Canada's Climate Clusterfuck
Over the course of its 154 years of statehood, Canada has been a model of innovation and success. Be it the discovery of Insulin, universal health care, diversity, or giving the world Seth Rogen, we Canadians are the epitome of excellence. Now, the world looks onto us with regards to the existential threat we as humans face: the climate.
The fight for a cleaner, greener, and a sustainable world is indeed a daunting task but with the human instinct of survival, we can do the unthinkable. We do not live in this, as Maya Angelou said, all is well, world. We cannot, we must not try to evade the problem we are facing. To solve a problem, even in general, it requires three aspects: acknowledging the problem, what is causing it, and then the solutions for it.
Let us start by acknowledging the climate dilemma. We as a country, are the 10th largest CO2 emitters in the world and the largest CO2 emitters per capita amongst the OECD countries. Wherein the world has seen an increased annual temperature of 0.8 C from the industrial revolution of the 1950s we in Canada are experiencing warming at twice the rate, 1.7 C, as compared to the rest of the world, with the rates being even higher up in the North and the Prairies. We are proud of having more than enough water, but it could quickly turn into a catastrophic event with a threat of extreme flooding due to the melting of the glaciers in the Rockies. As a major part of our economy depends on agriculture, the extremity and unpredictability of climate is the last thing we want. With warmer temperatures, it would lead to drier soil, due to evapotranspiration, which is not favorable for the arable land. Moreover, the dry conditions affect water sources, land, and biodiversity in general. Poor soil quality and insufficient water affects plant growth as well as animal drinking water thus creating an unsustainable wildlife habitat as well. Drier conditions lead to optimal opportunity for a fire to take place, which is exactly the reason behind the 300 active wildfires currently in the province of BC alone.
We are in a time, where we are living the impacts of climate change. The current heatwave, engulfing the west coast and the prairies, has had devastating impacts, especially in British Columbia. The BC heat dome led to extreme summer conditions, with some areas such as Lytton experiencing 49.6 C. This led to 579 deaths across the province over a one-week period, in which the current heatwave was suspected. The heatwave led to fully booked hotels across the province as residents did not have air conditioning in their houses and were not fully prepared for what was about to hit them. Even the local Walmart’s in Saskatoon had run out of fans over the week of the heat dome. These extreme conditions, due to climate change, are impacting real communities and environments. For us in Saskatchewan, this creates a stronger urge to solve this climate issue as quickly as possible.
Now, let us look at the cause of the problem. To make it absolutely clear to some, natural causes such as solar radiation and volcanic activity have been estimated to contribute more or less than 0.1 C to the total warming between 1890 and 2010. In the Fifth Assessment Report, a group of 1300 independent scientific experts from countries all around the world concluded that there is a more than 95 percent probability that human activities over the past 50 years have led to this quagmire. We have raised atmospheric CO2 levels from 280 parts per million to 416 parts per million over the last 150 years. After getting this out of the way let's look at a bigger picture.
The main driver of climate change is the greenhouse effect: an effect that traps the sun's heat and stops it from leaking into space causing global warming. Gases such as CO2, Methane and Nitrous Oxide even though do occur naturally, but as described earlier, human activity play the larger role in it. In this blog, we will mainly discuss CO2 emissions, as they are the largest contributor to global warming. Since 1750, concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 48%. In Canada, our CO2 emissions increased by 21.4% since 1990. Naturally, CO2 is released by processes such as respiration and volcanic eruption. Human activities such as deforestation, land use changes and burning fossil fuels contribute greatly to increased atmospheric CO2 concentration. The process of burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil, combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2. Deforestation is also a major component in this fight for climate change. As we all learned in grade 3, trees are natures built in system that help regulate air quality by absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen during photosynthesis. When they are cut down, that not only negates the beneficial effect but in turn their stored CO2 is released into the atmosphere, adding to the greenhouse effect.
Regionally, Canada’s top 5 emitters are Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. Ontario and Quebec have done a better job, as their greenhouse gas, GHG, emissions were lower in 2019 than 1990. For Ontario, it can be contributed primarily to the closure of coal-fired electricity generation parts. Quebec decreased emissions from the aluminum production and petroleum refining industries. On the other hand, Alberta increased its GHG emissions by 61% since 1990 thanks to its oil and gas industry. Saskatchewan increased its emissions by 10% since 2005, primarily due to an increase in human activity such as transportation and mining. British Columbia also had an increase of 4.3% due to the transportation and the oil and gas sectors. In 2019, the oil and gas sector contributed for 26% of Canada’s total GHG emissions and has increased by a scary 87% since 1990 due to the money grab production of crude oil and expansion of the oil sands industry. Another sector that has paved way for climate change is the transport sector. It accounted for 25% of Canada’s total GHG emissions, increasing by 54% since 1990 due to the increase in freight trucks and passenger light trucks, such as trucks, vans, and SUVs. Notice how most of this in some way or another includes the oil and gas sector.
Now, the solutions. As Imran Khan said, ideas without funding are mere hallucinations. We need investment from the federal government as well as the private sector in the renewable energy field. Our cities have been built more for the cars than the people living in them. We need to look at growing urban forests; they not only help in reducing CO2 emissions but also help in cooling of cities along with providing shade. We can also use nature's help in replacing streetlights with bioluminescence lights. Bioluminescence is a light produced by a biochemical reaction on a living organism. One, they are inexhaustible resources meaning that the bacteria used can be cultivated infinitely, and they only use sugar for energy, hence cutting costs from maintaining typical streetlights. Second, they also help reduce light pollution as they emit soft light, as well as reducing mankind’s ecological footprint by protecting wildlife habitat weakened by the traditional streetlights.
Another solution, I believe is getting the carbon tax in place. To be fair, it does hit the ordinary people unfairly as they cannot just afford a new tax on already minimum wages. To offset the costs, the federal government has implemented a rebate strategy, meaning a household in Saskatchewan would be getting a net gain of $393 in their annual income in 2021. The carbon tax also helps in changing the behaviour towards climate change, such that businesses and firms that are not getting any rebates would have a greater incentive to reduce costs by being eco-friendly. This strategy has worked, and we do not have to look further than our own backyard, British Columbia. British Columbia has had a carbon tax since 2008 and its economy has been one fastest growing in Canada, meaning carbon tax does not really hurt the economy as stated by some. BC also used the revenues by this strategy, in lowering their income tax, cutting health premiums and investing in greener technologies. Now, all this said, it does not mean that solely the tax would make people choose better. There should be incentives given to the electric vehicle and solar power industries. Hence, by having cheaper electric vehicles, not just in their “start” price but in their maintaining as well, and electricity from solar rooftops being cheaper would encourage people to choose the latter.
Furthermore, building supergrids would also be a game changer. Supergrids are a wide-area transmission network, that helps in trading high volumes of electricity across greater distances. We in Canada can benefit from such supergrids, as provinces with surplus hydroelectricity e.g., British Columbia and Quebec can help others with the lack of it.
We should also start a national awareness campaign encouraging to grow trees. One such example is of Pakistan’s, 10 Billion Tree Tsunami program, with an ambition to grow 10 billion trees till 2023. To make this a national plan, the federal government is funding it by hiring local communities to grow nurseries. Canada should take lead in this as students and families, in general, would like an extra buck whilst doing something for the environment. We should immediately cease all construction for the Transmountain Pipeline. Yes, it has its pros, but the cons and the setback it gives to our fight in climate change far outweigh the positive effect. It gives more incentives for the oil/ gas industry to tap into the oil reserves, whether the federal government tells us otherwise. The pipeline does not just have an adverse effect on our ecosystem, but also ignore native rights. We should also communicate the urgency of the situation to our elected officials. Elected officials have the authority to pass legislations that matters to stop the money grab oil and gas corporations.
Lastly, we should start rejecting fast fashion. I think I can write a separate blog on fast fashion, and that how dangerous it is for our environment, but I will stick to the solution for it in this blog. Going thrifting, is not just a fun outing, but also something that helps in lower CO2 emissions. It does not only reduce emissions from landfill, but also from production and distribution process for it. By donating stuff, it also helps in community development and charity.
Canada has 7 climatic zones, and we must do everything to protect its biodiversity, its flora and fauna. We have a global responsibility; just like how we sent our troops to Afghanistan, we need to help the developing world in their fight for climate change as well. Extreme weather leads to greater global instability, poverty and conflict, thus putting our national security at risk. The already disputed idea of having more refugees in Canada would get stronger with the influx of climate refugees. I do not want to create a doomsday scenario, but we face an existential threat and should be taken as such. Please, for the sake of Hasbullah and more Jonah Hall, Michael Cera collabs take this seriously. Somebody needs to start a petition for Superbad 2 fr.
Short Version: https://hanzlacentennial.wixsite.com/ikhtilaf