A burning (health) dilemma

Who knew that the average Albertan burns 14,500 pounds of coal per year; 60 per cent of our electricity, more than all other provinces

by Dr. David Swann

Who knew that the average Albertan burns 14,500 pounds of coal per year; 60 per cent of our electricity, more than all other provinces combined.

Coal emits the most greenhouse gas in Alberta and kills more people than any other energy form on the planet. Asthma, chronic lung disease and secondary heart disease due to coal’s contribution to air pollution contributes to premature death in 1,300 Albertans and to 8,600 emergency room visits in 2008, based on the Canadian Medical Association calculations.

As a physician and politician and grandfather in Alberta I am deeply concerned at the inadequate response of this government to the crisis of climate change and coal-related health impacts. Coal has had its day. It is time to move to cleaner technology along with greater investment in renewable energy.

This is not naive. Alternatives exist. Ontario is closing its last coal-fired power plant this year and the U.S. is also closing coal plants.

Albertans know we are the highest carbon emitters per person on the planet from all sources and they want to see some leadership. They want courageous politicians who confront the vested industrial and Conservative Party interests of 42 years that have recently, deliberately, and quietly lobbied the federal government to extend the life of old coal-fired electricity plants from 40 years to 50 years. Why? This will unnecessarily add to the health costs and to significant greenhouse gas emissions.

It could have something to do with the top three coal power generators donating $136,530 to the provincial Conservative party since 2007. Yes, provincial corporations can still give up to $30,000 in an election year. Of course the board members and employees of these corporations are free to give similar amounts which the public cannot clearly identify.

We have an alternative to coal — it’s plentiful and it emits roughly one-half of the carbon the coal plants emit per energy equivalent: natural gas. It is not the final answer, but it’s a step in the right direction, while we develop more conserving energy habits and more renewable energy.

I’m disappointed we have heard nothing from our public health officers on this burning health issue that would save lives and health costs. Albertans need to ask their MLAs who this PC government is serving — the people or the corporations and their party coffers?

My experience is that when people find their voices, the politicians find their backbones.

Dr. David Swann is the Liberal MLA for Calgary-Mountain View.

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