recognized and it’s roughly analogous to the wisdom contained in the adage that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. If Germany ran out of energy this winter, there would be an immediate crisis. People would freeze to death. Germany’s economy would be plunged into the most severe recession imaginable. You weigh that certainty against the theoretical possibility that there might be devastating climate change at some point in the future. But we don’t know when it would occur and have no idea what the consequences would be.

Spreading common sense
Common sense seems to be spreading globally. In late August, Japan’s Prime Minister announced that his country would restart idled nuclear plants. If you recall, Japan turned away from this energy source just over a decade ago in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. However, since then there have been significant safety upgrades to nuclear power plants. There are currently in excess of 50 power plants under construction in the world, with China and India leading the way with 15 and 8, respectively. And Japan is considering not only re-opening existing plants but building new ones as well.

What does this mean for Canada’s energy policy? If we were smart, we would be pumping out as much natural gas and oil as possible with prices this high. Then take the wealth created and if Canadians as a collective are truly worried about CO2 emissions, commit to build nuclear power plants and explore options like solar and wind. Individually, if you are personally convinced that global warming due to CO2 emissions is a looming crisis, no-one is stopping you from doing everything in your power to reduce your carbon footprint.
I’d just urge that you use some common sense when you do so.