G8 Environmental Report: Coal Plants Are The Worst Of All

by Fr. Shay Cullen

Dublin and Northern Ireland. The shocking revelation that environmental damages caused by economic activities like coal plant electrical generation and mining is costing the global economy as much as US$4.7 trillion a year. The report released last 15 April was commissioned by the Group of Eight economic powers and the United Nation’s Environmental Programme.

The G8 nation’s next meeting is at the Lough Erne Summit, June 17-18, 2013 in Northern Ireland. The grim facts of environmental degradation are causing worldwide economic loss and that means greater poverty and health problems.

The loss to the world economy by environmental destructive economic activity is greater than the wealth generated. The short term benefits are mostly for the rich while the environmental damage hurts the poor. The study calculates the impact of air and water pollution, health costs, the damage caused by climate change due to global warming and the destruction costs of deforestation, the rise in ocean temperature and one hundred other impacts.

Coal fired power plants do the worst damage to the environment and the economy. The negative impact and damage is so grave that it negates any economic benefits that the electricity generated helps create. The damage in East Asia alone, including the Philippines, causes economic losses to the costs of $452.8 billion. The wealth generated is only $443.1 billion causing a net loss – that’s bad business for the world economy.

Those who claim that we need to suffer some environmental damage to generate wealth, progress and development are wrong. It is now proven that the losses are greater than the benefits.

It’s not often that environmental protectors and campaigners get good news and have victories in protecting the health of citizens and protecting the environment. Recently, a Philippine court ruling set back the construction of a coal fired power plant on Subic Bay after intensive campaigning against it.

In the Philippines as elsewhere, a real democratic political system does not work to protect the greater good. It benefits the few rich. The so-called
economic boom in the Philippines is only for those already rich. The value of their holdings and stocks are rising. So it is really an oligarchy, not a
democracy. This court ruling has revealed a dent in that armor of invincibility of the ruling elite. Once-in-a while, a judge is independent of their influence.

State employees are usually beholden to their political masters who appoint them and the energy industry and these politicians are frequently in cahoots with each order. Former industry businessmen get elected and invited by the President into the cabinet. They see that the interests of their masters are protected and enlarged. They get political protection and permits to pursue development projects that are detrimental to the environment.

There is nothing new in that arrangement. Keep the poor poor so they will take the money to fill empty stomachs during election time and the rich can elect themselves. The recent election in May has proven the point. Arnold Padilla on www.preda.org made it clear that the business people and the political elite are one and the same. Dozens of rich politicians from ruling families made fake parties, a legal right reserved for the poor and the marginalized. Thesemembers of ruling families had their fake party approved by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and the Supreme Court and bought enough votes to get themselves elected to Congress and there they can work for the benefit of the rich.

The classic place to see this link up in action is the power plant application project at Subic bay. RP energy, a consortium of Philippine and foreign tycoons, some inner sanctum members of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the government agency (SBMA) in charge of the Subic bay industrial complex had petitioned the court to reverse previous court rulings saying that the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) permits they issued to RP Energy to allow the coal fired plant to be built were invalid.

Their appeal for a reconsideration of this ruling was recently denied by Associate Justice Celia Librea-Leagogo. She denied the motion for reconsideration filed by the DENR, RP Energy, and the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). The planned 600 megawatt coal fired power plant due to be set up at the Redondo peninsula on Subic Bay is now back to square one. The people in the Olongapo city and surrounding area are happy with this. But RP Energy will be in cahoots with the  government officials to get the permits. But community acceptance is not possible.

In all nations, people of conscience and concerned for the well-being of people and nature are challenged to renew efforts to reduce the environmental destruction going on all around us. Every issue is important. Since my recent column, “The Fishing Wars”, the EU has finally made a binding agreement with member nations to abide by the strict quotas and banning of bad practices of throwing millions of tons of non-commercial fish back to the sea dead. Lobbying and speaking out can bring positive change and a healthier world. We are stewards of this beautiful planet; it’s the only one we got. There is nothing much on Mars.

Fr. Shay Cullen is President/CEO of Preda Foundation, Inc., a Philippine human rights social development organization working for 34 years through fair trade practices to help the poorest andmost vulnerable people in society and overcome injustice and poverty. There are 88 professional Filipino staff implementing the 12 project of Preda (see www.preda.org).

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