Local View: Growing popularity of electric cars makes Line 3 a puzzler
Lately, climate activists have been attempting to or threatening to disable valves on the existing Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline. Their rationale is that they must commit acts of civil disobedience to prevent climate change, which is even now cost...
Lately, climate activists have been attempting to or threatening to disable valves on the existing Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline. Their rationale is that they must commit acts of civil disobedience to prevent climate change, which is even now costing people their homes, their lives, and their livelihoods. Many of the worst affected are the least among us who have the least amount of political power to change the course of climate change. The climate activists are therefore arguably and selflessly taking on tremendous legal risk and the ire of powerful corporations and construction unions to preserve a livable planet.
But what of the other necessity defense, the one used by everyone with a substantial economic interest attached to these fossil-fuel projects? They, too, claim necessity. They claim fossil fuels will be needed far into the future and that more and more infrastructure to support fossil fuels is "necessary" to stave off a cold, dark future. This necessity defense, however, is shielded by interlocking laws that are constructed by corporate lawyers and lobbyists to protect they who pay well.
So, how truly necessary are fossil fuels, especially oil?
Well, there are three distinct phases to renewable-energy development. The first phase involves basic research and development and is heavily dependent on government spending. That support has paid off with solar from the space program, wind power, storage technology, energy efficiency, etc.
The second stage involves subsidies to buy down the initial high cost of the technology and encourage production at scale, resulting in dramatic declines in cost. Wind and solar power are now passing out of this phase as they are less expensive than coal and natural gas-generated electricity.
The final stage is giving the coup de grace to carbon with carbon pricing. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act is such a plan and is pending now in the U.S. House of Representatives. Rapid shifts from carbon to carbon-free sources are expected with this approach.
Specific to oil, the future looks pretty bleak even without carbon pricing. Transportation is moving to electric power. Cars, of course, but also pickups, SUVs, minivans, long-haul trucking, and delivery trucks all are being electrified because it is very cheap to generate renewable electricity and very expensive to heat up tar sands to get crude oil; and yet, that is exactly what the new Enbridge Line 3 proposes to transport.
If you are considering buying a new vehicle, consider buying or leasing an electric because the resale value of your fossil-fueled vehicle will likely be poor. Over a million electric vehicles are now on U.S. roads, and sales are growing exponentially. The last four months of 2018 were the best-ever for electric vehicles.
Personally, a year ago, I didn't know anyone with an electric vehicle; now I know five.
Investors are noticing. The oil and natural-gas sector is now the lowest-performing sector in the S&P 500. Owning massive oil reserves is useless if there is a declining need for oil in the future.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce also has noticed, demanding Enbridge prove the need for Line 3 in court.
In the final analysis, valve-turning climate activists wouldn't have a basis for their necessity defense if certain corporations exercised good corporate citizenship and changed their business plans in a way that meaningfully recognized climate change.
Scientists tell us we have only 12 years to make massive cuts in carbon emissions. The time has passed for new fossil-fuel infrastructure. Keep carbon in the ground. Pass the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act and kickstart the transition from carbon to carbon-free energy.
Eric Enberg practices family medicine in West Duluth and is group leader for the Duluth Citizens' Climate Lobby (citizensclimatelobby.org/chapters/MN_Duluth). He also is a member of the Duluth Climate and Environment Network.