Opinion: A Doctor’s Rx for Climate Change

By Dr. David Beaudin, Dr. Renée Turcotte and Tynette Deveaux | Opinion | May 31, 2022| Published by The Daily Gleaner

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is releasing ever more dire warnings about the global effects of human-induced planetary warming, as evidenced by its recent reports. Scientists have been aware of anthropogenic climate change for at least 50 years, but the impacts have only become obvious to many Atlantic Canadians more recently. Human health is—and will continue to be—increasingly affected by the manifestations of climate change, such as heat domes, wildfires, floods, violent storms, and prolonged droughts. This is in addition to the pollution already visited on populations as a result of the contamination of our air, water, and land. 

As a physician and member of the New Brunswick chapter of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE-NB), I’m concerned for the wellbeing of New Brunswick residents. You should be, too.

The provincial government and NB Power are dragging their heels on climate mitigation and adaptation. Last year, the province tried to get an extension from the federal government to continue operating the Belledune coal generating plant beyond 2030. By NB Power’s own admission, the Belledune plant emits 2.5 to 3.7 megatons of carbon dioxide every year—about the same amount emitted annually by 600,000 (fossil fuel) cars. The plant vies with the Irving Oil refinery for being the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the province. Fortunately, the federal government denied New Brunswick’s request to extend the life of Belledune past 2030.

New Brunswick is trailing behind other provinces in the transition to clean renewable energies, such as wind and solar. NB Power’s first utility-scale solar farm with battery storage is being constructed with partners in Shediac and should be in operation sometime this year. The solar farm will produce enough energy to power about 100 homes annually. This is a long overdue start for NB Power and the province, but, clearly, this amount of power is just a drop in the bucket. 

Even before the sharply rising fossil fuel prices, reports by the Pembina Institute (a national, non-partisan think tank) clearly showed that clean energy portfolios favouring wind and solar energy—combined with energy efficiency programs and battery storage—can produce electricity more cheaply than fossil fuels. As it turns out, these sources can also be as reliable as fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, the New Brunswick government and NB Power are betting on costly and unproven energy technologies, instead. Over the past several years, the New Brunswick government has awarded $30 million for commercial development of small modular nuclear reactors. Whether you’re in favour of more nuclear power or not, it’s irrefutable that small modular nuclear reactors would not be in service in time to reduce the province’s greenhouse gas emissions during this crucial decade. The latest IPCC report states that “limiting warming to around 1.5°C (2.7°F) requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest.” We don’t have much time.

Earlier this year, the former head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and top European senior government advisors on nuclear power issued a joint statement, saying nuclear power is “just not part of any feasible strategy that could counter climate change.” They list a number of concerns, ranging from extremely high costs and lengthy regulatory timeframes to technological complexity and uncertainty, national security issues, toxic nuclear waste, and the vulnerability of nuclear infrastructure in the face of increasingly extreme weather events, such as flooding. 

It’s imperative that the New Brunswick government use the Climate Change Fund to support projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions—rapidly, affordably, and reliably. We can get New Brunswick off coal, diesel, natural gas and other fossil fuels by transitioning to solar and wind power, supported by energy conservation and efficiency, energy storage, and peak demand flexibility. 

When we do, it will go a long way to ensuring the health and wellbeing of New Brunswick residents.  

Dr. Beaudin sits on the fossil fuel committee of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, New Brunswick Chapter