'How dare they pollute us like that'
When your neighbour is a coal mine
Now that it’s open again, greenhouse gas emissions from Cape Breton’s Donkin mine are sure to go up. The last full year the mine was in operation, planet-heating pollution from the facility was eight times the allowable limit under federal cap-and-trade regulations. Those rules force companies in every other fossil fuel industry to pay when they exceed a certain emissions threshold. But even if the Donkin mine blows past the limit, it won’t face financial penalties — Canada’s only underground coal mine does not have to follow them.
While the coal mine’s emissions during production will make it into Canada’s greenhouse gas accounting, the ones that come from burning its main product probably won’t. Much of Donkin’s coal is shipped to Asia, leaving it off Canada’s ledger but not out of the atmosphere. Even though the country has vowed to stop exporting thermal coal by 2030, again, that promise doesn’t apply to the Nova Scotia mine.
“Coal from Donkin lives in a weird limbo because it is metallurgical coal, the kind used for steelmaking,” my colleague Cloe Logan explains. “When we hear about our goals to stop the export of coal by 2030, that’s thermal coal, the kind we use to heat homes and buildings. We actually have no federal date to stop the export of metallurgical coal.”
That’s because for now, the world still needs steel. But there are some emerging alternatives that could take coal out of the equation altogether.
Today, the mine is back in business. One day earlier this year, Cloe paid the nearby community a visit and managed to capture a photo that summed it all up.
“The mine itself is right beside the Atlantic Ocean, and when I went to go see it from a nearby beach, seals popped their heads in and out of the water. There were double-crested cormorants on a nearby rock,” she told me.
“I think that contrast is important, and was a big thing I heard from residents: this is a beautiful place that they love, and they feel like it’s being threatened by industry.”
Some of those residents, like Elizabeth Marshall, a Mi’kmaq Grandmother and member of the nearby Eskasoni First Nation, did not mince words when it came to the mine.
“How dare they pollute us like that,” she told Cloe. “How dare they poison the air further, poison the water.’”
But others were torn. Unemployment rates in Cape Breton are usually in the double digits — double mainland Nova Scotia’s numbers — and the Donkin mine means more jobs.
One former miner told Cloe that “even after everything, he is glad it’s open but hopes the safety culture changes.” The last time the mine was in operation — from 2017 to 2020 — it racked up a laundry list of safety violations. Those include:
More than a dozen roof cave-ins
119 compliance orders
37 administrative penalties
A series of provincial stop-work orders
The miner she spoke with “captured a really common and complex view,” Cloe explained.
“He said it was unsafe and he knows coal is bad for the environment, but still, he said the jobs are so important out there.”
What is ... regenerative agriculture?
The short answer
Regenerative agriculture is a set of farming techniques focused on building healthy soil. The healthier the soil is, the more carbon it can store — a win for the climate — and the less farmers need to rely on harmful practices like using synthetic fertilizers, which can actually make greenhouse gas emissions worse.
But not everyone is wowed by the current regenerative farming craze. Some folks in the sustainable food and climate world are wary of the label because there is no official certification or set of rules to prove a farm is regenerative — meaning anyone can market themselves as a regenerative farmer and greenwash their way to sustainability.
Some examples of regenerative practices include cover cropping (plants grown to cover the soil, not to produce food) and rotational grazing (moving animals through a pasture so they can graze in one area while other areas "rest").
The long answer
I’ll let my colleague Marc Fawcett-Atkinson take this one: Regenerative agriculture can combat climate change and keep food on our plates. Here’s how it works.
You can also check out his whole Farming for the future series, which unpacks the rise of regenerative agriculture and how farmers across Canada are trying to climate-proof the way we grow our food.
They’re all great stories, but this one about a Quebec couple who managed to transform a once-neglected patch of land into a beautiful, food-growing oasis is my favourite.
Reads of the week
Liberals, NDP unveil ‘single biggest expansion of public health care in 60 years.’ Phase 1 of Canada’s national dental care plan is going ahead, Natasha Bulowski reports, with tax-free payments for some children under 12.
Pierre Poilievre's war on the media has only just begun. The new Conservative leader is not the same as a certain reality show host turned former U.S. president — but he has a lot in common with one of Trump’s key strategists, writes columnist Max Fawcett.
Conservative premiers betray feds with fertilizer disinformation. Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says she was betrayed by a cadre of conservative premiers pushing a far-right disinformation campaign about Canada’s plans to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions from farming, Marc Fawcett-Atkinson reports.
Feds fund SevenGen Indigenous youth energy summit and mentorship program. Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced nearly half a million dollars in funding for a summit and mentorship program that empower Indigenous youth to build a sustainable, equitable energy future, Matteo Cimellaro reports.
Bill McKibben discusses a decade-long crusade to shame banks into stopping investment in fossil fuels. The American climate activist tells John Woodside the origin story of the fossil fuel divestment movement and reflects on its impact today: "There's no question that by allowing this fight to go on at thousands of different places, it’s brought up thousands and thousands of able leaders."
Critics fear Ottawa is scaling back its promise to phase out open net-pen salmon farms. Fisheries and Oceans Canada vowed to end the fish farms by 2025 over their harm to wild salmon. But Rochelle Baker reports the department just gave three operations off the coast of Vancouver Island a green light to expand.