Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
June 17, 2002
Go for the green, not the greenbacks
Given that private vehicles emit only 14 per cent of Alberta's production of greenhouse gases, any serious effort by this province to reduce those gases is going to have to come to grips with the large quantity of carbon dioxide produced by industrial users.
So when Alberta Environment last month approved Inland Cement's application to switch from natural gas to coal as its source of power, it led one to ask whether the provincial government has any interest whatsoever in reducing greenhouse gas production. Coal gives off twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas does, as well as being a significant source of mercury pollution.
Alberta contributes 37 per cent of the mercury released into the environment through electrical production in Canada because of its heavy reliance on coal-generated electricity. Alberta is the only province that does not require mercury control equipment to be installed on the stacks of coal-fired plants.
No wonder National Geographic recently labelled Alberta "a prime example of the deleterious effects of oil, gas and forestry." It would have been more accurate if it had added coal to the list.
Alberta has achieved great prosperity by exploiting its non-renewable energy resources. But that exploitation has come at the expense of opportunities for developing long-term renewable energy. It is also doing its best to give short shrift to the need to cutback on the production of greenhouse gases so that the entire world can benefit from a decrease in global warming.
In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul wrote, "In their desire to have and to enjoy, people consume the resources of the Earth and of their own lives in an excessive and disordered way." It wouldn't be surprising if he were thinking of Alberta when writing that line.
Much has been made lately of the Alberta government's coolness to the Kyoto Accord that would require carbon dioxide emissions to be reduced six per cent from 1990 levels by 2012. But the Kyoto Accord is just a starting point. It will likely take much more drastic reductions to make a serious dent in global warming.
If the Alberta government were forward-looking, it would embrace sharp reductions in greenhouse gas production. The tar sands will not go away. Nor will the province's oil, gas and coal reserves. But proper stewardship of those resources would enable the province to maintain its prosperity long into the future. It would also enable it to develop other sources of energy - such as wind and solar - that could make it a leading source of clean energy through the 21st century.
But the province prefers not to build for a long-term future. It appears more interested in meeting the desires of present-day vested interests, even if bowing to those interests feeds economic dislocation around the globe.
Meanwhile, the provincial government is doing nothing to protect large tracts of wilderness forest that could serve the world as "carbon sinks." A recent letter by 72 of the province's leading scientists deplored the way forests in the southern two-thirds of the province had been carved up by roads and cutlines.
The scientists' main concern was with wildlife preservation - a valid concern in itself. But the province needs to see its forests not only as a resource to be economically exploited, but also as a resource to be preserved for the sake of humanity.
Cliff Walls of the Alberta Wilderness Association said, "There's an environmental deficit that keeps getting bigger and bigger. The longer this government ignores it, the more difficult and expensive it will be to do something about it."
It doesn't have to be this way. A proper development plan would enable Alberta to retain both its prosperity and its environment. It is sad the government refuses to even look in this direction.
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