Raven Coal Mine: Really? More Coal...

by Kevin Vowles

Forty per cent of the world’s electricity comes from coal, and 40 per cent of the world’s CO2 pumped into the atmosphere is from the burning of coal for electricity. It was a resource on the verge of being considered passe a decade ago, as many countries were phasingout its use, realizing the implications for the planet. Humans have been burning coal for thousands of years, and there is no doubt that as the world spins and oil prices rise, humans will be continually tempted to use the dated resource.

European countries are increasingly using it, Italy leading the charge. India and China’s two billion people are clamouring for it. The US has just announced a massive coal expansion project that would see their emissions from coal increase 50 per cent. And of course here, north of the US border, corporations are ready to dig, because, as oil cost rises, coal will become an increasingly valuable commodity. Hence the Raven Coal Mine proposed for the Comox Valley, with a projected life of less than twenty years.

Never have humans been faced with the dual challenge of meeting energy needs while preserving the natural environment. The environment is swiftly reaching a breaking point, our so-called needs for technology and energy are maxing out, while at the same time, many of the common sources of energy are on the decline. Times are dire and a triumph of human potential to meet today’s challenges would be unparalleled and set the stage for tremendous advances towards a humanity the Earth can live with.

Stephen Hawking has pointed out that if we continue on the path that we are on, we will simply end up cooking ourselves as the planet heats up beyond a turnaround point. It is a dire forecast in which humanity is faced with the prospect of totally eliminating ourselves due to over-consumption of everything from technology to food. There are some positive signs of change and action, but big industry and consumerism, aided by governments, plug along as per normal, unrestrained by climate change. While many of us would like to believe our efforts to be greener are making a significant impact, the reality is that the negative actions of big polluters are dooming the planet. It is time to wake up to this reality.

The world can barely feed the nearly seven billion plus people currently inhabiting the planet. There are many reasons for this, including funnelling large amounts of grain, vegetables, and water, towards meat and fuel production. In our approaches to solving our energy needs, we must also look at energy solutions that will not jeopardize our ability to feed ourselves. This will become even more important as the world’s population is expected to surge to over nine billion in the next 40 years, making the need to move towards sustainable energy forms even more important.

This is no more clearly exemplified for me than when I look out from Denman Island across to the Beaufort Mountains above Fanny Bay on Vancouver Island, and ponder the proposed site of the Raven Coal Mine. The mountains are intensely beautiful. The bottoms are scarred by logging, making them ripe for the next industrial reaping: the coal project. Despite the destruction, I still see enormous beauty deeply rooted in the natural scene. All of what we are doing cannot take away from the inherent beauty present in the landscapes of Earth.

Many people on Denman Island would like to see themselves as islands set in stormy seas, weathering the highs and lows of a spiralling and turbulent world that ebbs and flows as the days march on. Many of these people regard themselves as ideally situated in a world fraught with uncertainty.

One of the most unique things about Denman Island and indeed the whole Comox Valley is that it could be 100 per cent self-sufficient – most places could be, but the Comox Valley is ideally situated, and the people who have chosen this place to set down roots and eke out an existence which could last if there were no more fossil fuels, were right to have chosen it.

Native people lived here for thousands of years off the bounty of the sea and land alone. Their populations were self-regulatory, in that they did not exceed the carrying capacity of the land around them. This is of course something that our world knows very little about. Our carrying capacity is based on the unsustainable use of fossil fuels and pesticides. However, it is mildly comforting to know that present day inhabitants of the Comox Valley could be well situated to form a self-sufficient economy independent of fossil fuels. Denman Island has recently become a transition town, moving away from dependence on fossil fuels, able to deal with the challenges of climate change and peak oil.

Compliance Coal Holdings

Several factors could prevent the Comox Valley from remaining in a position to be self-sufficient. The three most significant and pertinent to any discussion of another coal mine, include the following:

1.       Climate Change. Increasing temperatures, which would either prevent certain things from growing and or create water shortages, jeopardizing people’s ability to grow their own food.

2.       Pollution from a coal mine would threaten local wildlife, especially bee populations which are critical for pollination of food plants.

3.       Pollution of the aquatic environments in the area would jeopardize sustainable shellfish industries regarded as some of the best on the continent.

The proposed Raven coal mine would be a significant contributing factor in the decline of the sustainability of the Comox Valley region as a whole. Despite the supposed inadmissibility of the carbon factor in this equation by government agencies, carbon emissions are a real factor, even as the coal is only initially transported from Buckley Bay to Port Alberni. No one could argue that this mine is a step in the right direction; a step towards a more secure and sustainable future for the people or other sentient beings of this region or the rest of the planet. It is simply not.

Until we become our brothers’ keepers, nature’s guardian, or more simply put, stewards of the Earth, those who seek profit above people and animals, will continue to be allowed to push forward agendas that will make the rich richer, and in the end the people and the land will pay the piper. There are alternatives though. Energy needs could be met with things like windmills. Solar power units could be made available to everyone. People could re-use their rain water. Sustainable transportation options could prevail. Geothermal heating units are ultra efficient, and a whole lot easier than stacking wood. Some might say that this kind of a world isn’t possible. It’s too costly, it can’t all happen at once, it’s unrealistic, or even, it’s just a utopia. Can we really afford not to make this world a reality?

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives proposed that Canada buy 30 billion dollars worth of F-35 stealth fighter jets, designed with first strike capability in mind. The jets would supposedly prevent other countries from asserting sovereignty over the Arctic. In essence, the threat to Canadian sovereignty over territory occupied by aboriginal people is remote, compared to the certainty of chaos from climate change, fuelled by coal mines, fossil fuel use and industries such as logging. Furthermore, the jets have only one engine, and I do not know of many pilots who would be happy to fly into that region of the world on one engine. That is exactly what we’re doing to ourselves by carrying on business as usual, and when that engine fails, and it will, we’ll be in as good a shape as the pilot will be as the polar bears begin circling.

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Kevin Vowles (www.kevinvowles.com) lives on Denman Island, and is the author of 21st Century Hippies: Activists in Pursuit of Peace and Social Justice

[From WS Summer 2011]

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