Statement made on 02 December 2010 by Senator Tommy Banks (retired)
Hon. Tommy Banks:
Honourable senators, I am pleased to speak today in favour of the Senate's adoption of the seventh interim report of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, entitled: Attention Canada: Preparing for our Energy Future.
Our distinguished chair, the Honourable Senator Angus, has already told you that this interim report is, and its several successful successors will be, cogently important to Canada's future. It will be particularly important — it must be particularly important — to those of us who will, in one way or another, have a hand in determining the role that energy, writ large, will have in that future.
The most important aspect of our thinking in that respect that must derive from these reports, and from our committee's subsequent reports in this series, will be to understand how little we — society, industry, academe, and most significantly, we in government — know about how that future will be. Some aspects of that future will be fraught with problems and challenges; of that there is no doubt.
Those problems and challenges may not come from where industry sees them coming, may not come from where environmental advocates see them coming, or from where government sees them coming. That is because, if we are going to manage, adapt, cope and deal with those challenges, we must first understand the overall landscape in which they exist.
Honourable senators, we, society, industry, academe and government, all have a deficiency in our understanding of the big picture, about how all of those elements having to do with energy, production and consumption interrelate, about how they all affect each other, about how if you push in here, it bulges out over there.
Your committee seeks to provide some assistance to look at the synergies and encumbrances that we might face in our understanding the big picture. Most importantly, in our understanding of the fact that all projections are wrong, that everyone who says anything about energy consumption or production, that they know the truth is either a charlatan or a dupe.
To give you an idea about how wrong we have been in the past about, for example, oil reserves, let me remind you that in many times past well-meaning people, experts all, and all relying on what they believed to be the best available information at the time, have warned us in the most alarming terms that we are in big trouble because we are running out of oil.
In 1882, the United States Institute of Mining Engineers estimated there are about 45 million barrels of oil left, enough to last about four years. In 1914, the United States Bureau of Mines announced that the United States was down to its last 6 million barrels of oil. In 1920, the director of the U.S. Geological Survey said that U.S. oil production was about to peak. In 1951, the U.S. Department of the Interior warned that, by the mid-1960s, we would be out of oil. In 1970, Jimmy Carter said:
We could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.
In 1971, the world's proven oil reserves were 612 billion barrels. Since 1971, we have produced and used more than 800 billion barrels. If the 1971 prediction had been right, we should have run out of reserves more than five years ago, but we did not.
Today's proven remaining reserves are about 1,000 billion barrels, which is 416 billion barrels more than they said we had left in 1971, and we have been burning it at an ever-increasing rate ever since.
How are all these things possible? Because all predictions are wrong.
It is not that all the well-intended alarmists had to do with oil. Off we go into the wild green yonder at the first Earth Day celebration in 1969, environmentalist Nigel Calder warned that the threat of a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery for mankind.
C.C. Wallén, of the World Meteorological Organization said, at that time:
The cooling since 1940 has been large enough and consistent enough that it will not soon be reversed.
In 1968, Professor Paul Ehrlich, the guy who was former Vice-President, Al Gore's hero and mentor, predicted a major food shortage in the United States and said that in the 1970s hundreds of millions of people would starve to death. Mr. Ehrlich forecast 65 million Americans would die of starvation between 1980 and 1989, and that by 1999 the U.S. population would have declined to 22.6 million.
Mr. Ehrlich's predictions about England where were gloomier. He said:
If I were a gambler, I would bet even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.
In 1972, a report for the Club of Rome warned that, because of our profligate consumption, the world would run out of gold by 1981, of mercury and silver by 1985, of tin by 1987 and of petroleum, copper, lead and natural gas by 1992.
Gordon Taylor, in his 1970 book, The Doomsday Book, said Americans were using 50 per cent of the world's resources, and that by 2000, the Americans will, if they are permitted to, be using all of them.
In 1975, the Environmental Fund took out full-page ads warning:
The World as we know it will likely be ruined by the year 2000.
Harvard University biologist George Wald, in 1970 warned:
. . . civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.
That was the same year Senator Gaylord Nelson, in the United States, warned, in Look magazine, that by 1995, somewhere between 75 per cent and 85 per cent of all the species of living animals in the world would be extinct.
It is not just latter day doomsayers who have been wrong. Doomsayers have always been wrong. In 1885, the U.S. Geological Survey announced there was little or no chance of finding any oil in California. A few years later they said the same thing about Kansas and Texas. In 1939, the Interior Department said American oil supplies would last another 13 years. In 1949, the Interior Secretary said the end of availability of oil was in sight.
Having learned nothing from its earlier erroneous claims in 1974, the U.S. Geological Survey advised that the U.S. had only a 10-year supply of natural gas. According to the American Gas Association there is now a supply that will last somewhere between 1,000 and 2,500 years, at projected rates of consumption.
In 1970, when environmentalists were making predictions of man-made global cooling and the threat of an ice age and millions of Americans starving to death, what kind of government policy should we have undertaken to prevent such a calamity? When Mr. Ehrlich predicted in 1970 that England would not exist in the year 2000, what steps should the British Parliament have taken to prevent that happening?
In 1939, when the Interior Department warned that the U.S. only had oil supplies for another 13 years, what actions should President Roosevelt have taken?
Finally, what makes us think that either environmental alarmism, on the one hand, or outright denial of anthropological effects on our ecology are any more correct now than they have ever been? Everyone, on all sides of these kinds of questions — there are not really two sides, there are many — can trot out evidence, and statistics, and projections, and statistics, and computer models and human intelligence, and statistics, and direct experiential evidence and scientific certainties and charts and graphs, and, worst of all, statistics, to prove their diagnosis and their prognosis. And they are all probably wrong.
All projections are wrong. At least we want to be careful before we bet the farm on any of them. We need to use the precautionary principle. We need to know the odds and we need to place our bets carefully so as to reduce, to the extent we are able, the possibility of doing harm to ourselves and our descendents, and to this little ball on which we live.
Our committee's effort is and will be to improve, however modestly, our understanding of the big picture to make us better informed as to where and how to place our bets on our future. We here in this place have a certain responsibility in that regard, and it is in the interests of our being better able to discharge that responsibility that I commend your careful attention to this report.