Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed Canada to aggressive reductions in our annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. It will take a coordinated national effort to get there, and that means small communities across the country, like the Comox Valley, must be constantly thinking of new ways to reduce its carbon footprint.
And yet, that doesn’t appear to be the dominant mindset among Comox Valley municipal staff and elected officials. They’re fixated on keeping taxes as low as possible.
A meeting this week of the Comox Strathcona Waste Management board’s special committee to explore the benefits of converting municipal waste to energy (WTE) provided a case in point.
According to a consultant’s report, which compared three different WTE technologies, if the north Island continues to bury its garbage in the Pigeon Lake landfill, we will produce 821,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) over the next 40-year period.
The worst (highest) CO2e emissions from any of the three reviewed WTE technologies was only 179,000 tonnes.
And one of the technologies would achieve a net reduction of CO2e by -777,000 tonnes.
In other words, by implementing WTE technology, the entire north Island could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from solid waste by at least 80 percent, and possibly by roughly 200 percent.
So it should boggle the mind of anyone concerned about climate change that those facts weren’t the main topic of discussion.
Instead, the committee members and staff spent two hours debating the confusing cost comparisons in the consultant’s report. And the report was confusing, if not seriously flawed.
It’s important to have an accurate comparison between the cost of the existing landfill operation and any new WTE technology. Elected officials need that data to make informed decisions, and seek federal and provincial funding.
And the public wants cost information, too. Of course.
But, holy cow, the environmental benefits of any WTE solution for disposing of household and commercial garbage are overwhelming and undeniable.
It should have been the main topic of discussion, had the consultant’s report not obfuscated the monetary issues.
Landfills account for 20 percent of Canada’s methane emissions, which are 25 times more potent in accelerating global warming than other greenhouse gases. It may be the single largest impact that regional districts can have on the national GHG reduction target.
That’s why the recommendation by Comox Valley Regional District staff was so shocking, and out of step with the mission of the WTE committee.
Staff recommended the committee discontinue looking at WTE solutions until 2022, primarily because landfilling was portrayed as the least expensive option.
But until CVRD staff prepare more accurate cost comparisons, that’s not a proven fact.
In either case, the recommendation sends the message that although landfilling may pollute more and accelerate global warming, it will keep our taxes lower.
And that, unfortunately, appears to be a common mindset among too many within Comox Valley municipal governments.
We expect our elected officials to spend our tax dollars wisely, and make prudent decisions. But there’s a new paradigm that injects environmental factors into the definition of prudence.
And that’s the kind of thinking that will save this planet from the disastrous effects of climate change.