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Friday, January 17, 2014

Tsunami of Seniors makes pipelines imperative

Remember Dennis Hopper?  He starred in such iconic movies as Easy Rider and Apocalypse Now, he died back in 2010 of prostate cancer.  Although technically a bit older than the baby boom generation, the front end of that demographic bulge is well into its 60's.

Perhaps no nation on Earth experienced as large a post war baby boom as did Canada and as a result in the coming decades the escalating costs of caring for seniors is set to now sky rocket.   The problem is that when it comes to public health care dollars British Columbia is already pretty much tapped out.

Despite the fact that 40 cents of every dollar the provincial government takes in is now spent  on health care, people are seeing longer waiting times at the emergency room, increases in MSP fees and more stacking of patients in hallways.

Just as there was a scramble to build schools in the 1960s now there is a scramble to build seniors care facilities.  In some ways Hopper was lucky, despite decades of drug abuse, it was cancer rather than dementia that overtook him.  Many aging boomers won't be so lucky.

Unless we are all going to simply take a long walk off a short pier when we get too old to take care of ourselves, British Columbia is going to need a lot more in the way of revenue.  Canada isn't bringing in enough young immigrants who will pay the taxes for us as we age and thanks to million dollar fixer upper homes many young people are forgoing the dream of not only own home ownership but of having kids altogether.

British Columbia's government is betting heavily that LNG exports will provide enough in the way of revenue to help get us through the coming decades.  The oil and gas sector is also one of the few areas where a young person can hope to find a decent paying job that allows them the opportunity to own a home buy a house and raise a family.

But there are environmental reasons why British Columbians should support the construction of pipelines.  The first is that moving oil and gas by pipeline is safer than moving it by train.  On July 6, 2013 47 people were killed and more than 30 buildings destroyed in the town of Lac-Megantic in Quebec when a 74 car freight train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded.

New pipelines can be built so as to avoid heavily populated areas, old railroads were built to connect our towns and cities.  If we don't allow the building of pipelines, railroad companies are happy to keep building more tanker cars.  Either way that oil and gas is going to get to market.  Anyone who believes otherwise is being painfully naive.  China did not invest billions of dollars into Canada's oil and gas sector just to see the resource sit in the ground and meanwhile the United States is so busy fracking that it is set to once again become a net oil exporting country.

The second reason is air pollution.  Right now China with its population of over 1.35 billion people relies heavily on coal for its energy needs.  As a result Beijing often sees its concentration of toxic air particles rise to between twenty and thirty times the level considered safe for humans to breathe.  In fact in January of 2014 Beijing's smog level was at 24 times the safe level.

In fact there is some suggestion that China has pumped so much pollution into the Earth's atmosphere that it is starting to overwhelm the effects of global warming leading to record cold weather in much of North America this winter.

As a species we need to clean up our act.  Switching from coal to liquid natural gas is a much needed first step.  The next step is switching to energy that does not require the burning of fossil fuels.  That is why I am involved with a company called AOE Canada that is able to convert wave energy into compressed air which in turn can be used to provide energy as well as clean drinking water.

Much has changed in China over the past 60 years.  In 1952 the average Chinese person was poorer and had less to eat than in 952, that's right they were worse off than where they had been a thousand years earlier.  Now they have got their population growth under control and their economy is booming.

As China transitions from coal to LNG it will mean less global air pollution and acid rain.  As China transitions to alternative energy such as solar, wind and wave then greenhouse gas emissions will also start to fall.

British Columbians can be part of this positive change by supporting cleaner fuels like LNG as well as the development of alternative energy.  Just as importantly we can also help ourselves our parents and our children by ensuring that we get maximum value for our oil and gas exports so that we can  afford to retire and die with dignity.

In the meantime, be nice to your kids they are the ones who get to pick what retirement home you will be living in.


 MichaelGeoghegan is a government relations consultant based in Victoria

2 comments:

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