Opinion: Why is Alberta fighting for plastics that are slowly killing us?

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Starting Dec. 20, six types of single-use plastics were banned by the federal government. According to Statistics Canada, 6.2 million tonnes of plastic products are produced each year here, of which 2.3 million tonnes were in packaging. According to the Environmental Defence website, less than 11 per cent of these plastics get recycled. The rest end up in landfills, lakes and oceans, destroying ecosystems and leaching toxic chemicals.

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Following this federal ban is not in question. We are choking in our own waste. Premier Danielle Smith has declared she will fight the ban on these 20 products, partially because plastic is a petrochemical product and she believes Ottawa should leave such decisions to Albertans.

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In November 2022, Smith declared she would “go to the wall” for the petrochemical industry. One of the things that baffles me is that this statement was made before the long, horrible, ruined summer of 2023, in which we saw more forest fire smoke clog up the air than ever before. Even after that evidence, the premier is counting nickels and dimes while Albertans struggle to breathe. Most of the summer, the sun was just an orange dot in the sky, and I don’t think anyone can deny that the late onset of winter and record-breaking temperatures in Alberta and the rest of the world are due to climate change and our collective carbon footprint.

Granted, plastic is a highly useful product and there are Alberta companies that produce them. I worked in a plastics factory in St. Albert during high school and can understand how plastic bans can affect the economy.

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But the truth is that 47 per cent of Canadian plastic producers are in Ontario, 25 per cent are in Quebec, three per cent are in the Atlantic provinces, while all the Prairie provinces together account for just 14 per cent of production, and B.C. produces 11 per cent. Plastic is barely an issue for Albertans.

After the smoky summer we just had when places such as Calgary experienced low air quality, something must be done. Statistics from NASA stated that due to emissions, if we stay on course, global temperatures are on track to rise by 2.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.

Scientists are without a doubt that temperatures in 2020 and 2016 were a mere 1.2 degrees Celsius hotter than the average temperature in the 1800s. What could a 4.5 degree difference do? The World Economic Forum indicates that it is fast becoming an accepted fact that there is a direct relationship between global warming and catastrophic weather events.

There is some good news. Scientists at NASA are of the belief that it is not too late to make a change to the direction our climate is going. The bad news is that they don’t believe it will come in time to make a major change in the lives of people who are alive today.

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When Smith fights Ottawa over plastics or petrochemicals, even when she fights them over taxing fossil fuels, she is drawing on the environmental capital of Albertans who haven’t even been born yet.

We must ask ourselves — looking at the recent forest fires, looking at the national disasters around the globe — if we are willing to accept the inconvenience of a paper straw or buying a reusable bag at the grocery store.

We must ask ourselves if paying a little more for gas (which can easily be mitigated by using more fuel-efficient cars, hybrids, electric cars or even simply carpooling) is worth the proven, scientific reality that we are destroying the only home, the only planet we will ever have.

Leif Gregersen is a writer, teacher and public speaker working mostly in the mental-health sector and a lifelong Albertan.

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