Friday, September 4, 2009

A Sacrifice for King Coal

From my point of view, positive environmental news comes along more rarely than Montreal Metro trains on the Blue Line, so I have to take it where I can find it. I had an opportunity to feel uplifted for a time yesterday, though, as the Globe and Mail reported that Ontario Power Generation will be closing four of its eight active coal-burning generators in 2010, nearly halving the province's coal infrastructure. Officially, Ontario is still on-target to close all of its coal generators by 2014 - a far cry from the original target date of 2007, but still something worth shooting for - and these closures bring that much closer to reality.

The Globe and Mail article is slim, and among other things doesn't tell me anything about what the environmental benefit of closing these generators will be in terms of how many millions of tons of carbon dioxide _aren't_ pumped into the atmosphere every year as a consequence. Nor does it say anything beyond the province's plans on how to replace generators' capacity, except that the closures will "make more room for green, renewable forms of energy" in the future.

What I do know is that it's incumbent upon us to resist the siren song of coal, to look past its artificially low price per ton so that we can see the true cost of burning it, and to go beyond the antediluvian madness of fueling our civilization with accumulating poisons, getting a little bit worse day by day and year by year.

Personally, I'd have preferred this news to come in concert with the expansion of Ontario's existing nuclear generation infrastructure. One of the great feel-good news articles I've been looking forward to for a while now is one that reports on the final demolition of Nanticoke Generating Station - listed as Canada's single worst polluter in 1999, though it's a good bet the tar sands have overtaken it by now, and those numbers wouldn't have included carbon dioxide - and its replacement with a nuclear generating station. Ontario will need a strong generating infrastructure in the near future, with electric cars creeping closer and closer from dreams to reality, and we can't afford to pay for that transition by burning even more mountains of coal.

Even so, it's bittersweet news. Once the four generators are taken off-line, it will take roughly three days for the resultant lowered emissions to be completely neutralized by China and India. That's the greatest problem with trying to live an environmental lifestyle: those two will swamp anything and everything you do. It's the environmental costs of the breakneck industrialization of China and India that leaves me without real hope for the future. In the end, it may be that closures like this are modern sacrifices to the gods, roasting meat on the altar.

But, dammit, we have to try!

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