You wake up one morning, turn on your smartphone – or your slow PC – to see if the world is unfolding as it should. You are informed that all gasoline and fuel oil sales have been suspended for at least the next five days.
Although you had been warned such a thing could happen if Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley didn’t see some positive movement on new pipeline construction, you didn’t believe that our friendly neighbour would ever do such a thing.
Citizens of the eastern United States must have had similar feelings the day their morning newspapers informed them that, “effective tomorrow,” coal could not be used on specific days, even to generate modest heat.
The 1918 edict banning coal as an energy source was issued by a presidential decree supported by Congress and the Senate and it applied to “all manufacturing plants with but few exceptions in all states east of the Mississippi River.”
In my hometown of Victoria on the distant Pacific Coast of Canada, the local Daily Colonist ran the story front page on January 17 – a Thursday. The five-day total ban for major manufacturing plants kicked in the next day to be followed by partial closures of “all activities that require heated buildings.” They will “observe a holiday every Monday for the next 10 weeks.”
The Colonist noted the Monday “holiday” would do more than shut down factories and create spells of mass unemployment; it would also close down all “theatres, saloons and stores – excepting drug stores and food stores – and hotels and rooming houses heated by coal furnaces.
There were protests, with one of the loudest coming from the New York theatre district, claiming the Monday closing of all theatres could result in serious psychological problems. “On a public with nowhere to go but home on a Monday evening, that could be demoralizing for the people of New York,” the Colonist reported. No explanation was given as to why Monday without theatre would be more demoralizing than Monday without pubs.
It all happened “entirely without warning” when oil, gasoline, and electricity were in their infant years. Coal and coke were the fuels that drove huge manufacturing plants and kept America rich and warm and able to fight in a world war. Stocks were running dangerously low when the five-day shutdown was ordered. There are those who say the shock of the 1918 coal shortages as the first World War came to a close hastened the end of the black stuff as a prime energy source. At the time oil and gas were edging in as cleaner and more efficient replacements – as solar, wind and electric power are today, sounding the death knell for their old unclean ways.
But, the world is not quite ready for the next big shift to wiser, more efficient, energy.
Maybe a shutdown of supply is what we need to convince the “ban pipelines and oil tankers” naysayers that until we have a cleaner energy source to turn on, we need fossil fuels to keep us moving, eating, and staying warm in winter.
Five days to 10 weeks without the lifeline of oil – which one day The Big One might bring coastal BC “entirely without warning” – would be a hard way to learn and admit that evil fossil fuels have brought us many comforts on their way from welcome to disgrace.
Retire them we must, and the sooner the better. But not until we have found, and have in place, a better way.