This article outlines the federal government’s plan to phase out coal use and explains some of the negotiations that are occurring with the provinces while also outlining the health benefits of such a move.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Environmental studies, world issues, health

Key Questions to Explore:

  • What is involved in such a move?
  • What are the benefits of such a decision?
  • What are the challenges presented by such an action?

New Terminology:

Greenhouse gas (GHG)

Materials Needed:

  • Copies of the article
  • Access to the Internet
Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

The use of coal has long been a target of environmentalists because of its major contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Over the last decade there have been concerted efforts to reduce, if not eliminate, the production of coal-fired electricity. The new federal Liberal government is attempting to accelerate the elimination of this source of energy as it recognizes the problem it creates and sees the health benefits of such a move. This elimination, however, will require flexibility in its implementation as the level of difficulty in meeting this goal varies from province to province. Nevertheless, the closing of these coal-fired electricity plants will have great environmental and health benefits. (Benefits of Coal-fired plant reduction). This move by Canada to address this problem comes at a time when the United States, under the future leadership of President-elect Donald Trump, signals its intent to resurrect the use of coal as a source of energy. This stated American direction flies in the face of the position being taken around the world and challenges the Paris Accord. In contrast Canada’s direction, despite the challenges it presents, will help support the global initiatives to address climate change and improve the health of Canadians. This lesson will have the students examine the stated direction of the federal government and some of the challenges it presents.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Begin the lesson by asking the students what position President-elect Donald Trump has taken on climate change.
  • Ask them if they know of any specific statements he has made concerning climate change and any other environmental issues.
  • Ask them to identify any actions that he is proposing relative to energy production in the United States.
  • Get their responses to these questions and ensure that pipelines and coal production have been raised.
  • If they have not been, indicate to the students that Trump has stated he is in favour of approving the Keystone XL pipeline and returning to a greater reliance on coal as an energy source.
  • Ask them to what degree they are either supportive or critical of these positions and ask them to explain the reasons for their position.
  • With this as background, ask them to explain how Canada’s position compares to that of the United States in reliance on coal and pipeline approvals.
  • If they have been unable to do so, indicate to them that the federal Liberal government supports the approval of pipelines with restrictions but is proposing the phase-out of coal-fired electricity by 2030.
  • Indicate to them that the focus of this lesson will be on the phase-out of coal.
  • Put the students in groups of five or six and provide them with copies of the article to read.
  • Allow the groups time to read the article and then assign them the following task:
    • We support/do not support the position the government is taking. Give reasons for your position.
  • Have each group report back to the class.
  • Once this has been done, determine if there is a class consensus regarding the elimination of coal-fired plants.
  • With this determination made, indicate to the students that there will be challenges to overcome with this direction and ask them to identify any challenges or problems that they can determine. These could include and are not limited to:
    • What can be used to replace this lost energy source?
    • What should happen to those who lose their jobs as a result of the shutdown?
    • What should happen to all of these expensive plants?
    • What can those provinces that do not have ready access to alternative energy sources do?
    • Who should pay for all the changes? How will this money be raised?
    • Do we have renewable energy resources great enough to absorb the energy loss of shutting down coal-fired plants?
    • Once they have completed their list, assign one or more of the items on the list to each group and have them research and prepare possible answers to the challenge or problem.
    • Allow the groups time to do their research and preparation.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Have each group present their findings to the class and allow the class an opportunity to respond to the group’s proposals.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

The students will:

  • Be able to distinguish the similarities and differences between the positions of Canada and the United States concerning pipeline approval and the production and use of coal as an energy source.
  • Be able to explain what Canada’s position is on coal-fired plants and some of the challenges and needed solutions that accompany that direction.

Confirming Activity:

  • Once all of the groups have completed their presentations, conduct a plenary class discussion during which the students can discuss their support for the government’s direction and their level of belief that the obstacles can be overcome to such a degree that this direction will prove to be attainable.