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Panel points to increased use of renewable energy

By Glen Argan
Special to the Prairie Messenger


EDMONTON — Greenhouse gas emissions in Canada will begin to decline by 2020 due to the increasing use of renewable energy, says a leading Quebec environmentalist.

Actions already taken by the Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia governments will ensure the national total of emissions starts falling within four years, says Steven Guilbeault, senior director and co-founder of Equiterre, a consulting, education and research organization.

As well, the coal industry is being rapidly pushed out of existence in both China and the United States, he said.

Guilbeault told a Nov. 30 panel session on Faith and Climate Action that the United States is investing more in solar and wind power than in gas and that since 2013, more has been invested every year in renewable energy than in fossil fuels.

The value of American coal companies has declined from $63 billion in 2011 to less than $200 million today, he added.

“You know what? Donald Trump is not going to change a single thing about that.”

China, meanwhile, has rapidly become the world’s dominant renewable energy producer, now producing 70 per cent of the world’s solar energy. China, he said, has also closed 1,000 coal mines in recent years.

Guilbeault was the featured speaker at the event at Newman Theological College, which was sponsored by Development and Peace, Equiterre and the Canadian Religious Conference. About 45 people attended.

In Canada, he continued, the Blue-Green Alliance — an alliance of blue collar workers and environmentalists — has calculated that for $1 million of investment, two jobs could be created in the petroleum industry compared with 15 in the clean energy sector.

Ontario’s Green Energy Act has led to solar energy systems being installed in 40,000 homes with people having the ability to sell surplus electricity back into the grid. “People are becoming their own energy producers in many places.”

Germany has banned gasoline-powered vehicles as of 2030, Guilbeault said. As well, China expects to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2020.

Nevertheless, 70 per cent of current global energy use comes from coal, oil and natural gas, he said. “If we want to solve climate change, we have to reduce the amount of fossil fuel we consume.”

About 40 per cent of the Arctic ice cap — the “planetary cooling system” — has melted away over the last 40 years.

California, the producer of half of Canada’s winter produce, has been suffering from systemic drought for three years, boosting food prices here, he said.

Equiterre opposes pipeline building to ship Alberta oil to foreign markets, including Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, approved the day before Guilbeault’s talk in Edmonton.

“Putting more eggs in the oil basket makes Alberta even more dependent on what happens in the oil market,” he said, noting 50,000 petroleum industry jobs have been lost in the last two years.

Guilbeault did pay tribute to the Alberta government for launching “some really amazing things,” including the rapid phase-out of coal-fired energy and the development of renewable energy.

“Alberta is going to develop faster than anywhere in Canada,” he said.

Two of the other four panelists spoke of practical steps they are taking to move toward a more environmentally clean society.

Sister Jeannette Filthaut, a member of the Kingston, Ont.-based Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul, showed a brief video of the order’s efforts to save heirloom seeds from garden vegetables.

Several years ago the order began organic gardening on its more than 30-acre garden and restored its root cellar to its original purpose, Filthaut said. It has also collected more than 80 varieties of heirloom tomato seeds.

Ryan Mason is the co-founder of Reclaim Urban Farm, which uses vacant and under-utilized land totalling less than an acre at 16 locations along Edmonton’s busy Whyte Avenue to grow leafy vegetable greens.

Over the last three years, Mason and his partner have grown tens of thousands of kilograms of vegetables on their micro-farm. Mason would transport up to 68 kilograms of his harvest on his bicycle the first two years, but has cut back on the cycling as the farm expands.

Raised on a farm, he travelled widely to gain experience with small-scale, entrepreneurial farming in countries around the world.

A member of Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, he says, “I strongly believe all of us should be taking part in the stewardship of creation.”

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