A few things to consider while nervously observing events in Australia, where that incredible Down Under country is painfully showing the rest of the world what global warming looks like when it lurches from disturbing to calamitous.
Australia, with its vast forests of gum trees and brush, burns a little easier and more rapidly than British Columbia’s tall tree wilderness. But not all that much as our forest firefighters will tell you when they remember 2018 and BC’s record wildfire season. It was a time when several small towns felt isolated and scared.
Australia and BC are blessed with abundant natural resources which, when sold on the international market, have brought them great wealth and afforded their citizens a way of life envied by millions – and even a few Royals seeking a pleasanter lifestyle.
But, benefits usually come with problems. Coal – the “black diamond” that made both Australia and BC rich in resources and their citizens comfortable – brought with it the evil of carbon emissions. And, the countries that bought their coal became the worlds’ leading contributors to excessive carbon emissions and brought on global warming now threatening the entire planet.
China is the leader in carbon emissions, as registered by the Global Carbon Atlas. The latest record I could find indicates 9,839 metric tons in 2017. The USA – which, on President Donald Trump’s orders, has abandoned the international effort to find world-wide solutions to uncontrolled carbon emissions – sits second on the Atlas spewing 5,269 tons of carbon emissions annually; India is third with 2,467 tons.
China and India are the great consumers of coal on the international market. They, along with Japan (1,200 tons a year in metric emissions), have been prime customers for BC and Australian coal for decades.
So why do the Aussies and BC still sell to these countries committing blatant massive violations of safe environmental practices in their primary industries? Both countries have all sorts of federal and provincial environmental rules and regulations governing the mining industry to protect their citizens at home. However, globally, it’s a free-for-all for those who don’t seem to mind contributing to what could be the end of Planet Earth.
So, why not just stop fueling foreign furnaces with our profitable coal … a fuel that could destroy Earth as we know it? Good puritanical thinking for sure, but – there’s always a BUT and this is a big one.
A recent Business in Vancouver (BIV) article tells us, “BC’s mining sector generated $12.3 billion in gross revenue in 2018 – a nearly $4 billion increase over 2016. Higher prices for metallurgical coal and copper helped boost net income for BC miners to $3.5 billion in 2018.” The full report can be found at biv.com/article/2019/05/mining-bc-generated-record-revenue-pwc.
The BIV story goes on to report that payments to government in 2018 through taxes was $900 million. I think it is safe to assume that the loss of $900 million in any government’s revenue would be disastrously reflected in cuts to social programs. And China wouldn’t take long to find another supplier.
There is some urgency for a solution. Nerilie Abram, an Australian climate scientist at the Australian National University, says: “The question we need to ask is, how much worse are we willing to let this get? This (the Australia scene) is what global warming of just over one degree Celsius looks like. Do we really want to see the impacts of three degrees or more?”
Three degrees or more is the trajectory generally forecast by climate scientists.
Footnote: Just before posting this blog, I learned that Germany had announced (Jan16) a plan to close its 84 coal-burning electricity-producing plants by 2038. Germany is sixth on the Global Carbon Atlas list with a 2017 record of 799 tons of pollution discharged annually. Canada is 10th with 473 tons. The legislation will also include closure of Germany’s nuclear plants. Some $45 billion (US) will be budgeted for compensation and the building of new infrastructure and training in new jobs. The new legislation is expected to be in place this summer.
Will Canada and the rest of the world be brave enough to follow?