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In October, British Columbia's south coast faced its first atmospheric river of the fall.

The weather warning stirred up painful memories of the devastating November 2021 atmospheric river, when the resulting floods and landslides led to the loss of at least five lives, cut Vancouver off from the rest of Canada by road and rail, and made this the costliest natural disaster in the province's history. Canadians have reason to brace for more of the same: a 2022 study suggested that climate change has increased the odds of an atmospheric river like this by at least 60 per cent.

Climate-related disasters like flooding have severe health impacts. Individuals affected by flooding are at least five times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. And when people displaced by catastrophic flooding return home, they face myriad health risks, including exposure to contaminated drinking water, industrial chemicals and mould.

As a family physician, I constantly witness the health consequences of extreme weather due to the climate crisis. Yet, as long as we continue to burn fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal, we will continue to fuel these disasters.

Burning buried carbon stores (a.k.a. fossil fuels) is the leading cause of the climate crisis. So why are electricity grids across Canada burning these highly polluting fuels to power our homes and buildings when green alternatives exist? Clean solar and wind generation are now among the cheapest forms of electricity in Canada.

In August, the federal government released its draft of the Clean Electricity Regulations (CER) that would legislate the move away from fossil fuels for electricity generation towards sources of clean, renewable energy across Canada. The submission period for feedback on the draft regulations from the public, provinces and territories was recently closed.

If ambitious regulations are put in place, a net-zero electricity grid will be within reach by 2035, with massive benefits for human health.

As things stand, the Canadian electricity system is a series of disconnected provincial and regional grids, clean in some regions but highly polluting in others.

Alberta and Saskatchewan remain reliant on fossil fuel gas, even as the coal phaseout approaches completion, while hydroelectricity powers neighbouring British Columbia.

If ambitious regulations are put in place, a net-zero electricity grid is within reach by 2035, with massive benefits for human health, writes Deborah Curry @CAPE_ACME #cdnpoli #ClimateAction #COP28 #HealthForAll #ExtremeWeather #FossilFuels

In the Maritimes, wind-powered Prince Edward Island sits across the strait from mostly coal-powered Nova Scotia.

This is why the Clean Electricity Regulations provide such a huge opportunity. Phasing out coal will bring significant benefits for health and climate. As a major source of air pollution, coal’s health impacts include respiratory conditions, heart problems, kidney disease, poor birth outcomes, premature death and cancer.

As for climate impacts, coal is unmatched. Ontario’s coal phaseout, completed in 2014, was the single largest greenhouse gas emissions reduction effort in North American history. Alberta is poised to follow with a similar phaseout ending in 2024. It is time for all provinces to follow.

Phasing out fossil gas — often referred to as “natural” gas — is an equally big opportunity. Gas is made of over 90 per cent methane, which has more than 80 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide.

Methane leaks at every stage of production and distribution of fossil gas. This, in combination with the carbon produced when burning fossil gas, causes gas to have a larger global warming potential than coal. Methane gas production has substantial adverse impacts on human health, including increased rates of childhood asthma and premature death.

The Clean Electricity Regulations provide a generational opportunity to build a clean, connected electricity system that unites us from coast to, coast, to coast. If paired with much-needed infrastructure investments — like efficiency programs, better energy storage and interprovincial grid connections — we could link clean energy supply in some regions to burgeoning clean energy demand in others.

Massive suffering due to the climate crisis is here, and we have already exceeded many safe Earth system boundaries.

I wish we could go back in time to stop the fossil fuel emissions that led to the 2021 climate disasters that killed my patients and devastated their families. None of us can change what has happened. We can only look forward.

Right now, we have the opportunity to protect our communities — and patients like mine.

As Canadians, we must demand the federal government pass strong regulations for a fossil fuel-free electricity system, without extensions, exemptions or loopholes.

This is our moment to make a profound difference for all life on Earth.

Deborah Curry is a family physician in Vancouver and a member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

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Clean, green, healthy? No, mining is not going to be the Savoir of the World.

Metallurgical coal mining is ramping up, thrilled to suddenly be viewed as the solution to climate change, despite all of its negative effects on water quality and quantity, toxic air, coal bed methane and general destruction biodiversity, wildlife habitat both terrestrial and aquatic, and of beloved landscapes. Black dust accumulating on already melting glaciers and snowpack, putting at more extreme risk critical sources of water. Gina Rinehart, Australia's richest person and ruthless mining magnate, is back, after Albertans of all stripes worked hard to keep destructive mining out of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. We succeeded in 2021, approval was denied by a federal/provincial CCEA panel, and even the Alberta government backed off and established a moratorium. But the corrupt Alberta Energy Regulator, funded and staffed by industry insiders, is sidestepping the moratorium, saying it is a project in progress, despite the denied approval. Ms. Rinehart has hired Bennett Jones and very expensive lobbyists to schmooze and convince in anticipation of a Poilievre, so we begin again to spend more years of our lives protecting water - ground, riparian, lacustrine and ultimately marine - the air in a very windy place, the so beautiful landscape, Home to life.

And this is just one mine - with of course more to follow if she succeeds - but there will be so many more, with so much more opposition - Alberta is staked for lithium mining in a dry land, read about what is happening in Panama, the destruction of mining is poised to destroy so much more, in the Yukon, BC, Alberta, everywhere - what a boon for mining and a growth growth growth economy - but a disaster for biodiversity, for whole ecosystems, for wildlife habitat both terrestrial and aquatic, for deeply beloved land, yet environmental organizations and progressive media seem smitten by amnesia, I see no photos of mines - except the oilsands - mining has become the savoir of the world, its effects ignored, dots not connected, these organizations now the greatest boosters of a transition that will simply compound our collective crisis. All while the mining industry rubs it's hands in glee, touting that it is part of a "clean", "green" transition.

While those in rural areas will take the brunt of this, the destruction of so much will affect everyone.

No one but vested interests and their foreign shareholders wants the beautiful southern Alberta foothills to be carved up by mining for steelmaking coal.

But it's hard to fathom the logic of the total mining bans made by critics who use metal on a daily basis, from their computers and smart phones to the pots and pans and electrical wiring in their homes and vehicles (electric or not) usually housed in heated dead storage spaces for cars, known as garages.

Ideally, the notion of banning metallurgical coal mining in Alberta would be followed by initiatives to build steel plants in Alberta using zero or low emission electricity or green hydrogen, and subsidized with funds otherwise designated for the fossil fuel industry.

Proposing constructive, proactive ideas and solutions is hard work. Suggesting blanket bans without alternatives is reactive and lazy.

The good news is that we already have the solutions needed to clean up our energy systems. We just need to use them.

I wish Doug Ford and north Ontario Conservatives understood that.
Instead gas plant expansion is the order of the day.
And don't get me started on Smith and Moe who would rather kick and scream than use common sense.
The through line - Conservative politicians stuck in the past.

apologies - should read - the Ontario Conservatives (not "north").
how about an 'edit' button for 30 min. for when spell check takes over.

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It is not my desire to denigrate the views of the author, or their organization; however, the internet is awash in such 1-dimensional bromides, replete with often simplistic “solutions”, “just do it” waves of the hand, and misunderstood and/or unrealistic and/or false implications.

An example of the latter is linking wind generation off the shores of PEI to fossil generation in Nova Scotia; presumably, this “wag of the finger” is to imply that PEI wind generation capacity could increase sufficiently to deprecate Nova Scotia’s fossil generation.

“In the Maritimes, wind-powered Prince Edward Island sits across the strait from mostly coal-powered Nova Scotia.”

According to https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/feature/pei-wind-energy#/service/Wi...

PEI already has (unspecified) export markets for surplus electricity (whenever a surplus actually exists). Strikingly, however, is the following information which the author apparently doesn’t know:

“Roughly 99% of power generation on PEI is from wind farms. As of 2019, there was an estimated 203 MW of installed wind capacity on PEI. However, the majority of electricity consumed in PEI is imported from New Brunswick, which generates the majority of its electricity from a mix of nuclear, fossil fuels, and hydroelectricity.”

https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/en/data-analysis/energy-markets/provincial-ter...

Building on that incomplete and mistaken logic, the author goes on to assume that BC (and, presumably, Manitoba? Ontario?) has surplus water, sitting behind a dam somewhere, just waiting for the extension cord to be drawn across the borders to neighbouring provinces.

“Alberta and Saskatchewan remain reliant on fossil fuel gas, even as the coal phaseout approaches completion, while hydroelectricity powers neighbouring British Columbia.”

In my view, the Maritimes ought to be cooperating, in a mutually beneficial and equitable way (the opposite, one might say, of the Churchill Falls experience) with Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador to largely source their electricity.

On that question, there is value in actual cooperation within our confederation, but parochial, petulant, short-panted provincial governments, captured by regional commercial interests and desirous of having others pay their bills, tend to put up roadblocks and engender harmful, nation-sabotaging factionalism.

cont...

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Changing the topic.

While it is certain that the energy transition implementation must be tackled in manageable, bite-sized morsels, energy policy, on the other hand, cannot effectively be dealt with piecemeal, as this opinion – and so many others before – have attempted to do.

In my view, and I’m certainly open to better ideas, the starting point for energy policy is something called an “energy flow” diagram (an instance of a “Sankey” diagram). This diagram provides a concise, comprehensive, understandable view of an energy system of arbitrary size (e.g. a province; a region; a nation). The “gold standard” for such diagrams, from what I’ve seen, is provided by the Lawrence Livermore National laboratory, located east of San Francisco.

https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/

A specific example (USA 2022):
https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/sites/flowcharts/files/styles/orig/public/20...

For me, there are three primary takeaways in this chart (yes, it’s an account of the American energy system, but there are similarities with and differences from other jurisdictions. e.g. Canada has a lot more hydro.):

1. The huge proportion (~79%) of total primary energy sourced from fossils;
2. the small proportion (~5.5% but growing) sourced from wind and solar;
3. The enormous amount (~two-thirds) of total primary energy supply that is wasted!! (Labeled “rejected” and, I believe, mostly heat from fossil combustion, such as given off by your car’s ICE)

If one is to provide a useful commentary on energy futures, one needs two versions of this chart for a given context:

1. The current situation.
2. Where you aspire to be.

In addition, the differences between the two must be explained and supported by a list of policies – i.e. a roadmap -- that will, as best as can be determined, facilitate the transition. This task would certainly be aided by diagrams which clearly show where energy is being used, such as:

https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/use-of-energy/
(I was unfortunately unable to locate the Canadian analog)

In short, is it useful to talk about creating an emissions-free grid unless one also talks about the forecast electricity needs and how much of the energy needs currently supplied by fossils will be migrated to other sources, over what timescale, having been forced by what policies and external realities?

The federal government ought to be front and centre, leading this charge into collecting, analyzing and disseminating all of this vital information, not to mention using it as the basis for federal policy. Which ministry actually holds this responsibility; presumably NRCan? Without clear ownership of energy policy, how can the federal government do its job in actually leading this transition? Or has it contracted it out to McKinsey?

Exemplary, detailed and highly salient points, Ken. Plenty to digest when "what" (energy transition) turns to "how?" Many thanks.

A powerful article. Kudos!

The solutions are readily at hand. High voltage direct current transmission is a thing. Battery, supercapacitor and pumped hydro are a thing. Solar and wind are a thing, with closed loop deep geothermal hopefully following soon.

Only invested interests and the political will they control are holding up faster forward movement on addressing the climate challenge.

"Methane leaks at every stage of production and distribution of fossil gas. This, in combination with the carbon produced when burning fossil gas, causes gas to have a larger global warming potential than coal.

A misunderstanding.
Global warming potential (GWP) is a way to compare the potency greenhouse gases (GHGs) molecule for molecule. It has nothing to do with the volume of emissions or atmospheric concentration.

Specifically, GWP is based on GHGs' atmospheric lifetime and the region of their infrared radiation absorbance.
Simply, it is the total radiative forcing produced by a given amount of a particular GHG over a specified time period (most commonly a century) as compared with the same amount of CO2.

GWPs are used to define the impact GHGs will have on global warming over different time periods or time horizons: e.g., 20 years, 100 years, or 500 years.
Other GHGs have higher GWPs than carbon dioxide, but CO2 is still the most important GHG because of its relative abundance and long lifetime in the atmosphere.

Methane is "a greenhouse gas considered to be about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after its release."
Methane has outsize importance relative to its emissions volume not because it is inherently a stronger GHG than CO2. The opposite is true.
Methane reduction is urgent precisely because of its lower concentration. At low concentrations, methane emissions create new opacity in the band where Earth is strongly emitting. Add indirect effects from enhancements of ozone and stratospheric water vapour (both byproducts of methane emissions).