Today marks the 17th annual Earth Hour, a global initiative that sees individuals and organizations turn off their lights for one hour in a mass movement to bring awareness and consideration to our energy consumption. Originating in Sydney, Australia, in 2007, the inaugural Earth Hour saw 2.2 million people and 2,100 businesses go dark. By the following year, Earth Hour was marked by upwards of 50 million people across 371 cities and towns around the world, and participation has only continued to increase in the years since.
Recently, I hosted a public forum on the topic of coal-fired electricity in Alberta, Coal-fired Alberta: Cheap energy or clean air? The panel discussion consisted of industry experts and concerned citizens from a variety of backgrounds, each speaking to the various health, environmental and economic implications related to the continued use of coal-fired energy plants in Alberta.
It comes as a surprise to many that today 65% of Alberta’s electrical power is generated through the burning of coal and that coal usage in Alberta is greater than that in the rest of Canada combined. In addition to the myriad environmental consequences, the health concerns related to our continued dependence on coal are staggering—for instance, diagnoses of Asthma and other respiratory ailments across the country have increased significantly over the past 30 years.
The oft-referenced “Think global, act local” will resonate deeply with many Albertans this evening. When you turn your lights out to observe Earth Hour, I ask you to truly consider what you’re contributing as individuals, communities and organizations. Earth Hour marks an opportunity to not only bring awareness to our global consumption of energy and what this means for our planet, but to consider locally where our electricity in comes from—the burning of coal—and the numerous health and environmental consequences this brings. We have a number of viable alternatives to coal in Alberta, including natural gas and a variety of renewable energy options. And there is a host of energy conservation methods we can employ to minimize our carbon footprint.
If you feel as strongly as I do about the need to reduce Alberta’s reliance on coal, I encourage you to take action by urging your MLA to reject the 5- to 10-year extension the government has given to many coal-fired energy plants in Alberta that have reached their end-of-life. This evening, when our lights are off, it may be that we see the repercussions of our action/inaction most clearly.