We have a looming energy crisis on our hands that needs immediate correction. Our current energy source is contributing to environmental change that will eventually put the survival of people and regions of this planet in jeopardy. No, it is not a crisis of the type where there are long line-ups of cars waiting to fill gas tanks because of an imminent fuel shortage. Think instead of loss of farmland and subsequent food shortage to grasp the importance of this crisis.
Yet, we are not moving quickly enough to mitigate this critical matter because with most of the world’s population living in urban environments it is not immediately apparent how much danger we are putting ourselves in. The rate of change in the climate throughout the planet is being exacerbated by the amount of carbon emitted by our many industrial activities. Emissions continue to outpace the ability of the natural environment to process it.
Mining industry practices including striping large land regions to get to rare earths, precious metals and – as is happening in Alberta – tar sands remove vegetation that is integral to the ecosystem.
In Alberta last weekend, referring to the push for tar sands development, retired South African archbishop Desmond Tutu labeled such activities as a matter of morals. But, it is more than morals. We are putting our heads in the (tar) sand if we do not understand what Nature is telling us by hitting us as she did last winter with that dreadful ice storm.
It is past time that we stop our heavy reliance on energy materials that carry too high a price in environmental and health risks. Environmental damage will come not only from full speed climate change but also from our proximity to these chemicals.
On the same weekend that Tutu traveled to Alberta to send a message that the government’s push to exploit the tar sands is “morally wrong”, Toronto firefighters were dealing with a reported possible oil spill into the Humber River near Albion Road. Given the location near a hydro corridor, which also contains several oil pipelines including the controversial Enbridge Line 9, the assumption was the spill had come from that location. A small army of Toronto firefighters was called in to handle the incident. They later suggested, though inconclusively, that it resulted from chemical solvent being poured down a storm drain farther up river.
During hearings at the National Energy Board last fall, Enbridge identified the place where Line 9 crosses the Humber as one of the high-risk sections of the line.
Enbridge wants to transport diluted bitumen (DilBit), a tar sand mixture dangerous to human health through Ontario and Quebec using the 38-year-old Line 9 pipeline. A section of Line 9 crosses Toronto just north of Finch Avenue. People who reject this plan express concerns that if there is ever a spill or accident like the one that happened in Lac Mégantic in Quebec, there would be fatalities as well as damage to the environment. Adding to the worry, Canadian National rail line and Toronto Fire are keeping secret the percentage of rail cars that passed through the city last year containing dangerous goods, as well as the list of the most hazardous commodities on board.
The Ontario Liberals have made a valiant attempt to respond to this imminent local and regional danger. The reason they face outrage over the gas plant cancellation must be understood within the history of Liberal policy to shut down all coal burning plants in this province and switch to alternative power sources. The Clean Energy Plan has been their answer. Clearly, although well intentioned, it has come at a burdensome cost as well as running into unintended developments. That $1.1 billion gas plants boondoggle is but one such consequence.
Yet, future generations will wonder at the resistance this current generation now shows to doing everything possible to temper human contribution to climate change. It will be a sad tale of how powerful interest groups risked our survival by fighting to extend the fossil fuels sector despite there being other viable alternatives. It will be a tale of Canada being on the wrong side of history by gambling its economy on excavating practices of a resource that is doing more harm than good.