Metro Vancouver’s board of directors should be lauded for their recent decision to oppose a new coal port at Fraser Surrey Docks. While their concerns focused on the health impacts of coal dust, they effectively helped safeguard our climate.
Coal is the fossil fuel with the greatest global warming potential. Scientists tell us that to avoid the worst of climate disasters, 65 per cent of the world’s coal plants must shut down by 2020.
I am particularly worried about the future of my nine year-old daughter because climate change is here already and only getting worse.
November 2012 marked the 333rd consecutive month of above-average global temperatures. The six-per-cent rise in global food prices that occurred that year was not a coincidence. My daughter’s generation will have to live with the rising costs of food production, the rising frequency of extreme storms like Hurricane Sandy, the rise of sea levels, and the rise of social and economic unrest associated with those events.
Under current emission trends we are heading towards a greater than four-degree increase in temperature by 2100. And 30 per cent of all the extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans, where the change in chemistry already threatens marine life and fisheries.
A shift towards a low-carbon economy is unlikely to even begin without a moratorium on new infrastructure for fossil fuels.
And that shift is entirely possible. Calculations by Stanford engineer Mark Jacobson show that barriers to large-scale use of renewable energies are “primarily social and political, not technological or economic.”
SFU economist Mark Jaccard has written that “when the BC government cancelled one natural gas plant and two coal plants, the resulting hydro, wind, and wood waste projects created twice as many jobs.”
These are only two of many examples telling us that new coal ports are the opposite of sustainability.
I have no doubt that my daughter’s generation will look back and applaud Metro Vancouver’s decision. Yet the ultimate power to prevent coal port expansions still rests with the port authority itself, Port Metro Vancouver.
The port consistently reminds the public that caring about climate change is not in their mandate. I could tell them that human health is not in the mandate of cigarette companies, or that preventing genocide is not in the mandate of arms traders.
Instead I will tell them that their mandate does not preclude legitimate public consultation that explicitly considers the climate change implications of coal port expansion.
Now, that would be something special for my daughter’s generation to look back on with appreciation.