We all breathe easier in post-coal Ontario – by Stephen Bede Scharper (Toronto Star – December 2, 2013)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

The elimination of coal-fired plants in Ontario is a deeply hopeful story. It shows that progress can be made in fighting climate change.

A decade ago, in the team-taught core environmental studies course at the University of Toronto, my colleagues and I assigned the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) Smog Report as our touchstone text. The report noted the severe health effects associated with air pollution in Ontario.

In 2000, for example, the OMA detailed, there were 1,925 premature deaths, 9,807 hospital admissions, 45,250 emergency room visits, and over 46 million minor illnesses engendered by increased Ontario smog levels. Taken together, these fulsome effects take your breath away—literally.

These disquieting figures all jumped significantly five years later, as indicated in the OMA 2005 report, and were projected to continue to rise unless something were done about elevated levels of air pollution in the province.

One of the chief culprits, in addition to wafting pollution from the factories in the Ohio Valley, were coal-fired power plants across the province, the largest of which, Nanticoke, was responsible for 20 per cent of Ontario’s odious air.

Such alarming findings helped impel the Ontario Liberal government to pledge a phase-out of coal-fired power plants and embrace a green energy platform, enshrined in the 2009 Green Energy Act, providing financial incentives for switching to renewable energy sources.

The results constitute one of the most heartening “good news” environmental stories of the year.

According to the 2011 Air Quality in Ontario report, overall air quality in the province has “improved significantly” over the past decade, with dramatic reductions in carbon monoxide (35 per cent), nitrogen dioxide (41 per cent), and sulphur dioxide (52 per cent).

These are real numbers affecting the heath and well-being of millions of real people (including locally based climate change deniers and environmental skeptics).

While such sanguine air improvements were enhanced by the 2008 economic collapse in the U.S., which shuttered factories south of the border, they were also directly related to tangible and hard-fought policy initiatives, including not only the phase-out of coal-fired generating stations, but also emissions trading regulations, emissions controls at Ontario smelters, and Drive Clean emissions testing.

A champagne-popping moment marking such success occurred November 21 at the University of Toronto, with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announcing the closure of the Nanticoke plant at the end of this month, and former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Al Gore heralding Ontario for its leadership in addressing climate change.

For the rest of this column, click here: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/12/01/we_all_breathe_easier_in_postcoal_ontario_scharper.html



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