We all know about the sordid machinations of big tobacco when they kept the public in the dark about the huge dangers associated with smoking. Just look at all the films produced throughout the 20th century that typically show cigarette smoking to be perfectly acceptable and indeed glamorous. How can we forget about television commercials showing doctors smoking most contentedly while giving medical advice? The same criminal activity happened with the oil industry when their lobbyists and politicians declared climate change to be nothing more than an ongoing natural occurrence, just as they had refused to act on their own scientific evidence in the 1970s regarding the accumulation of carbon dioxide emissions.
They would no doubt say that acceptance of the data would have put them out of business decades ago – and that is never allowed, no matter how nefarious the operation.
As Québec phases out the installation of new domestic oil furnaces and the repair of older ones for a host of health reasons, including valid climate concerns, we must ask what comes next. “Oil-fuelled residential heating systems generate about one million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of the greenhouse gas emissions of 300,000 light vehicles, according to the provincial government. The combustion of home heating oil also generates nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide, and pollutes the air with fine particles.”
Furthermore, “oil is 1.4 times more polluting than natural gas and 102 times more polluting than hydroelectricity as a heating option.”
The news that gas water heaters and gas stoves are next on the list for removal for similarly valid reasons has the natural gas (but let’s call it what it is, please – fossil gas) crew up in arms. Right-wing politicians, funded and greased by those same companies, are crying foul. Never mind what the science says, they declare, there is a conspiracy to shut off the spigots of oil and gas in favour of renewable energies such as wind, solar and historically controversial hydropower.
We now know that for 50 years gas companies have disregarded their own research for the same unethical and reprehensible reasons that were accepted by oil corporations. “In recent months, studies have found that gas-burning stoves are responsible for nearly 13 percent of childhood asthma cases in the United States, and that they leak methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, even when they’re shut off.”
Powered by renewable energy, electrification of our homes, businesses, farming, transportation –everything – has emerged as one of the best ways to drastically reduce fossil fuel emissions and is being committed to by countries around the world. The International Energy Agency has made it clear that the electrification of transportation and the heating of both residential and commercial buildings is making a huge contribution to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Electrification also has an immediate and long-term effect on biodiversity loss in that pollution and habitat loss will lessen considerably. Climate heating, massively exacerbated by burning fossil fuels, has a direct link to the destruction of human habitats. As more cities and towns in Québec and elsewhere are writing resolutions that proclaim their commitment to taking action and responding to the COP15 Convention on Biological Diversity framework signed last December in Montreal, they are also committing to phasing out the use of both oil and fossil gas. It is my experience that writing up municipal resolutions doesn’t translate necessarily into actions. Words can be cheap, and it is for citizens to hold governments to their word.
There are significant government subsidies for disposing of fossil fuel home furnaces and installing the electric equivalent. It is simple to request a grant. My conversion from oil to electrical home heating when I bought my house was easy to accomplish. Even the oil tank was removed.
Heat pumps are also being heralded as a valid alternative to traditional fossil heating, and financial assistance is available for their installation. Please see tinyurl.com/heat-pumps for an explanation of why we should strongly consider them for our homes.
In Québec, driving an electric car rather than a gas- or diesel-powered one makes sense, owing to the source of the electricity to power it. In fact there is much discussion about how to hook up your electric car to the grid while it is typically sitting idle, and sell that electricity! This is far simpler than building new infrastructure to supply that electricity. Gas- and diesel-powered automobiles are to be banned in 2035, and starting in 2026 an increasing percentage of cars sold each year must be electric. Fortunately the research enabling complete recycling of batteries is making headway. Air pollution in cities now poses an undeniable threat to human health, and electric transportation will make a huge difference.
Because 99% of Québec’s electricity is generated by hydro, residents enjoy one of the highest levels of renewable electricity in the world, but the expansion of hydroelectric power has also meant that Indigenous groups as well as biodiversity have borne the brunt of those hydropower stations and the flooding of lands. Premier Legault wants to expand the dams across untamed rivers. Wilderness has its own intrinsic worth. When do we stop the ongoing destruction of Nature?