Last week the Department of Energy in the United States published some very hopeful data. The overwhelming surge of solar and wind energy generation in the United States has caused the DOE to revise its carbon emission estimates for the United States down, and by a large factor. There are some very interesting economic fundamentals that are no longer applying in the world right now. For instance, you may not have noticed, but the price of oil is in the basement. Meanwhile, the American economy is growing. This is the first time ever in modern history when the American economy is growing, yet its consumption of fossil fuels in decreasing.
There are other developments going on in the world. In August, Singapore was the first city to see the launch of a driverless taxi service. That is right, self-driving taxis, no driver at all, not even as a back up. The city of Pittsburgh followed a few weeks later with Uber’s self-driving taxi service. In this same DOE report highlighting the fall of fossil fuel consumption, it noted that if the current pace of sales for electric vehicles continues, there will be more electric vehicles on the roads than internal combustion vehicles within 20 years. It also noted, this assumes there is no significant technological increase in electric vehicle technologies. What is most promising of all is Tesla’s vision for their own self-driving car share service. No longer will any cars be parked downtown while you work. They will drop you off, then work the streets as a taxi all day.
Now it could be easy to try and tune this out…..I have heard this all before…..but the fact is that although we have dreamed of this technological age for several decades, it is in fact finally here right now. Self-driving vehicles are already 40 percent safer (1.4 million driver miles per fatality) than human driven vehicles in the US (1 million driver miles per fatality). And they will only get safer. Getting rid of parking downtown is such a huge economic gain for cities, that already leading cities such as Singapore, Berlin, Paris and some are rumouring even London are musing about banning personal vehicles from the downtown core all together. Imagine the cost savings to cities when tunnels and underground parking no longer need ventilation systems. Imagine the savings to health costs when there are no longer any air quality warnings. This is not the distant future, it is literally right now.
What amazes me are the interjections I hear people come up with. “But I like out in the country.” “What about loggers.” “Batteries do not work well in the cold.” I do not want to belittle these concerns, but we really need to ask a bigger question…..does the fact that Edmonton is a very cold city mean that electric vehicles are not an acceptable solution, or does it mean that Edmonton is not an acceptable location for a modern city? The same can be said for any lifestyle that does not jive with the coming age. It could very well be that alot of Canadians are going to get priced out of the lifestyle we have grown accustomed to. Further, it could be that these changes are soooo huge, our own Federal government can do virtually nothing to stop them. If Canada is the only developed nation insisting on driving gasoline vehicles while the rest of the developed world enjoys far higher productivity by eliminating the daily traffic jam commute, well frankly Canada will not be considered a developed nation much longer. We will be that backwards place up north where they sell oil and trees when the price is right.
What am I getting at? The Federal Government has recently implemented a Carbon tax plan. Bad idea? Who really knows, but what worries me is that the issue of carbon emissions is not actually going to be what drives the carbon-less economy that is already starting to take shape in the US. We are actually at the point in history where most of the world can generate all of their energy needs with solar panels and wind. Canada, like Scandinavian countries, needs a huge government effort to make sure we remain a relevant technological leader. Last week Blackberry announced that it will no longer manufacture phones. Bombardier barely pulled off the launch of their C-Series jet, while our own Bay Street financial community publicly cheered against them. We need to wake up! We need to lead this new technological world, or we will just be that backwards place up north where they drive gasoline cars, and sell some oil and trees when global markets need it. We need smart efficient cities with efficient public transportation, and a technological value added resource economy. We need to build world-leading ski resorts that generate billions on a few mountains, and protect our last remaining wilderness for the world to come see. What we have now is frankly not good enough if we want Canada to remain a world-leader into the Twenty First Century. And if you find yourself protesting these ideas saying that your lifestyle will be too affected by this new economic system, you should really ask yourself why you think your lifestyle matters to the other 7 billion people on this planet fighting for their own share of our natural resources. The winds of change are a coming, and it is not going to be a slow-paced era of change. I love the easy going and accepting society we have created in Canada, but we can not become lazy and uncompetitive if we want to remain a developed nation.