OP-ED: Ford is Gambling with our Future

Reprinted with Permission from The Hamilton Spectator, October 31, 2022 (https://www.thespec.com/opinion/contributors/2022/10/31/ford-is-gambling-with-our-future.html)

As health professionals, we believe that Premier Ford’s plans for the electricity sector threatens the health of residents in Ontario and the future of our children. The Ontario Government plans to ramp up the use of gas-fired power plants and build new gas plants to meet Ontario’s electricity needs. This  will increase climate emissions from Ontario’s electricity system by 375% by 2030 (nearly 12 MT) and by 600% by 2040 (18.4 MT) relative to 2017.  This, at a time when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it clear that the world must halve its emissions by 2030 and reduce them to net zero by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5C.

When the full life-cycle of gas plants is considered, including the methane emitted during the extraction of natural gas, the climate impacts associated with Ontario’s plan will be very similar to those associated with the five coal plants that were closed before 2015. It will make it very difficult for Canada to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement. Given that Canada is one of the top 10 emitters of climate emissions, this would be a serious transgression.

Climate change is already having a profound impact on global health. In recent months, 1.5 million people in Nigeria have been displaced by floods that have killed more than 600 people; 13 million people are facing famine in the Horn of Africa; and 33 million in Pakistan have been displaced by floods.

Canada is not immune to the impacts of climate change. Over the last two decades, we have experienced floods, mudslides, droughts, ice storms, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and heat waves with greater frequency and/or intensity. In Northern communities, where temperatures have increased the most, people are struggling with melting permafrost, unreliable ice roads, and disruptions in local and imported food supplies. These changes have increased the risk of traumatic deaths, injuries, hospital admissions, chronic diseases, and mental stress for residents across the country.

Over the last few weeks, hundreds of thousands of people in Western Canada were exposed to “air quality that is off the charts” from wildfire smoke. Half a million people in Atlantic Canada lost their power and many lost their homes to Hurricane Fiona. And in June of 2021, hundreds of residents in British Columbia lost their lives to the punishing heat dome; many of whom lived alone or in low-income neighbourhoods with few trees and no air conditioning.

Ontario’s electricity plan will also increase air pollution in heavily populated areas in Southern Ontario that already experience poor air quality. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ground-level ozone, and fine particulate matter are responsible for approximately 6,600 premature deaths/year in Ontario; outcomes valued at $49.2 billion/year. While gas plants burn cleaner than coal plants, they release substantial quantities of nitrogen oxides which can harm human health directly, in the form of NO2, and indirectly when transformed in the atmosphere into ground-level ozone and PM2.5. A Rocky Mountain Institute analysis found substantial health benefits could be realized by investing in renewable energy rather than building new gas plants in the US; it estimated that $23-$74 billion in health-related impacts could be avoided over a 20-year period if gas plants proposed by the end of 2021 were not built.  

Ontario can move to a clean electricity future and lower energy costs by 2030 by investing in energy conservation, building retrofits, solar and wind power, and purchasing hydro-electricity from Quebec.

Our concerns have fallen on deaf ears in Ontario. Now we are asking the Prime Minister to keep his climate commitments; to ensure that the Clean Electricity Regulations, that have been in development for several years, prohibit the building of new gas plants in Ontario and require Ontario to create a net zero electricity grid by 2030. We are trusting him to provide our children with healthy air, a stable climate, and a livable planet.

Kim Perrotta MHSc and Dr. Mili Roy

Kim Perrotta MHSs is an Environmental Health Specialist, the author of the 2002 report, Beyond Coal: Power, Public Health and the Environment, the editor of the 240-page Climate Change Toolkit for Health Professionals, and the Executive Director of the Canadian Health Association for Sustainability and Equity (CHASE).

Dr. Mili Roy is a practicing physician and medical editor and Assistant Professor with the Department of Ophthalmology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto. She serves as the Ontario Regional Chair for the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) and Co-Chair of the Ontario Climate Emergency Campaign.