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Articles by John McGrath

John McGrath is an intinerant student and sometimes reporter currently living in Toronto, Canada. He mainly writes about Canadian and International Politics from an energy and climate perspective

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  • Canada has its own elections, which may shape future of a carbon tax

    Canada is two weeks in to its third election in four years, and environmental issues have been … well, not quite front-and-center, but definitely somewhere in the foreground. And that could be a very bad thing for the chances for a carbon tax in the U.S. The election has been pretty dull, even by Canadian […]

  • The eternal cycle of liquid coal reincarnation

    Ali Velshi on CNN, Wednesday morning: "What if you could take a lump of coal and turn that in to your gasoline?"

    What if, indeed? A brief (very brief) stroll through the archives...

  • Industry bottlenecks will delay any reactors for years, maybe longer

    Kind of an important point:

    It turns out that Osaka-based steel-making giant Japan Steel Works Ltd ... is also the world's only maker of ultra-large forgings, a crucial component in the construction of most new nuclear reactors ...

    Japan Steel, for example, is currently equipped to supply only five reactor forging sets each year, with each set including an ultra-large forging.

    So, the nuclear industry that shills sources have assured us is ready to leap in to action with ridiculous modest subsidies to avert global warming can currently build a grand total of ... five reactors a year?

    That's a little short of one a month.

  • The blind alley of more coal

    Thomas Homer-Dixon, whose book I adore, has written an op-ed in The Globe and Mail arguing in favor of large government investments in carbon capture and sequestration technology. His advocacy of CCS has long confused me -- my reading of his book suggested (to me, anyway) that large-scale CCS was precisely the kind of technology we should avoid like the plague.

    To recap: Homer-Dixon builds on the work of Joseph Tainter, who argues that societies respond to pressures and challenges by investing in complexity. But these investments come with increasing costs as time goes on, until society finds itself investing more in complexity than the challenge/pressure actually costs. In Tainter's example of the Roman Empire, it eventually became more expensive to run the Empire than it was worth to the local peasant, whose taxes had gone nowhere but up for the previous century, so the peasants didn't put up much of a fight when the Goths came through. Paying tribute to the barbarian was less of a burden than paying taxes to Rome, so the Empire imploded -- not because the Empire was militarily weak, but because people had been living in a system of negative returns.

    Homer-Dixon's book argues that when we start getting to negative returns on increasing complexity, the proper response is new, more resilient systems, less about "efficiency" than resilience, withstanding the inevitable shocks that face any system.

    We are at a pretty crucial decision point, or indeed past it: Do we keep investing in fossil fuels and the systems required to sustain them, or do we invest in the more resilient energy system of the future? Prof. Homer-Dixon and I agree that the grid of the future should be more renewable and resilient, but he argues in his op-ed that the scale of the climate crisis means we need to be using CCS now. But the two futures are not compatible, and I think we need to understand some pretty fundamental flaws with industrial CCS: