Last night on CBC’s The National there was a story about off-shore oil resources in Nova Scotia. There’s an on-going fight between the federal and provincial governments over who will get the revenues from the millions of barrels of crude oil being pumped from hundreds of metres below the ocean floor off the Nova Scotia coast.
While the reporter told the story, the TV showed the massive rigs on the water with tall steel frame towers aflame at the tips with surplus gas. It occurred to me to wonder how we got to the place where we fuel our society with rotten compressed plant matter. It doesn’t make a lot of sense when you consider how hard it is to find, access, refine and distribute petroleum products. Even with the industry in place, what we get is a product that is poisoning the air and water of the planet. And causing wars. Imagine how the politics of the Middle East would change if the US no longer relied on Saudi or Iraqi oil.
Critics of green energy like wind power scoff at the cost. But how do you put a dollar figure on clean air? Last year the Canadian Medical Association reported that over 2000 people die in Ontario each year from respiratory complications linked to air pollution. And each year the health care cost for pollution-related illness is in the billions of dollars.
How much is good health worth? Factor this into the cost of a litre of gas, and suddenly the cost of alternative energy seems much more attractive. And we’re not even talking about replacing an efficient industry. Fossil fuel development and distribution is dirty and expensive. Think Exxon Valdez. Think about the little drips that fall on the pavement between the pump and your tank. Flick on a light in Ontario and somewhere on Lake Ontario coal gets being burned.
Faced with a looming energy shortage, this week the Ontario Government announced that it is planning to retool and reopen a mothballed nuclear plant at Pickering on Lake Ontario. The project will cost almost a billion dollars. Environmental groups criticized the decision as wasteful and short-sighted. And no wonder. Billions have already been spent and lost on Ontario’s nuclear plants. Other countries (Germany is a good example) have decided to phase out nuclear power and redirect resources to wind and other renewable sources. It’s working. But in Canada, we can’t see the oil for the feuds over flaming rigs.
When is a leader going to emerge who is willing to think outside the old model, the old assumptions?
It’s disturbing to see the Ontario McGuinty government retreating to nuclear. Premier Dalton McGuinty’s brother David (now MP for Ottawa South) is a leading thinker in green policy, and has written extensively about factoring environmental impacts into the calculation of Canada’s overall wealth. Why not have a chat with your bro, David? I’ll pay for the lunch!
What can we do?
“Traditional measures such as gross domestic product (GDP) provide only a partial view of the factors that affect economic activity. They do not account for the true and full costs and benefits of economic decisions because they ignore impacts on natural capital stocks.”
David McGuinty (MP for Ottawa South)
Former President and CEO of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
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“(Ontario Energy Minister Dwight Duncan) claimed that the return to service of Pickering A, Unit #1 “is the shortest-lead time major supply project available in Ontario, and is crucial to ensure a clean, diverse and reliable electricity supply in the coming years.”
None of these claims is supported by the facts.”
Ontario Clean Energy Alliance press release (July 7, 2004)
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“After decades of abysmal performance, astronomical costs and serious safety and environmental problems with nuclear plants, deciding to build a new generation of the plants would display a severe case of historical amnesia on the part of Premier Dalton McGuinty.”
The Sierra Club of Canada press release (June 30, 2004)
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“Ontarians need not feel they have to choose between reasonable electricity costs and a clean environment, because there are efficient options that are both affordable and environmentally-friendly,”
IPPSO Executive Director Jake Brooks