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Energy dependence

A collectionof resources, developed by RECIT Univers sociale, and adapted  by LEARN in 2007

An energy-producing region, regardless of location, is organized around the exploitation and commercialization of a natural resource It is important to promote the long-term development of the resource through responsible management that shows respect for the environment.
Québec Education Program, Secondary School Education, Cycle One, p. 281

Understands the organization of a territory

Interprets a territorial issue and constructs his/her consciousness of global citizenship


Toronto Area..... August 14, 2003

Energy: A conflict-causing dependence
Humans are consuming more energy than ever. However, the largest energy consumers are generally not the largest energy producers, and their respective territories are often very geographically distant. While more and more territories are engaging in energy development projects, thus provoking the ire of environmentalists, the transportation of this energy over long distances has itself become a geopolitical issue.

This situation has led some territories to become very dependent on others for their energy. For example, the United States, which consumes a quarter of the world oil production, must import about two thirds of the oil it uses.  (Updated  from the 2006 CIA World Factbook )

This increasing dependence is also fuelling more and more serious political tensions. On a global level, oil has become a major factor in an increasing number of conflicts.

In Québec, at a regional level, conflicts have arisen between distant electricity-producing regions and the main consuming centres. Thus, the Aboriginal lands in the James Bay region have been flooded and the salmon rivers of Côte-Nord have been developed to heat and light the large urban centres in the southern part of the province.

Energy: A functional dependence
Can we function individually or collectively without electricity or oil? The chaos that resulted from the Northeast Blackout of 2003 and the upheaval caused by increasing gasoline prices both illustrate our energy dependence. Thus, the search for energy autonomy must be considered from two angles:

- Does our energy dependence leave us at the mercy of petroleum companies and oil-producing countries?
- Should we not diversify the energy sources we use in order to decrease our energy dependence?

Source : RÉCIT national de l'univers social

Moving towards more responsible energy consumption
The issue of energy dependence is linked to another problem, that of the eventual depletion of the energy sources we are dependent upon. Fossil fuels are non-renewable, and even the supply of water to hydroelectric plants—which is taken for granted—has been decreasing. From a sustainable development perspective, responsible management of energy resources , involving for example hybrid cars or wind power, must be considered by energy-consuming societies. Do energy producers have more to gain or lose by adopting a sustainable energy management approach?


Source : RÉCIT national de l'univers social

Thermal power plant in Tracy
Source : Denis Chabot, Le Québec en images.
The global ecosystem in peril in a still developing world
The environment is radically affected by energy production and consumption activities. From the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to the recent signing of the Kyoto Protocol on ereenhouse gas emissions, the nations of the world have been working together to attempt to reduce global warming

However, commitments under the Kyoto Protocol remain minimal and not all nations are subject to this agreement—the United States has even refused to sign it! In an effort to preserve the environment, can Western nations expect developing countries to comply with the same costly and prescriptive measures they adhere to? For example, in the name of saving the environment, is it legitimate to limit the number of cars that 1.3 billion Chinese can own?

Sources : RÉCIT national de l'univers social & http://www.picto.qc.ca/

Find out more about energy

Visit:    "What is energy?!"

(Kid's Zone of the Atomic Energy of Canada!)


Definitions intended for teachers use:


A few geographical techniques that could be used:

- Localization on a map
- Use of a geographical sketch or simple (schematic) map
- Preparation and use of a climagram/climatograph



Competency 1
Regional territory
Understands the organization of Côte-Nord

Portrait  of the situation

A natural history of Côte-Nord
The Côte-Nord region is located in Eastern Québec, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. Its first European inhabitants were fishers and lumberjacks, who lived off the region’s abundant natural
resourcesThe discovery of significant mineral deposits north of the river led to the development of a new economy based on iron and titanium. Under the Maurice Duplessis government, crude ore was exported by rail and then boat to the industrial centres in the Great Lakes region and the American East Coast. However, the benefits of such mining for the Côte-Nord region remained minimal. Who decides on the value of a natural resource?

Hydro-Québec building
Source : Denis Chabot, Le Québec en images.

Rivers of electricity…
With the development of hydroelectricity, Côte-Nord saw its economy consolidate around a major asset: its territory is drained by dozens of tumultuous rivers that run through a nearly uninhabited backcountry. In the 1950s, the first two power plants were built on the Betsiamites River. However, it was the spectacular Manic-Outardes dams that would define Côte-Nord as a land of giants during the years of the Quiet Revolution.

From water to aluminum

Hydro-Québec towers
Source : Denis Labine , Le Québec en images.

The proximity of an energy source, which ensures its low cost, was soon to attract energy-intensive industrial development to Côte-Nord in the shape of the aluminum industry. Today, multinational aluminum companies such as Alouette, Alcoa and Reynold’s offer jobs to Baie-Comeau and Sept-Îles residents that have replaced the region’s traditional sources of revenue. Nevertheless, the exploitation of mineral and forestry resources remains an important part of the region’s economy, which is precarious because it is dependent on international markets. Can electricity be considered a natural resource?

At present, government is the second largest employer in Côte-Nord, after the aluminum industry. The unemployment rate remains high, fluctuating around 15%. Disenchanted young people tend to leave the region, which has led to a worrisome negative migration balance.

Now that the dams have long since been built and the large projects that generated employment are closed, the revenues derived from the sale of electricity from Côte-Nord no longer directly fuel this region’s economy. While the entire province of Québec benefits from low electricity rates, does Côte-Nord receive its fair share as an energy-producing region? New projects to build dams on new rivers could perhaps reverse this situation, but at what environmental cost? For an energy-producing region, what is the real value of energy?

Source: Encyclopédie de l' Agora


Find out more about Côte-Nord

Tourism Cote-Nord Manicouagan-Duplessis
Quebec Maritime - Cote Nord
A Timeline History of the Quebec Lower North Shore

Wikipedia overview of the Cote-Nord area

The Story of Electricity  (Hydro-Québec)

Québec hydroelectric facilities  (Hydro-Québec)

Images of Côte-Nord
Click on the images to enlarge them

Manic 2
Source : Le Québec en images
Manic 5
Source : Le Québec en images
Toulnustouc power plant
Source : Le Québec en images
Aerial view of the Toulnustouc power plant
Source : Le Québec en images
Aluminum plant 
Source : Le Québec en images

Understands the organization of the Persian Gulf

“The American way of life is not negotiable.”
George H. W. Bush, 1992
Source: Baltimore Chronicle

Portrait of the situation

The Persian Gulf: The world’s oil well
Two thirds of the world’s reserves of black gold lie beneath the deserts and irrigated valleys of Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran and Iraq. The world’s first civilizations settled in this region, where agriculture was developed and writing was invented. Today, the Middle East fuels the
world economy (i.e. globalization ), providing 30% of the world’s petroleum needs.

Transportation issues
Most of the gigantic oil tankers that transport precious oil to the rest of the world travel through the Persian Gulf, which has rich oil-bearing strata beneath its shallow waters. The United States, Europe and Japan are the world’s main oil buyers. A great deal of oil also travels overland via a network of pipelines that take crude oil to Mediterranean ports. Turkey, the Red Sea and Egypt are therefore strategically important to the oil industry, though not as important as Saudi Arabia, which possesses 25% of the world’s proven petroleum reserves and has an impressive network of pipelines.

Complex geopolitics
Thanks to the oil industry’s astronomical profits, the Gulf States have high GDPs that contrast sharply with the continued underdevelopment of their predominantly Muslim populations. Many of these states are governed by authoritarian regimes or monarchies that are strengthened by their fortunes and the alliances they have formed with rich, oil-buying countries, especially the United States. Religious fundamentalism also plays an important role, exacerbating tensions and conflicts in a context where the economic issues are already explosive. The Gulf region has thus witnessed two major wars (in 1980 and 1990), the second of which was clearly motivated by oil.

Economic strategies
In 1960, several Gulf States joined with Libya, Venezuela, Indonesia, Nigeria and Algeria to form the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in order to regulate oil prices on the international market..

Oil refinery
Source : Denis Chabot ,
Le Québec en images.

OPEC policies led to significant rises in oil prices in 1973 and 1979, triggering oil crises that hurt the economies of oil-consuming countries. The two Gulf wars and the increasing economic power of multinational oil companies have significantly reduced the real influence of the organization today. While the world is dependent on oil from the Middle East, is it not also true that the economies of these oil-producing countries are dependent on the rest of the world?

Sources :
CIRS : http://www.cirs-tm.org
MEMO : http://www.memo.fr
WebEncyclo : http://www.webencyclo.com
Le Petit Robert des noms propres, Ed. 2001

Source : RÉCIT national de l'univers social
Map created using Word.  Click map for larger version.


Find out more about the Persian Gulf

Persian Gulf States - HISTORY - HIstorical overview, but with sections on oil production.
Saudi Arabia (Encarta article)

Images of the Persian Gulf

Google Images search for "Persian Gulf"
(Check copyright restrictions before using)

Fickr search for "Persian Gulf"
(Check copyright restrictions before using)


Oil Tanker  (Flickr.com photo by ZERØ.)
Attribution Some rights reserved.
Refinery in Saudi Arabia (Flickr.com photo by Spier's)

Attribution Share Alike Some rights reserved.

Jeddah refinery, Saudi Arabia
Source : NASA
United Arab Emirates
Source : NASA
Palm Island: Luxury tourist site in the United Arab Emirates 
Source : NASA
Oil smoke in Southern Irak
Source : NASA
Kingdom Tower in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Source : Acuity Brands Lighting

“Mile for mile, an average vehicle in the US uses around 40% more fuel than in the UK.”
Source: The Tiger in the Tanks, Greenpeace 2003

Supplying energy to populations while respecting the global environment

Street car down in Toronto

Source : Phil Gratton

Blackout panic
The Northeast Blackout of August 14, 2003, was a massive power outage that occurred throughout parts of Northeastern United States and Ontario. Urban centres were literally immobilized and their populations held hostage by their
energy dependence , the extent of which they were perhaps recognizing for the first time. We take electricity and gas pumps for granted, just as we take for granted that we can buy milk at the corner store. During this blackout, North Americans were confronted with the precariousness of their way of life: without power or gasoline, it becomes difficult to feed oneself, travel or receive adequate housing. Has our unbridled energy consumption gone beyond simple need?

Different levels of energy consumption
Each individual’s energy consumption takes several forms that are far from immediately obvious. In addition to the electricity we use every day to run the multiple appliances that ensure our comfort, electricity is also required to manufacture the various everyday objects we use, from pop cans to computers.

The same can be said of oil. In addition to our personal use of cars, the transportation industry burns thousands of gallons of gasoline every year to supply markets with a variety of goods. Most foodstuffs found on North American plates have travelled thousands of miles from where they were grown or produced. Does the low price of supermarket bananas reflect the actual cost of their production and transportation? It is ironic that European mineral water is so popular in Québec, a province that abounds in spring water: for every bottle of Evian or Perrier purchased, how many litres of fuel were burned to get it across the Atlantic?

Petroleum-based products  (inspired by La Presse, September 25, 2004, p. A33)

Source : http://www.picto.qc.ca/

Petroleum is also all around us in the form of solid objects. Are we fully aware of the number of everyday items that are made from petroleum by-products and without which we would be unable to cope? The production of these items also requires a great deal of energy during each step of the manufacturing process.

Unequal access to energy
One glance at the photo of the earth at night is enough to see that human populations do not have equal access to light. The huge urban centres of India, China and Africa are small points of light compared to the cities in the West. The relatively small city of Montréal shines brighter than Paris, which has a population three times as large. Does the low cost of electricity in Québec turn us into irresponsible consumers?

Earth at night

Click on the image to enlarge it
Source : NASA

Gasoline needs also vary from one country to another. For example, the average vehicle in the United States consumes four times more gas than the average vehicle in the UK. Does it make sense that a litre of gas costs less than a litre of water in North America?

"Recently, BP [formerly British Petroleum] […]
advertised its new identity as a leader
in moving the world ‘Beyond Petroleum.’”
Source: BP: Beyond Petroleum or Beyond Preposterous



Ensuring sustainable development that respects the global environment

Reconciling economic and environmental imperatives
In terms of energy development, economic viability remains the main obstacle to projects that are more environmentally friendly. The oil market, which is entrenched and extremely polluting, enriches its main stakeholders while maintaining relatively low prices even though the price of oil is rising.

Why should we restrict our use if the price is low? As long as gasoline and electricity are cheap, why should we change our habits?

Wind turbine in Saint-Ulric

Le Québec en images.

Cleaner and more renewable energy sources
Wind power, the use of which is widespread in Western Europe but rare in North America, is one of the most efficient technologies for supplying energy without harming the environment or the economy. Solar energy and the use of hydrogen are also technologies that are being perfected that offer cheap and effective alternatives to traditional energy sources.

In fact, technologies exploiting clean, abundant and renewable energy resources are now more available than ever and more efficient. Numerous environmental groups such as Greenpeace have long been campaigning for their use as well as proposing concrete action plans that are easy to implement. Under such conditions, is not the large-scale use of non-renewable and polluting resources not only irresponsible but also archaic?

Source : RÉCIT national de l'univers social

Finally, at a strategic level, the diversification of energy sources can be highly advantageous in the middle term for energy-consuming societies. By decreasing their dependence on a single type of energy, countries gain economic and political autonomy . Thus, “weaning America off Middle Eastern oil” is a priority objective for certain American lobby groups that are calling for massive investments and support the development of wind energy.

In Québec
Québec’s regional environmental councils have recently established guiding principles with respect to energy management based on energy efficiency and clean and sustainable energy sources. They point out that one of the keys to ensuring sustainable energy development is to focus on long-term rather than emergency planning. A case in point: during the panic that ensued as a result of the 1998 Ice Storm in Québec, was Hydro-Québec in a position to make the best decisions as to how to resolve the crisis?

1998 Ice Storm, 1998
Source : Jacques Chabot, Le Québec en images.

Click image to enlarge it

Types of energy and prevailing winds
Source : Hydro-Québec

Quebecers often maintain that hydroelectricity is a clean energy, which is arguably true, especially in comparison with the main alternatives (thermal generating stations or nuclear power plants). However, damming rivers and creating immense reservoirs cause significant environmental and social damage. In the context of world water shortages and climate change, can water still be considered a renewable resource? A cross-section of Québec public opinion is starting to believe that there is a limit to the number of rivers that can be developed for hydroelectricity production.

Acting today for tomorrow
At a global level, energy-related environmental issues were officially raised at the signing of the Kyoto Protocol. The
greenhouse effect was recognized as causing global warming . Greenhouse gas emissions result mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, which are used for transportation and electricity production. Decreasing the use of fossil fuels represents the main solution to countering their potentially devastating effects, which are already being observed, such as the melting of the polar ice caps (and the death of polar bears), rising sea levels and a significant increase in the number of catastrophic weather events (hurricanes, floods, droughts, etc.).

Source : NASA, http://amap.no/acia

Many of the countries that accepted the terms of the Kyoto Protocol are having trouble implementing them, while other, formerly underdeveloped states are now becoming large energy consumers. The case of China was mentioned before; however, China is not the only country that wants to use energy to develop its economy. Conversely, in the West, it is hard to change people’s attitudes towards energy consumption when the car is a symbol of freedom and consumption has virtually become a religion.

Sources for French originals:
-  Regroupement national des conseils régionaux de l'environnement du Québec
(extrait du mémoire présenté à la Régie de l'énergie du Québec) : http://www.rncreq.org
- Jonathan Trudel et al., “La fin de l’ère du pétrole,” L’Actualité, vol. 28, no. 20, December 15, 2003, pp. 24-40.
- Greenpeace : www.greenpeace.ca

Oil :

Petroleum (Encarta)

Les guerres du pétrole et de l’e au

Politique économique mondiale
Le marché du pétrole dans le monde
Above French texts also refers to this pdf and other English sources)
See also the OPEC home page in English

Les réserves de pétrole dans le monde

Eating Fossil Fuels



Consommation :

Factors that influence my electricity consumption, plus flash presentation here.

Changer le monde un geste à la fois (Équiterre, French only)

Ten ways to save the Earth

World Energy Supply

The environment and sustainable development:

EcoAction: Using Less, Living Better  (Government of Canada)

The One-Tonne Challenge  (Seeds Foundation)

Climate Connections  (NPR and National Geographic)

Kyoto Protocol (David Suzuki Foundation)

Kyoto and Beyond  (CBC News)

CBC News Climate Change News

Turning Up the Heat: Four Decades of Climate Change (CBC archives collection)

The time of a finite world is beginning... (Excerpt from a speech given by Albert Jacquard)

Greenhouse effect  (BBC News)

Agence de l’efficacité énergétique (English access to their site)

Canadian Wind Energy Association

Energy efficiency  (Équiterre)

Cars and global warming  (Environmental Defense)

Climate Connections  (NPR and National Geographic)


Integrating ICT into a social science work methodology

This collection should be used in the context of a complex task that is meaningful to students, such as a problem situation or project. For an example of a methodological framework in Social Sciences that integrates technology tools, visit this page.

Service national du RÉCIT du domaine de l’univers social. (RECITUS)  This collection was created by Steve Quirion, Marianne Giguère and Sylvain Decelles in collaboration with Julie Larivière. Graphics and layout by Steve Quirion and Mathieu Rocheleau.  (English adaptation and new additions by LEARN)