Sunday, November 11, 2018

Shifting the Climate Change Conversation from the Possible to the Necessary

Credit where it’s due: Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal plan to price carbon pollution for provinces like Ontario that refused to adopt provincial pollution pricing schemes (see: “Government of Canada fighting climate change with price on pollution,” Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, October 23, 2018).  Under the Pan-Canadian Framework on Climate Change, the federal Liberals chose a form of carbon fee and dividend to price pollution – a mechanism that the Green Party of Canada has long championed (see: “Green Party’s Climate Change Plan,” Green Party of Canada, June 15, 2015).

The Liberal’s plan establishes an annually rising fee on carbon pollution, starting at $20 per tonne in 2019 and rising to $50 per tonne by 2022.  To reduce paying for pollution, businesses and industry will have an incentive to innovate.

The vast majority of fees collected will be rebated back to citizens.  With money in our pockets to offset rising costs, consumers can make individual choices that could lead to greater savings (see: “Trudeau promises rebates as Ottawa moves to levy carbon tax on provinces outside the climate plan,” CBC News, October 23, 2018). This form of market-based pollution pricing is the only form that is likely to see the price of carbon pollution rise high enough to affect consumer behaviour without causing rioting in the streets.  It’s because personal rebates will rise as the per tonne price increases.

The Ontario Liberals’ cap and trade pollution pricing plan, which apportioned collected revenues to select green initiatives, would never have been acceptable to consumers paying the $100 per tonne that some experts believe is needed if we are going to hold global warming to the 2 degrees Celsius (see: “Green Party news release: Liberal's cap and trade 'scheme' needs to go, Green candidate says,” Sudbury dot com, May 8, 2018). Ironically, Conservative Premier Doug Ford has inadvertently given Ontarians a climate win-fall by cancelling Wynne’s doomed program (see:“GOLDSTEIN: McKenna’s carbon price report is a farce,” The Toronto Sun, May 1, 2018).

But Ford and Conservatives across Canada are already manning the battle stations to fight a war of public opinion over pollution pricing (see:“Doug Ford attacks 'terrible tax' on carbon alongside Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe,” CBC News, October 29, 2018).  Their ammunition is the same as that used by the decades-old climate change denial industry: cherry-picking data and calling it evidence, making things up, and engaging in character assassination ().  It’s anti-science straight out of an Alice-in-Wonderland universe where up is down and down is up – but it may just work
The fact is, we don’t have time for Conservative’s counterfactual roadblocks here.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report gave us just 12 years to turn things around and get our act together on reducing emissions (see: “IPCC 6 Climate Change Report: We Only Have 12 Years To Fix This,” Cleantechnica, October 9, 2018).  If we don’t, we’re almost certainly going to blow through the 2 degree threshold that the best available science cautions us to avoid. Beyond 2 degrees of global warming, we seriously risk of triggering feedback loops that lead to runaway climate change, like the melting of Arctic permafrost (see:“Why is climate change’s 2 degrees Celsius of warming limit so important?” The Conversation, August 22, 2017).

There will be blood on our hands if we fail to act.  We don’t enjoy the benefit of time to sit around and discuss doing the bare minimum that’s possible, which appears to what the Liberals remain intent on doing. An appropriate scheme to price carbon pollution only gets us so far. Pushing through a new pipeline that will double tar sands emissions; developing a brand new Liquified Natural Gas industry; refusing to aspire to higher emissions reductions targets – all while subsidizing the profitable, largely multi-national fossil fuel sector to the tune of $3.67 billion a year - these aren’t things that climate champions do.

But the obstructionist Conservatives who are resorting to falsifying information about pollution pricing are behaving despicably.  It’s just another form of climate change denial.  Conservatives like Ford and federal Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer need to be pushed aside from the public conversations that we need to be having right now. Until they come up with coherent climate plans of their own, they have nothing to contribute.

We have to start seriously talking about what Canada needs to do to fight climate change, and not about what’s merely politically possible.  And my goodness, we need to be doing a lot more. All while the clock is ticking.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Originally published as "Steve May: Act on climate change or blood will be on our hands," in print and online in the Sudbury Star, November 3, 2018.