clean versus green

There is some interesting terminology being flung around when it comes to electrical generation these days. Proponents of hydro power, that is electricity generated by having moving water turn a turbine, often describe it as green.

There is some interesting terminology being flung around when it comes to electrical generation these days.

Proponents of hydro power, that is electricity generated by having moving water turn a turbine, often describe it as green.

Green is used in the sense it is environmentally friendly and good for the plants, fishes, animals and even the very air we all breathe.

Using green to define any and all hydro projects is not accurate.

If a valley is to be flooded to create a water reservoir to ensure adequate liquid to turn the turbines, it is not green.

If fish-spawning riverbeds are destroyed due to interrupted water flows, it is not green.

In both cases the electricity generated could potentially be better, from an environmental perspective, than the alternative of burning fossil fuels to create the equivalent amount of electrical energy.

When burnt fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas release greenhouse gases which contribute towards human induced climate change.

Hydro power does produce less greenhouse gases compared with fossil fuels.

Thus it can be considered cleaner.

The jury is still out whether it is greener.

It all depends on each individual hydro project and the valley and fish that are affected by each project tend not to vocalize their verdicts.

While we are on the subject of oil, coal and natural gas, it is disturbing to see how language is used around these fossil fuels.

The major operators in oil and natural gas are referred to as ‘big oil’.

But is usually used in the sense that a bully is big, and forces an individual to do whatever the bully wants.

Sometimes the bully will ask nicely, sometimes they will not, but the end result is that the bully gets what it wants.

Those who are familiar with how some of the major pipeline operators interact with local governments when it comes to discussing natural gas pipelines across the North will no doubt be able to relate.

The biggest verbal scam going in the big oil world is the term natural gas.

The only thing natural about it is that it is not human made.

By using the term natural it implies that this form of energy consists of organic food, music festivals and a good dose of yoga.

The environmental damage gas exploration, extraction, processing and combusting does to the planet makes one realize the term natural is about the most wildly inappropriate name imaginable.

In it its defence natural gas does produce less greenhouse gases when burnt as fuel, compared with coal and oil.

But it still does produce greenhouse gases.

Word usage in the environmental field is full of subtleties.

The Yukon government actually has a department of assessment and abandoned mines.

An abandoned mine, sometimes known as an orphaned mine, conjures up images of a puppy left by the side of the road.

Or perhaps it is some young child who has to make their own way in the world because the parents have met an unfortunate demise.

No, the mine was not left by the side of the highway, nor did the instigator of the mine pass away.

Instead the corporate owners decided to abandon their offspring and not fulfil societal, environmental and even legal obligations to clean up the mess they made.

This means taxpayers have to pay for the cleanup, and the environment suffers until a government department can step in do the correct remediation to the mine in question.

But abandoned mine does conjure up images of a puppy by the side of the road.

And natural gas does make one think of music festivals and healthy food.

Even clean power sounds like it’s good for the planet.

But all these terms are words hiding the fact that none of them are green.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.