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Mark Jaccard

Fossil Fuels: Friend or Foe ?

Date Recorded: Feb 10th, 2007
Recorded At: Vancouver Institute’s 2007 Lecture Series
Recorded By: CFRO, Vancouver Co-op Radio’s Brown Bagger Programme
Duration: 59:50  

Topic Background

More and more people believe we must wean ourselves from fossil fuels – oil, natural gas and coal – to save the planet from wars, environmental catastrophe and economic collapse. Mark Jaccard, author of Sustainable Fossil Fuels, argues that if we use them differently, fossil fuels could provide clean energy for centuries to come.

Dr. Mark Jaccard’s recent book, with a full title of Sustainable Fossil Fuels: The Unusual Suspect in the Quest for Clean and Enduring Energy, has surprised a lot of people. In it he argues that fossil fuels should be part of an environmentally sound and responsible energy system for the foreseeable future. In other words, we don’t have to stop using fossil fuels. In fact, he says to avoid an economic disaster we probably should continue to use them, while moving towards more use of renewables over time. At the same time, to avoid an ecological meltdown, we’ll have to use available technologies to clean up fossil fuels, especially carbon sequestration to keep greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. The major barrier to a future involving sustainable fossil fuels, he thinks, is the lack of political will to establish the necessary regulations and incentives.

And so, contrary to many leading green thinkers, Jaccard doesn’t think energy conservation is the place to start. If we are concerned about the environment, he claims we begin with emissions control. After all, he argues, if we didn’t use the environment for a free dumping ground for carbon waste, fossil fuels would continue as the best source of condensed solar energy on the planet. Jaccard also contradicts the Peak Oil movement, saying we aren’t going to run out of oil or coal any time soon – and certainly not soon enough to save the climate. He points to existing technologies to retrieve so-called heavy oil from many parts of the world, including the Alberta Tar Sands. And he maintains that there is at least 250 years worth of coal left, if not more. Finally, he says installing emissions controls to capture and store carbon dioxide is cheaper than re-tooling modern civilization to use alternative energy.

Speaker Biography

Mark Jaccard, is a professor in the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and an economist focusing on sustainable energy systems.

Dr. Jaccard’s experience includes chairing the BC Utilities Commission (1992-1997), serving on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (1993-1996) and on the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (1996-2003). He is also a fellow of the C.D. Howe Institute, a Canadian economic and social think tank based in Toronto.

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