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Canada’s Most Effective Actions to Fight Climate Change

I was listening to the radio at work when a program attempted to break down the two leading Canadian political parties’ green plans. The difference between talking with an economist or policy analyst (what they actually had on the show) and a scientist was apparent. Also, too much political correctness or “neutrality” was apparent. What is often heard on the streets of Western Canada is that the Liberals are trying to rob the West again, and this is just not accurate. It reflects a wider ignorance (I mean this in a blunt way, God knows I wish people had all the information needed to really understand the situation) on this issue. The average person is having a really hard time understanding the difference between the two plans.

The Conservative plan, as it stands, might be much worse for the West than the Liberal plan. The Liberal plan makes allowances for rural people who need to use more fuel. It also is a straight tax, which will affect all consumers, right across the country, because most everyone buys gas or oil, and everyone does buy products which require oil to produce or bring to market (everything does, especially food). The real nasty part for the West is not a burden that’s equally shared, since it doesn’t affect British Columbia at all compared to Alberta and Saskatchewan. That extra tax burden comes from the fact that these two provinces rely heavily on coal for energy. But the reality is, to offset that, more of the tax money pulled in can be spent in those provinces to get these provinces off of coal, because that’s the whole point: to stop emitting so much greenhouse gases. This could mean spending in several ways. One of the best ways to reduce emissions would be to update building codes to increase insulation to greatly reduce the amount of energy needed to heat and cool buildings (residential and commercial). This is not so cheap, so the tax money collected under the Liberal Green Shift could be used to help with this burden. Fortunately, these provinces also tend to have some of the greatest weather extremes of hot and cold, which means much more bang for the buck. The price of natural gas (and coal) will continue to rise, since these are non-renewable resources, so it’s best to start using less and less of them. Additionally, tax money could be spent on installing renewable sources of energy, such as wind, solar and geothermal (hydro is problematic, and not necessarily climate friendly for many reasons). Money can also be invested in research and development of better renewable energy technologies and also carbon sequestration technologies. There’s no reason why the excess tax burden on these two provinces can’t be spent back in those provinces to help draw down that burden.

The Conservative plan, on the other hand, really could be worse for the west in that it deals with corporations and sets hard targets to bring down “energy intensity.” Most people don’t seem to understand the bottom line with energy intensity. Although this means you use less energy to produce any given output or product (including oil from the oil sands), it does not mean you have to bring down your total greenhouse gases. This means that companies could be burdened with trying to meet these targets for energy intensity and paying a fine or tax when they don’t, but still be putting out ever more emissions on the whole. The oil sands industry is one of the most “energy intense” industries in the country, so it will doubtless be affected, and it is, as everyone knows, in the West. The West has plenty of resource industries that could be hit hard by this, and it may be that some of these industries are forced out of business by these targets, because at some point, the product becomes so expense to produce that consumers of it may go elsewhere, or it cannot be competitive in the marketplace, assuming companies are passing on to their customers the costs of bringing in new technologies and practices to decrease energy intensity or alternatively paying taxes for not reaching their targets. This plan might not be all that great for fighting climate change and still cause financial meltdown in some sectors.

As a final note, people need to come from a base understanding of the issue of climate change, and also energy scarcity to fully grasp the importance of these plans and the differences between them. This is not about “saving the planet” as one caller to the radio show moaned. This is about saving our civilization and preventing suffering. This has nothing to do with cute arctic creatures and everything to do with keep the cogs of our own machine turning enough so that we all get fed and clothed and sheltered. The phrase “save the planet” should be put out to pasture, because the planet isn’t the one that needs to be saved. It’s also clear that people still don’t really understand where greenhouse gases come from by source. There’s still a lot of talk about changing how we power our cars when agriculture and buildings are really greater sources of emissions. One of the most obvious things we can do is to change building codes back to a style that would have helped us survive in our homes in the times before we had energy coming down from a far off power plant or a fossil fuel. This is not cheap, but non-renewable energy costs are going to continue to go up and the fuels will eventually become scarce, so it’s a practical action anyway. From the agricultural perspective, ultimately our economic and political systems are going to have to stop pushing industrial agriculture which cannot work without abundant, cheap oil and is inefficient and destructive in ecological terms. People need to realize we’re eating several times more meat than we ever did in the past and that livestock is far more energy intensive than plant production and produces methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. Don’t just drive your car less, stop eating so much beef (and dairy, eggs and other meat). We can’t keep running away from this problem and looking at the issue as an economic one versus an environmental one, when this issue is both. Once you realize we’re going to increasingly have problems with keeping energy prices down and supplies up, it becomes clear that this is a win-win situation in terms of fighting climate change, and converting to the inevitable new and different forms of energy we’ll come to rely on.

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