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Pollution in my city

This afternoon my wife and I took a short walk to pick up some groceries. Immediately upon returning we both passed out in different parts of the condo, napping for about an hour to recover from the exhausting effort the walk required. How much of this was due to the ridiculous unseasonable heat, and how much was due to the poor air quality, it is hard to say. But neither of us are exactly feeble, and we walk much further than that most days, so something strange was going on.

Earlier today we watched a woman on CBC defend the Liberal Party’s inability to make good on a promise to shut down coal power plants by 2007. This target has now been pushed back to 2009, and even that deadline is starting to look ambitious. The problem, of course, is that you can’t simply shut down sources of power even as demand is increasing unless you have replacement source. According to the CBC, coal fired plants are the second largest cause of air pollution, behind cars.

Today’s blanket of smog covers an area that is much larger than you might expect, extending north of Sudbury into the central and northern parts of the province. The fact that this is happening in May — over one full month before normal “smog season” begins — is alarming.

Canada is not alone with this problem, though. Construction began yesterday in Germany on a non-polluting coal plant, which will use a number of technologies to filter and clean the smoke that results from the burning coal, and turn it into a liquid instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, downsides are numerous: the efficiency of the plant will suffer, the cost of the resulting energy will be higher, and there are inevitable NIMBY political issues regarding where to dispose of the waste biproduct.

But, at least in Germany something significant is being done, and they have moved beyond talking and mere patchwork solutions. Meanwhile, we in Canada continue to talk, negotiate, and deliberate ad nauseum, even as an estimated 5,800 people die each year in Ontario alone from poor air.

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