In December 1941, Japan, already embroiled in a decade-long war against China, declared war against the US and western allies. For the Japanese, the attack at Pearl Harbor was an attempt at “energy security,” as the US and Great Britain were denying the Japanese access to oil in Indonesia. The time had come to act, before it was too late. Oil shortages were crippling the Japanese economy and war machine, just as they would Germany’s a few short years later.
On Monday, September 13, the Japanese launched an attack on Ontario’s Green Harbor, i.e. the province’s Green Energy Act. Rather than attacking a naval base with hundreds of military aircraft, Japan has launched a suit against Canada and Ontario through the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The reason for the attack? The Japanese do not want to have thousands of new green jobs and companies manufacturing alternative energy components over here, supporting thousands of Ontario families, when these same jobs could be created in Japan.
The Green Energy Act, passed by the Government of Ontario in spring of 2009, has three main objectives:
- To make the province more energy self-sufficient, especially considering the universal, negative impact that peak oil will cause
- To eliminate some of the pollution, greenhouse gasses, and climate change caused by the continued burning of fossil fuels, especially coal and oil
- To provide upwards of 50,000 new jobs in Ontario’s future green economy, including new positions in solar training, wind turbine manufacturing, sales, administration, and countless other areas
North America has had a slow start, compared to the Europeans and Japanese, in developing significant sources of green energy, simply because there has been little incentive, largely because energy prices in North America have historically remained artificially low compared to the rest of the world.
Japan’s Strategic Objective
In 1941, the Japanese government knew that if it could eliminate the US Pacific Fleet, it could break the US/UK oil embargo. The Pearl Harbor attack needed to be short, sharp, and successful, for the Japanese had everything to lose.
The attack on Green Harbor needs to be equally short, sharp and successful in order for Japan to win. Canada’s trade deficit with Japan was $4,398,736,913 in 2008 (about $4.4bn). In other words, Canada imported $4.4 billion more from Japan than it exported. In 2009, the figures were similar, at $4,278,510,106. 2008’s total Canadian exports to Japan were approximately $10.9bn; imports from Japan: approximately $15.3. For 2009, the figures were lower because of the recession, but quite similar at $8.1bn and $12.4bn respectively. So why is Japan worried about Ontario’s nascent green energy production? The short answer: Ontario’s, and therefore by extension, NAFTA’s green energy will not be “Made in Japan.”
Japan’s “Energy Security”
Once the peak oil crisis really hits, energy of all forms is going to become astronomically expensive. For a country like Japan (or, closer to home, the US), which must import much of its energy, the depth of the resulting depression could be bottomless, well beyond the reach of any financial stimulus package. But is it merely Japanese greed motivating this attack on Green Harbor? At best it seems childish, at worst, absurd, given that Japan exports manufactured goods and imports the raw materials to make these goods.
The charts illustrate the trade flow between the two countries. Almost all Japanese exports are manufactured goods, whereas Canada’s exports are oil and raw materials. Most of these raw materials come from Alberta and the West.
Why not Buy Japanese?
Japan has a hard-won and well-deserved reputation for manufacturing excellence, so why not simply buy Japanese and save money? After all, does it really matter if a rooftop solar facility is made here or in Japan as long as it works and is affordable? Maybe sacrificing some of the 50,000 green energy jobs would be worthwhile if importing alternative energy technology and equipment would make Ontario’s and Canada’s path to energy independence quicker and more affordable.
The real reason is that when peak oil strikes, the Japanese will need all their production and technology for domestic use (as will the Europeans). North America will need its own industry and innovation to weather the storm, meaning that regions like Ontario must erect a vibrant and secure alternative energy sector to replace at least some of the power lost as oil, natural gas, and coal become cost prohibitive.
The Green Energy Act – Ontario’s Best Hope
If the Japanese succeed in their attack on Green Harbor, Ontario’s green economy, 50,000 jobs, and its very future in a post-peak oil world, could all face oblivion. Premier Dalton McGuinty has promised to fight this action by the Japanese, as has Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.
According to Cathy MacLellan, Energy and Resource Critic for the Federal Green Party, “The Ontario content rules that were established in the Green Energy Act will bring much needed jobs and expertise in renewable energy technologies to Canada.” She adds that other countries have approached the problem differently, “The German government did not have "Made in Germany" content rules with their feed-in tariff, but they provided generous grants (some covering up to half the costs of building new factories) to bring entrepreneurs to their country.”
The German approach, similar to Ontario’s dealings with South Korean giant, Samsung, has been very successful, but even so, such grants leave Germany and the EU wide open for Japanese attack, on the grounds that these are also subsidies.
Provincial NDP Leader, Andrea Horwath, is not completely convinced the Japanese-WTO suit will work. She notes that: “If it is successful, it would likely just wipe out domestic requirement provisions, and by then, Ontario's industry will already be established. Many believe this action is in retaliation for the Samsung deal - not the Green Energy Act itself.”
Harper Government Pledges to Defend Ontario
The Canadian Federal Government has been swift in promising to defend the Green Energy Act against foreign attacks in the WTO. Whether or not Harper will live up to this promise, however, is moot. Although most of Canada’s exports to Japan are energy and raw materials rather than manufactured or processed products, the Federal and Alberta governments are trying to export even more oil to China (and presumably Japan). Enbridge, the company that recently earned infamy with two pipeline ruptures in the northern US, is proposing a pipeline from the Tar Sands to the west coast.
Geraldine Thomas-Flurer, the Interim Enbridge Coordinator of the [BC] 5 Nation Interior Alliance makes some very valid points:
"Indigenous peoples have been adamant in bringing to the world the issues of climate change and the role that international trade agreements play within the climate crisis that we are experiencing today. Japan argues that Ontario’s Green Energy Act violates international trade law by providing subsidies for solar and wind power development and unfairly favouring local companies for procurement.
Japan is trying to use the clout of the World Trade Organization to challenge environmental rules in Ontario, which could have a ripple effect in BC. Even if the claim is not successful, it will encourage other countries to try to dismantle environmental or economic stimulus measures as illegal barriers to trade. This is a test case globally and could put the end to many policies designed to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. While Indigenous peoples are fighting for cultural survival, we will continue to oppose international trade agreements that fail to respect Indigenous rights and allow for the expansion of the Tar Sands and Enbridge pipelines through our unceded traditional territories."
Tribal Vice-Chief, Terry Teegee, is equally unambiguous in stating that:
"Asia Pacific countries should know they are contributing to the destruction of our land and culture by purchasing and trading “blood oil” (as some First Nations of the Tar Sands area call it); they are contributing to the genocide of First Nations culture. Canada is just as easily to blame since they are allowing the continued destruction of First Nations land. The Canadian Government is not living up to the fiduciary duty they promised First Nations so many years ago. This is why we do not want the Northern Gateway Pipeline through our territories, we have seen the legacy of the “Tar Sands” and the many Enbridge spills left behind, polluting lands and water systems. Our people steadfastly said no to this project in 2006 and they are saying it again in 2010: “No to Enbridge Pipeline!”
What we need to do as a society is to wean ourselves from the use of unsustainable energy sources such as fossil fuels. Asian Countries as well as Canada need to take a stand against big oil and lead a revolution towards green energy technology that is sustainable for generations to come."
With alternate energy generation equipment being the hottest commodity on the market (as long as it is affordable), the nation that can seed itself highest in that field will be the winner, and those that lose out stand to lose everything. Every solar panel, every wind turbine, every biogas generator carrying a “Made in Japan” sticker will contribute to Japan’s survival and domination. For this reason, every turbine and solar panel that is made in Ontario is a blow to this quest. Successful green energy research and production will be all that stands between a country and financial, political, and perhaps, in a worst-case scenario, physical annihilation.
The key to a successful defence of Green Harbor lies not in Ottawa or Toronto, but in the Calgary boardrooms of the global oil companies.