Climate is changing quickly, and it’s up to us to act

(June 22, 2018)

In the same week that Doug Ford won the provincial election in Ontario, scientists announced that the Antarctic ice shelf is melting three times faster than they thought.

While it is true that Ford’s election victory has generated more heat than light, it is his opposition to Ontario’s carbon tax that will speed up such melting in the future. Yet a year ago, neither event would have been predicted by the experts.

In other words, whether we like it or not, things change.

On top of the recent heat wave in the Arctic (during which Churchill hit 30 C) — and record temperatures across Canada for this time of year — the news from Antarctica is particularly disturbing.

Global warming, leading to extreme weather around the planet, is disrupting predictions as well as the lives of millions of people. In situations where political rhetoric (instead of science) drives decision making about the environment, however, facts don’t seem to matter.

So we spend billions more than it is worth to buy an old, leaky pipeline, and billions more to build the Pipeline to Nowhere to ship bitumen that should be left safely in the Alberta oilsands. We sign agreements with Argentina to “study” whether fossil fuel subsidies are a good idea, when smart money has already divested and reinvested in alternatives.

If our scientific predictions are not keeping up with the accelerating effects of global warming, our political performances are 50 years behind reality — and slipping further.

We need to see these decisions for what they are: cynical investments in business as usual, betting against a sustainable future for everyone in order to make money for a few people today. You can make a lot of money predicting the decline of stocks; in fact, you could probably calculate it is easier (and faster) to make a pile on the stock market by shorting stocks rather than by waiting for them to gain in value.

In a volatile world market, in which a presidential tweet can send stocks crashing in an hour, there is money to be made in disaster.

In comparison, however, Mother Nature can change market trends just as quickly — and in a time of global warming, those changes could be catastrophic and irreversible.

Predictions about what happens when the Antarctic ice sheet breaks away or melts vary wildly. Some of the worst forecast a rise in sea level (with continued high greenhouse gas emissions) of up to 2.4 metres by 2100.

Think about it: 2.4 metres. For the metrically challenged, that is more than 71/2 feet.

If the models are not keeping up with the data, and if we continue to build and use pipelines, that end date will be a lot sooner than 2100.

Most people, especially younger ones, are not sure what they will be doing in 2050. At the rate things are going, billions of people around the world could be swimming by then.

I’ve been fortunate to be part of a small group of people that is providing a technical review of the global version of GEO 6, the latest Global Environmental Outlook prepared by the United Nations Environment Program, which is due to be released in March.

Watching colleagues around the world wrestling with the data — finding it, interpreting it, putting the pieces together — reminds me how difficult it is to know exactly where we are or where we will be even in 10 years.

But trends are clear. It is also clear that we do not have to do anything to ensure a high-carbon future, one where the dangerous effects of global warming change the conditions of life for many people on the planet.

Some will be floating; others will suffer from extreme heat (of more than 50 C) in which nothing can grow or live.

The politicians in office now, including the Doug Fords, are the ones who have the power to make decisions on our behalf to change that grimly inevitable future. Mother Nature does not attend campaign rallies, nor does she have a Twitter account.

What we say doesn’t matter; if we don’t change how we live together, the planet will simply do it for us — more rapidly, it seems, than even the scientists think.

Yet our political systems, even in a democracy, are failing us faster than the Antarctic ice is melting. Far more people in Ontario stayed in bed on election day than those who gave Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives their majority government.

Refusing to vote because you don’t like the choices is not a morally superior position. At such a critical point in the history of our civilization, it could be disastrous.

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4.5 billion reasons not to vote Liberal

(June 6, 2018)

Despite their perpetual bleating that “there is no more money,” governments always seem to find the money they need to buy whatever they want.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered spectacular evidence of this, finding $4.5 billion in his sock drawer to purchase the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, present and future.

Jim Carr is now not just Minister of Pipelines, but owner, operator and CEO, as well.

The addiction continues. Canada will not only deserve Fossil of the Year awards at future climate conferences, but risk being kicked off the guest list entirely for its national hypocrisy.

So much for “sunny ways,” optimism and visionary environmental leadership. Trudeau has just provided 4.5 billion reasons for you not to vote Liberal in the next federal election, if you have any thought for your children and grandchildren’s future.

To be clear, the Conservatives are no better. While Andrew Scheer is laughing all the way to the pollster’s office today, the Kinder Morgan scene was set by the Harper government, which repeatedly made the worst environmental management decisions in Canadian history, across all sectors. Scheer’s leadership offers a smiley version of the same serial disasters.

As for the New Democratic Party, they are still straddling the picket fence — a painful position, with British Columbia Premier John Horgan on the one side and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley on the other. National NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has been conspicuously absent all along, making it hard to evaluate his leadership when none has been apparent.

Only the Green party’s Elizabeth May has demonstrated concern for something beyond the needs of the fossil-fuel industry. After receiving a hefty fine for her public support of the protest, she spoke to following higher moral principles than those expressed in the law — an unusual position for a politician to take.

So, that $4.5 billion — plus another $7 billion for construction, it seems — will be another bad investment in a future no thinking person wants to happen. There will be jobs, but the main employment opportunities will be cleaning up the inevitable spills. Given the fact those spills will happen in B.C., there won’t be many extra jobs for Albertans, despite Notley’s flailing efforts to engineer her re-election with a variety of pipe dreams.

Her threats against B.C. are as desperate and absurd as they sound, moreover. Land-locked provinces should not threaten trade wars against the provinces with ports, rail lines and highways — and Horgan has shown restraint by not escalating the situation, despite holding the stronger hand.

Given their apparent desperation, since re-election trumps common sense among Alberta’s NDP (or concern for the planet’s future), they might take a lesson from other developing economies in the global South equally dependent upon natural resources.

Some countries are paid not to cut down their rainforests, paid to preserve wetlands, paid to preserve habitat, wildlife and so on.

Perhaps Alberta should ask the rest of the world for money not to dig up the tar sands, which alone are big enough to push the planet over any survivable carbon limit if the rest are developed.

I remember in the 1970s when prairie farmers in Saskatchewan were paid not to grow wheat. Perhaps it is time to pay Albertans not to produce bitumen.

Still, I wish I had the prime minister’s sock drawer. Perhaps there might be more money in it for the host of infrastructure, health care, education and development needs that have been sidelined until now.

But I expect the drawer is empty again, just like the promises that were made about truth and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, environmental protection and whatever else sounded good during election season.

This decision satisfies no one except Kinder Morgan shareholders.

The protests and blockades will continue, as will the legal challenges. The economics of this pipeline will never make sense — and the environmental devastation of its construction and use will be forever.

The Trudeau government, however, bought the Trans Mountain pipeline for the same price it would otherwise have had to pay Kinder Morgan for damages had the project been cancelled (under the same NAFTA rules that just awarded Bilcon millions of dollars in damages for having its Digby Neck quarry in Nova Scotia denied as an ecological menace).

Perhaps it now can snatch disaster from the jaws of catastrophe and just shut the whole thing down — and put the other $7 billion needed for constructing the Pipeline-to-Nowhere back into Trudeau’s sock drawer for something else.

On top of the wish lists that other people have made for the federal government, that same money could subsidize a carbon-free future for future generations of Canada, instead of buying more obsolete technologies of mass destruction.

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Trucking industry green-driven

(May 30, 2018)

Co-authored with Terry Shaw, Executive Director of the Manitoba Trucking Association

The Pallister government might not expect to see environmental groups like the Green Action Centre working together with the Manitoba Trucking Association to advance a similar agenda, but it is not surprising.

We are concerned about creating a sustainable future and frustrated with the lack of government action toward that goal.

We have not seen the leadership we were promised, on Premier Brian Pallister’s vision to make Manitoba into “Canada’s cleanest, greenest, and most climate resilient province,” a vision that lay behind the Made-in-Manitoba Climate and Green Plan.

Given the Green Projects, Business Competitiveness, and Clean Technologies initiative and the rhetoric that accompanied the various surveys and public (and private) consultations, we expected more, better and sooner from this government.

Specifically, we expected more from the long-promised carbon tax plan, especially in terms of how the money is going to be allocated. At the first province-sponsored consultation in October 2016, both our organizations — like others present — asked for the revenue to be spent on mitigating the impacts of the carbon tax on Manitoba’s most vulnerable citizens, and for the rest to be spent on programs to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

This would involve initiatives such as increasing and improving public transportation, enabling the use of electric vehicles by subsidizing their purchase and providing the necessary charging infrastructure, and subsidizing other efficiencies to encourage reduction in GHG emissions in the transportation sector.

We also impressed upon the members of government we have met over the past two years that this is an urgent problem, something that needs to be addressed in part by reducing the amount of “green tape” that gets between us and the solutions we could offer.

Truck drivers, like farmers and the rest of Manitobans, want to do their part to contribute to solutions, rather than just continuing to be seen as part of the problem.

Obviously, truck drivers provide a service that feeds, clothes and employs Manitobans, and delivers the goods and services that allow us to enjoy the standard of living we have.

We all want to find ways to make transportation more efficient, which is why the MTA jointly established the GrEEEn Trucking fuel efficiency initiative to provide incentives for truck drivers to do just this.

Failing to use the carbon tax revenues collected to support much-needed initiatives such as this one risks having the Manitoba headquarters of our trucking industry move to other provinces where such subsidies are already government policy.

After all, why should the Manitoba trucking industry pay a carbon tax, and at the same time (as good corporate citizens) spend more of their money to improve the efficiency of their operations for the benefit of all Manitobans, if this is not valued or appreciated by the government?

Some things are therefore clear to both our groups:

Without taking serious steps to do things differently, our greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise, fuelling global warming. As Canadians, we have made commitments under the Paris accord to reduce emissions. Whether or not this will be enough to stop global warming remains to be seen, but doing nothing is not an option.

The carbon tax by itself will simply not be high enough to change consumer behaviour by punishing us into a greener lifestyle. Instead of $25 a tonne, we would need closer to $300 a tonne to do that.

The money raised, however — every nickel — should go to protecting the most vulnerable Manitobans first, and then to creating options for Manitobans to make lifestyle and work choices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While we are pleased to see the one-time gift to the Winnipeg Foundation for a conservation trust fund, the revenues from such a fund are woefully inadequate for new climate-change initiatives, especially since existing programs (such as the subsidies to public transit) have already been cancelled as cost-saving measures by the provincial government.

Some parts of the solution are obvious. We have an abundance of electricity, which is more valuable to us kept at home than exported abroad. What we lack is the infrastructure to develop and support electric vehicles, as one part of a sustainable transportation strategy, something that carbon tax revenues could be used to promote.

We need the best answers all of us together can provide, because a sustainable future is important for all Manitobans — especially the next generation.

We are prepared to work as allies, and across sectors, to ensure the province advances its carbon reduction strategies by reducing emissions with funds from carbon taxes.

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