March 22, 2004

Business and Sustainability

Envisaging a New Energy Future
for Greater Vancouver

The meeting was attended by 16 members, 2 friends and 31 guests.


Dr. Geraldine Schwartz, Co-Founder of the Institute for Ethical Leadership, welcomed everyone to the conference. She briefly mentioned the role of the Institute as a membership association concerned with enhancing the common good. The Institute works in five theme areas, and mini-conferences will be held throughout 2004 as follows

  1. Youth and Education theme on “Safe and Caring Schools”—January 26
  2. Business and Sustainability theme on “Envisaging a New Energy Future for Greater Vancouver”—March 22.
  3. Stewardship and the Environment theme (Eco-Efficiency)—May 31
  4. Re-gathering (after summer break)—September 27
  5. Relationships and Personal Development theme (topic to be announced)—October 25
  6. Health and Wellness theme (topic to be announced)—November 22

The work arising from all of these mini-conferences in 2004 will form the basis for a larger interactive conference called Connections III, planned for February 2005.

Geraldine invited participants to introduce themselves. A broad spectrum of people was present from concerned citizens to those actively involved in energy issues.

Introduction to the Program

The program was introduced by Dr. Desmond Berghofer, Co-founder of the Institute for Ethical Leadership and Chair of the Business and Sustainability Sector. Dr. Berghofer put the issue of energy use in an ethical context by stressing that the depletion of energy stocks by current generations, particularly those in the world's richest countries, with no satisfactory provision for the needs of future generations, while at the same time polluting and destroying the natural environment, is a profound ethical issue. He referred to growing awareness of the issue as evidenced by reports in special interest journals, but noted that there was little coverage in the mainstream media and no evidence that it had reached the political agenda of any level of government.


Energy, Evolution and Civilization: The Global Context and Lessons for the GVRD
William E Rees, PhD, University of British Columbia, School of Community and Regional Planning

Dr. Berghofer introduced Dr. Bill Rees as the first speaker. Dr. Rees is internationally recognized for developing the construct of the ecological footprint as a way of measuring the impact that individuals, organizations, communities and nations have on the natural world. He is a founding member of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics and co-investigator of the “Global Integrity Project.”

Dr. Rees stressed four underlying points to keep in mind:

  1. Energy is primary. It is the basis by which we obtain all other resources and do everything.
  2. We live in a “temporal anomaly,” that is, the time in which we live is a unique (not normal or permanent) era in human development.
  3. Energy is a pervasive factor in the evolution of civilization.
  4. The necessary steps forward towards sustainability are contradictory to most current economic development policies of governments and to many international agreements.

The Maximum Power Principle. “The struggle for life is a struggle for free energy available for work.” (Boltzmann 1905. “The Second Law of Thermodynamics”). This means that individuals, corporations and economies compete fiercely for available energy and in the process consume it at enormous rates.

Two Great (Energetic) Leaps Forward.

  1. The adoption of agriculture 10,000 years ago created a 13-fold increase in average human population growth compared to the previous 10,000 years. Human beings were forced into agriculture because of over hunting and over harvesting during the previous hunter-gatherer era.
  2. The discovery and widespread use of fossil fuels led to a 40-fold expansion of human activity in the past 150 years.

The Fossil Fuel Connection. Since 1850 the use of fossil fuels has displaced human labour and the use of domesticated animals for work to negligible proportions. Our culture has become inordinately dependent on this one source of energy.

Is There an Impending Energy Crisis? There are two opposing views:

  1. Human ingenuity will solve all problems.
  2. Industrial civilization has already peaked and is now running down as it exhausts available energy supplies.

Fred Hoyle in the 1960s pointed out that our challenge is to use the benefits of temporarily abundant fossil fuels to get beyond our dependence on them into a sustainable energy future. As a civilization we have only one shot at this.

History of Oil Discovery and Production. US petroleum discovery peaked in the early 1930s. Extraction peaked in 1971. Now 80% of US recoverable reserves have been consumed.

Globally, conventional petroleum discovery peaked in the early 1960s and extraction will likely peak by 2010. Up to half of conventional reserves has already been consumed.

Since 1980 extraction has increasingly exceeded discovery. We are in a rapidly declining situation.

Conflict between “Political” and Technical Reserves Estimates. Whereas proven reserves based on technical (geological) estimates have been declining since 1982, “political” estimates of reserves made by economists and embraced by politicians continue to rise, flying in the face of what the technical experts are saying.

Natural Gas Potential. In North America this is an even more serious problem than the depletion of oil reserves. North American supplies of natural gas are declining and we don't have easy access to off-shore supplies, as we do with oil. Whereas Canada would have ample supplies to meet its own needs we are forced under NAFTA to continue to supply the US market at equivalent consumption rates in both countries.

In Canada extraction is now dropping rapidly. By 2010 we will be at one-third of what we were extracting in 2000. This is the reason why arguments for using nuclear energy are now resurfacing.

Global Remaining Reserves of Oil and Gas. Estimates are that if we continue as we are now, oil will be gone by 2030 and gas by 2050. Of course, as shortages begin to take hold before these dates, serious problems will develop.

What is the Position of Canadian Authorities? Statements from official sources in Canada say there is no reason to be concerned because supplies are abundant. In other words, they are following the “political” estimates rather than accepting the evidence provided by technical (geologists) experts. They also argue that rising prices will eventually lead to substitution by other technologies and energy sources.

Alternate Energy Sources

A Discomforting Conclusion. “The renewable sources of energy—direct sunlight, wind, hydropower, biomass—are all solar in origin and are in toto inadequate for running anything that passes for civilization. [They have] no chance whatever of sustaining the present world's population.” (The Energy Advocate, August 1996).

Dr. Rees said that this was not his conclusion, but it is sobering to consider. We are definitely facing a grim challenge and what makes it worse is that we are not even admitting that we have a problem. We are embedded in a culture that makes absurdity an obsession (500 horsepower SUVs to drive around town, when 5 horsepower would do). There is a 100-fold potential for saving. The advertising industry is dedicated to making us dissatisfied so that we buy devices that are progressively more energy consuming than what we had before.

Steps That Would Help the GVRD.

Cultural Survival: The Bottom Line.


Replacing the Future: From Big Power to Global Relocalization
Julian Darley, Global Public Media and the Post-Carbon Institute

Dr. Berghofer introduced Julian Darley as the second speaker. Mr. Darley is a British environmental philosopher living and working in Vancouver. He holds Masters degrees in Journalism and the Philosophy of Media and Environmental Sociology from the University of Texas and Surrey University respectively. He is the founder of Global Public Media and the Post-Carbon Institute. He is the author of the forth-coming book, “High Noon for Natural Gas: The New Energy Crisis.”

Mr. Darley stressed that what we have seen in the use of energy in the last 40 years can't continue. We are not in a position to talk about reform of the current system, but replacement, that is, replacing big centralized power with local systems.

A New World. The mainstream media are beginning to indirectly report energy issues without coming out with a clear picture of the problems of upcoming energy shortages that face the world.

We have to realize that this is not 1973, when there was still a lot of oil still to be extracted from the ground. There is a widespread need for energy literacy. We need to look at mechanisms, not markets, because markets are highly misleading; that is, we have to look at discovery (of oil and gas), not price. The key questions are: Where is it, and how difficult will it be to extract?

ASPO Depletion Model 2004. That the Middle East is a safe source of supply is illusory. All supplies of oil are in decline. The only thing that can change the picture of rapid exhaustion of supply is a colossal economic crash.

Estimates by Exxon corroborate what other researchers outside the industry are saying. We are getting warnings from the technical geological data, but are we paying attention? Price signals are no use when it comes to an issue as big as this.

In 2001 and 2002 oil companies spent more money on searching for oil than they made from the discoveries.

For the first time in 2001-2002 natural gas discovery was less than natural gas consumption. That should have been a clear signal of trouble ahead, just as when the US became a net importer of oil just after World War II should have been a clear signal. But demand keeps on outpacing supply.

When will Canada become a net importer? Sooner than we think. The Alberta Tar Sands despite the huge reserves is very difficult to extract.

Implications. Decline in global oil means:

All of this will lead to CONTRACTION:

Can we switch to natural gas? To some extent, but this supply is already declining. If the US comes after its fair share of natural gas from Canada, what will we do? Foreign supplies of natural gas are in places where the West is not wanted.

The Situation in British Columbia. Oil and gas extraction has probably already peaked. Global warming can reduce production of electricity from hydro because of declining precipitation. Also, we are committed to sending a lot of our energy south to the US.

Strategy. The only answer is to reduce consumption (CONTRACTION) while we work to bring on stream sources of energy that are renewable. But renewables won't help a lot if we don't REDUCE by:

We should probably forget about the hydrogen economy as a realistic alternative.

Local energy generated by local people is the preferred strategy

Global Relocalization. This means localization of energy production (and the economy) on a large scale, around the world. We have to close the loop of Energy-Money-Food. This means:

We have to realize that all of this is contradictory to current directions, which means that it is highly controversial. Nevertheless, the only sane alternative is to start planning for


Following the presentations, participants were asked to form into six groups according to their interest to discuss the following topics:

  1. Transportation. “In what ways might new forms and patterns of transportation be developed for Greater Vancouver that shift away from and reduce the need for fossil fuels?”
  2. Local Agriculture. “In what ways might a healthy and less energy intensive local agriculture be developed to provide the food we need in Greater Vancouver?”
  3. New Sources of Power. “In what ways might new sources of power be developed to supply the energy requirements for home and industry in Greater Vancouver?”
  4. Building Design. “In what ways might we design our living spaces and work places in Greater Vancouver in order to live with less pressure on the natural environment?”
  5. Policy and Planning. “In what ways might we use economic levers, policies and planning to guide energy usage in Greater Vancouver?”
  6. Local Culture. “In what ways might local culture be nourished and revitalized to foster a less energy intensive social and cultural life in Greater Vancouver?”

Before beginning the discussion the groups were given a brief presentation by Gerri Schwartz and Desmond Berghofer on how to use the “Hold Fire and Think” process. The aim of this process is to generate ideas as possible solutions. There was no intent to reach decisions or consensus, but rather to expose a number of useful approaches that can form the basis of projects that can be carried forward in the future.

Reports from the Groups

Following the discussion a spokesperson from each group gave a brief report.

Topic 1. Transportation.

Topic 2. Local Agriculture.

Topic 3. New Sources of Power

We proposed a lot of small solutions, which if put together could make a definite difference. A lot of ideas already exist that are not being taken seriously. Until we have to change, we probably won't. Decisions on energy production and use have to address the need to live in harmony with the environment, not just reduce the need for oil and gas. These are our ideas:

Topic 4. Building Design

Our general idea was to emphasize the integration of commercial and residential communities. We saw the following benefits from this approach:

Topic 5. Policy and Planning

Topic 6. Local Culture

Concluding Remarks

Desmond and Gerri concluded the evening by thanking the speakers for framing the problem and the participants for providing such a wealth of creative ideas for addressing the problem. The Institute will be following through and contacting everyone for further input on how to move ahead so that by the time we come to the Connections III conference in February 2005 we will have a number of initiatives underway.

Guests were invited to consider joining the Institute as a Member or a Friend to help us continue with our important work.

Next Meeting

The next Mini-Conference is May 31, 2004: 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Vancouver Public Library
Theme: Stewardship and the Environment
Topic: The Benefits of Eco-Efficiency in Our Schools, Institutions and Businesses