Tria Donaldson: Last thing B.C. needs is a lump of dirty coal
My first memories of coal are tied very closely with the approach of Christmas. As the time for Santa’s grand entry down the chimney crept closer, my parent’s threats to make me clean up my room centred more and more around getting coal in my stocking instead of presents. I knew that coal was bad. It was dirty, unhealthy, and was less fun to play with than Lego. The image of opening my stocking to find lumps of dirty coal instead of toys was enough to keep me in line—most of the time.
It has been a long time since my parents threatened me with coal, but the memories of the threat of coal are still strong in my mind. This is one of the first things I thought of when I learned that B.C. is in the midst of a massive expansion of our coal mining industry. Why would we want to dig up more of this stuff that my parents threatened me with so long ago? We use coal to threaten children into behaving because it is by far the dirtiest fossil fuel. Coal is one of the most harmful fossil fuels, both in terms of health impacts, impact on the environment, and climate change.
Whenever coal is mined, or moved, it breaks down into coal dust—a major air pollutant that is linked to serious health problems like black lung, asthma, cardiopulmonary disease, hypertension, and kidney disease. Heavy metal leeching from the tailing ponds that are left behind can lead to groundwater pollution, which impacts wildlife and drinking water. On top of the health impacts, it is also the worst fossil fuel in terms of carbon emissions. When one tonne of coal is burned, almost three tonnes of climate-change-causing greenhouse gases get pumped into the atmosphere.
It’s a pretty scary list. It’s no wonder that communities all over Vancouver Island are standing up to a proposed coal mine right in their backyard. The Raven Underground Coal proposal is located in the middle of the Comox Valley, right in the heart of the Baynes Sound watershed—home of the world-famous Fanny Bay shellfish industry. The project would extract 44 million tonnes of coal over a 20-year period. Once this coal is burned it will add over 80 million tonnes of greenhouse gases to the air.
Over the last couple months, I have visited the communities that will be impacted by this project. I have talked to retirees who moved to the Fanny Bay area for a quiet life, who are now concerned about heavy metals from waste rock poisoning their well water. I have heard from people who work in the tourism industry, and people who work in the shellfish industry about the potentially devastating impact this project could have on their livelihoods. I have met with citizens who have safety concerns about increased truck traffic on the winding road to Port Alberni, and about the potential issues arising from storing and transporting highly volatile coal through residential areas.
The significant problems associated with the project are awful. What’s worse is that the Raven coal proposal is just the tip of the iceberg. It is one of nine new coal mines proposed in British Columbia. If these projects come on line, they will almost triple the amount of climate-changing carbon that B.C. produces. Most of this coal is slated to be shipped to Asia. Because it is burnt overseas, the emissions associated with the coal mined in B.C. will not be measured here. The B.C. government calls itself a climate leader, but the climate hypocrisy is evident. Expanding our coal exports is irresponsible, and we cannot and should not profit from destabilizing our climate any further.
I don’t want to see coal ruin communities in my province. Coal has no place in a climate-friendly future, and clean air and clean water are more important than a dirty coal mine. Stopping this coal mine is an important first step for halting the expansion of coal mining across the province. You can stand up with citizens from across B.C. and say no to dirty coal.
Tria Donaldson is a youth climate activist that has been involved with the goBeyond project, the Sierra Youth Coalition, and the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. She is currently the Vancouver Island outreach coordinator for the Wilderness Committee.