My 13-year-old son’s brain is a repository of random facts, and recently he hit me with this one, about the world’s largest rodent: Sometime around the 17th century, clergymen in Venezuela sent an appeal to the Catholic Church, describing an animal that lived in water and tasted like fish. Might the Vatican designate this creature a piscis so it could be eaten during Lent, when meat is typically forbidden? The Church complied, and henceforth the capybara—essentially a giant rat—was considered a fish.
I was reminded of the capybara caper when I read Paul Christopher Webster’s story on the hotly contested, vastly over-budget Coastal GasLink pipeline now being pushed through the mountains of British Columbia (read “Moving mountains” here). In it, he mentions the fact that the European Union voted in July to deem natural gas a “green” energy source (with caveats). It struck me as odd, natural gas being a fossil fuel, after all, and the stated aim of the EU’s green taxonomy being to “boost green investments and prevent ‘greenwashing.’”
Natural gas is indeed greener—it emits nearly 60% less carbon dioxide than coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And replacing coal as an energy source is certainly an admirable goal. The International Energy Agency says burning the stuff currently accounts for roughly one-third of electricity generation globally and two-thirds in China. In the EU, it had been sitting around 20%—until Russia turned off its natural gas taps. Now coal use is creeping back up amid an energy crisis that won’t be resolved any time soon.
The EU acknowledges natural gas isn’t a long-term solution as it works toward fulfilling its promise of going carbon-neutral by 2050. But it will be a crucial part of the energy transition, and there are plenty of calls for Canada to be the one to meet growing demand. As a recent report by the Public Policy Forum think tank notes, Canada’s natural gas is among the cleanest in the world in terms of carbon content. “While developing Canadian gas would put upward pressure on our own national climate targets,” reads the report, “it could also contribute to lowering global emissions.”
That’s true, to a point. And viewed from a purely financial perspective—at least in the mid term—investing $50 billion-plus (so far) in the Coastal GasLink pipeline and its eventual destination, Canada’s first liquefied natural gas refinery, in Kitimat, B.C.—might make sense. But let’s not forget, a capybara is not a fish, no matter how convenient it might have been to call it one. And natural gas isn’t a green energy source. It’s a fossil fuel. If we have any intention of meeting our climate commitments—net zero by 2050—let’s just call it what it is.
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