2018
Apr
20
Earth Day 2018 – Thinking about energy & health

Earth Day is the perfect time to think about the energy you use every day – the gasoline in your car or truck, the natural gas that heats your house, and the electricity that powers your lights and computers and recharges your phone.

Our cleaner, healthier electricity system

It might surprise you to find out that the electricity you use is an environmentally friendly power source.  Ontario eliminated coal-fired power plants as a source of electricity in 2014. That meant a huge drop in air pollution and greenhouse gases – Ontario’s electricity system is now about 96% emission-free, using mostly low-emission and emission-free sources like nuclear, water, solar and wind.

The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) supported the move to shutter coal-fired power plants for the reduction of greenhouse gases that helped Ontario do its part in the fight against climate change. But that wasn’t the only impact.

The Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) joined the call to eliminate coal-fired power as well for its health impacts. In 2005, Ontario estimated that air pollution from its coal plants were responsible for over 600 premature deaths, 900 hospital admissions, and 1,000 emergency room visits, each year. These health impacts were valued at $3 billion per year.

You would be wrong if you think that factories and other large industrial facilities produce the most emissions and air pollution. In fact, it’s transportation – the cars and trucks of all sizes we drive – that produces more GHG emissions in Ontario than any other activity.

Both greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution from electricity production have been drastically reduced since the end of coal-fired power. Greenhouse gas emissions from the production of electricity have been about 5 megatonnes for the last few years, way down from its 42-megatonne peak of greenhouse gases released into our atmosphere in 2000. Air pollutants from electricity production such as nitrogen oxide and fine particulate matter were reduced by 82 and 86 per cent respectively. Sulphur dioxide and mercury were almost completely eliminated.

Thinking about the future – how we move

But both the ECO and the OPHA think it’s time to take the next key steps to reduce emissions and air pollution. In 2016, we emitted more than 160 megatonnes. In 2030, our emissions limit for greenhouse gases will be about 115 megatonnes to meet Ontario’s legal limit.

You would be wrong if you think that factories and other large industrial facilities produce the most emissions and air pollution. In fact, it’s transportation – the cars and trucks of all sizes we drive – that produces more GHG emissions in Ontario than any other activity.

Gas and other fossil fuel-powered vehicles were responsible for emitting 56 megatonnes of carbon dioxide – by far the largest source of greenhouse gases – in 2016. This is more than the emissions from the production of iron and steel, oil and gas, chemicals and fertilizers, cement and other products – which emitted 48 megatonnes combined the same year.

The OPHA recognizes the impacts pollution from transportation has on the health of Ontarians. Just in Toronto, air pollution still contributes to 1,300 premature deaths every year.  Air pollutants like fine particulate matter, ground level ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide have profound impacts on cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and cancer.

Both the ECO and the OPHA hope Ontarians will think about ways they can reduce the emissions and air pollution we all produce. In many urban areas, there are options like public transit, cycling and walking shorter distances. With more electric car charging stations being built and subsidies available, many more Ontarians can now think about buying an electric vehicle.

If you’re not ready for an EV, or if you live in a rural area where some options might not be available, buying a more efficient gasoline vehicle will help. Even taking small, inexpensive steps right now like ensuring your vehicle is properly tuned and the tires are properly inflated can reduce the greenhouse gases and air pollution you produce.  Or you could take one or two fewer car trips each week.

There are simple steps we can take now to reduce our impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Even small changes can make a difference.

Let’s take those small steps now while we start to think about how we can make bigger leaps in the future.

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