The devastating November 2021 atmospheric river in British Columbia’s south coast served as a stark reminder of the urgent need to address climate change and its profound impact on both our environment and our health. Floods and landslides resulting from the atmospheric river claimed lives, disrupted transportation, and caused immeasurable damage in what became the costliest natural disaster in the province’s history. Canadians now face the sobering reality that climate change has increased the likelihood of such events by at least 60 percent[^1^].
While climate-related disasters like flooding have significant health implications, such as anxiety, depression, and exposure to contaminants, the root cause remains our continued reliance on fossil fuels. Burning oil, gas, and coal perpetuates the climate crisis, exacerbating extreme weather events and their devastating consequences[^1^].
Thankfully, clean energy alternatives, such as solar and wind power, have become increasingly affordable and accessible in Canada. The federal government’s draft of the Clean Electricity Regulations (CER) signifies a crucial step toward transitioning away from fossil fuels for electricity generation and embracing clean, renewable sources across the nation[^1^]. However, to fully realize the potential benefits for human health, ambitious regulations must be implemented, aiming for a net-zero electricity grid by 2035[^1^].
Currently, Canada’s electricity system comprises disconnected provincial and regional grids, some clean and others highly polluting. Phasing out coal, a significant source of air pollution and climate impacts, would yield substantial health benefits while reducing greenhouse gas emissions[^1^]. Ontario’s successful coal phaseout in 2014 stands as North America’s most significant reduction effort in emissions. Alberta is following suit, with its own phaseout set to conclude in 2024[^1^].
Moreover, transitioning away from fossil gas, or “natural” gas, presents an equally crucial opportunity. Fossil gas consists of over 90 percent methane, a potent greenhouse gas with global warming potential exceeding that of carbon dioxide. The leakage of methane throughout the production and distribution process, coupled with the carbon emissions from burning fossil gas, magnifies its impact on climate change and poses health risks, such as childhood asthma and premature death[^1^].
The Clean Electricity Regulations offer a generational opportunity to build a clean, connected electricity system that unifies the country’s energy supply and demand. By investing in infrastructure, such as efficiency programs, energy storage, and interprovincial grid connections, we can harness clean energy sources in one region to meet the growing demand in others[^1^].
Massive suffering resulting from the climate crisis has already taken its toll, and Earth’s limits have been exceeded. To protect our communities and future generations, we must seize this pivotal moment. Canadians must demand strong regulations from the federal government, ensuring a fossil fuel-free electricity system without extensions, exemptions, or loopholes[^1^]. Our actions today will determine the course of our planet’s health and the wellbeing of all life on Earth.
What is an atmospheric river?
An atmospheric river is a narrow band of concentrated moisture in the atmosphere that can span thousands of kilometers. It is responsible for transporting large quantities of water vapor, which often leads to heavy rainfall and, consequently, intense precipitation events like floods.
What are the health impacts of climate-related disasters?
Climate-related disasters, such as flooding, can have severe health implications. Individuals affected by flooding are at higher risk of experiencing anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. Displaced individuals who return home face additional health risks, including exposure to contaminated drinking water, industrial chemicals, and mold[^1^].
What are the benefits of transitioning to clean electricity?
Transitioning to clean electricity from fossil fuel sources offers numerous benefits for human health and the environment. It reduces air pollution, mitigates climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and minimizes the impact of extreme weather events. Moreover, embracing renewable energy sources like solar and wind power can create jobs, improve energy security, and promote sustainable development[^1^][^2^].
What is the Clean Electricity Regulations (CER)?
The Clean Electricity Regulations (CER) is a draft legislation proposed by the Canadian government to facilitate the shift away from fossil fuels for electricity generation and encourage the use of clean, renewable energy sources across the country. It aims to establish a net-zero electricity grid by 2035[^1^].