Special Report: Climate Change

The Climate Crisis and the Canadian Federal Election

What's in an emergency? Some bleak thoughts on staring down the last meaningful climate election.

By Michael Nabert
Published June 27, 2019

Scientist John Tyndall first measured the greenhouse effect that drives global warming in a laboratory way back in the year 1859. Since then, it has been studied by the largest collective scientific effort in all of human history, and the conclusion that human activity is causing current changes to our climate is supported by the five-sigma gold standard highest quality of scientific evidence.

There is no alternate hypothesis to explain current events that stands up to even cursory scientific scrutiny, despite decades of well-funded efforts to find one.

So pretending that tens of thousands of scientists are all idiots and that you know better has gotten a lot harder for today's busy climate denier on the go, as we've watched real-world events proving them right over and over again in the daily news. As a result, for the most part we've progressed beyond outright it-isn't-happening denial and moved into token-gestures-while-still-making-it-worse denial.

Enter the climate emergency declaration. Cities, states, and nations have begun an escalating trend of making very public statements that they acknowledge the climate crisis is an emergency.

What a Climate Crisis Looks Like

So what does this emergency look like? The incredible array of dire scientific projections are pretty much terrifying enough that even just educating yourself on the subject opens the door to new and troubling mental health issues.

Nobel winning economists tell us the climate crisis represents the greatest market failure in history, with the Bank of Canada warning that it threatens not just our economy but our entire economic model.

Military intelligence experts define it as a threat multiplier that worsens a broad range of national security concerns, while not one or two but 56 different studies indicate that it also increases threats of interpersonal violence.

Escalating natural disaster intensity leads insurers to call it the mother of all risks while waving around the receipts, so they should know.

Meanwhile, public health agencies document harms it is already causing to human health and agricultural crop yields are declining on every continent where human beings grow food, also as predicted.

So when we say "climate emergency," what we mean is that it might not be exactly fun watching our economy and our food supply race one another to see which one can collapse the fastest.

Digging the Hole Deeper

Or rather, that's what you or I might mean. For governments, unfortunately, declaring the situation an emergency is just the sort of hollow gesture that can tell the public that you are serious about the subject without the pesky inconvenience of actually enacting policies that might back it up.

In Canada, that means some math on a couple of Liberal party climate policy decisions is in order.

Canada's Greenhouse Gas reduction target: -200 megatons of CO2 emissions by 2030

This target, set by the Harper government, was pilloried by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau as inadequate during the 2015 election, but after being elected the Liberals decided that it was perfectly okay.

Pro-climate Liberal policy decisions:

Anti climate Liberal policy decisions:

We could, of course, take a deep dive into much more, like the creation of new fossil fuel subsidies after election promises to eliminate them, but just those two line items is enough to give us a sense of scope.

Declaring a climate emergency one day and then green-lighting a project that guarantees worsening the climate emergency the next day is like saying that you're urgently concerned with fire safety, and then spraying all of the furniture with gasoline to indicate how true that is.

This makes it easier to understand why the climate emergency debate was so important to the mainstream parties that Green Party leader Elizabeth May was the only party leader who could even be bothered to show up, but what do you expect when media coverage of the royal baby eclipses the amount of attention paid to an existential crisis to our entire civilization?

A Price on Carbon

Ironically, the current political awareness that voters care about this issue is leading governments to endorse exactly the sort of incremental changes that would have been credible responses to the issue somewhere around 1980.

The carbon tax is a great tool. Economists agree that it's the best way to reduce emissions with the least harm to the economy. In fact, the Nobel Prize for economics was awarded last year for using the data from dozens of places that already have carbon prices to prove that it works just like they said it would.

So there's nothing wrong with the policy in principle, other than the fact that it's far too tiny to add up to much.

What can be said in its favour is that it establishes the framework of a policy that could be dialed up to the point where it actually becomes useful. What can't be said is that it puts us on an emergency footing that has any chance of doing what science tells us we absolutely need to urgently do.

If we want to make the shift away from fossil fuels in a painlessly slow, incremental manner, all we really need is a time machine so that we can get started when scientists first told us that was what we had to go. At this point, pretending that a slow transition can get us where we need to be is full-throttle denial of what the science actually says - every bit as much as pretending global warming isn't happening in the first place.

It's the details of the carbon tax that much of this year's last-election-that's-likely-to-matter-as-far-as-the-climate's-concerned is going to hinge upon, apparently. The basic math is simple enough that you could use it to explain how this policy helps most of us to a grade three classroom in five minutes or less.

The price of doing a thing affects how often people do it. If a movie ticket cost fifty dollars, fewer people would go to the movies than when a movie ticket only costs ten dollars. So adding a tax the price of things that emit carbon means that people will do less of the things that emit carbon and emissions will go down. If it costs a little more to drive, then people will drive a little less.

This is not a difficult concept. You can ask literally any person who has ever had to work within a budget to explain it for you.

Canada's new carbon tax uses what is called a fee-and-dividend model, where the money collected is divided among citizens to give them a rebate and put money back into their hands.

A small proportion of people who are very high emitters will pay more than they get back because they emit lots of greenhouse gases by living large, while the great majority of people will actually get a bigger dividend paid to them than they pay in carbon taxes in the first place.

That's where the "more than they get back" that the biggest polluters pay goes: into the pockets of people like you and me. So you pay $2 more filling your gas tank and get it back on your tax return, and the guy filling up the million litre gas tank on a super yacht pays $40,000 more and you get a cut of that, too.

Conservatives Demonize Carbon Pricing

In conservative circles, and on Doug Ford's gas pump stickers, the "you get a rebate" part is conveniently forgotten, and decades of conditioning people to respond to the word tax with outrage as reliably as a rat in a behavioural study stamping on a button to get a food pellet kicks in.

It turns out that it's surprisingly easy to demonize a policy when you only focus on a word people don't like and pretend that the upsides don't actually exist at all. Go figure.

So the carbon tax takes money from the biggest polluters and gives it to taxpayers. In contrast, what both Doug Ford's climate plan and Andrew Scheer's climate, um, I'm reluctant to misuse the word 'plan' here, so let's say Andrew Scheer's something-to-wave-around-while-pretending-he-has-a-plan have in common is that they take money from taxpayers and give it to the biggest polluters instead.

That's much more comfortable ground for them.

What's really striking about Scheer's numberless propaganda effort, however, is its foundational reliance on finger-pointing. Not just in the way that the first dozen pages contain basically nothing but attacks on the Liberals, which we could easily anticipate, but in a much more fundamental way.

As conservatives have found it progressively harder to pretend climate change isn't an issue, and scientists tell us we absolutely need every nation to do its part, the go-to rhetorical tool the right dredges up is based on pointing fingers elsewhere.

For example, China's emissions are larger than ours, unless we use intellectually honest measures like per-capita emissions in comparing the footprint of our 37 million people to their nearly 1.4 billion.

But never mind the fact that we are in the top ten emitters among over 190 nations: Scheer's intention is to find a way to claim the credit for emissions reductions in other nations (you know, the 180 or so other countries that are already emitting less than we are) instead of taking action on emissions here at home where we could theoretically do something about them.

This is the finger pointing strategy taken to the Nth level. And for those tribal voters whose loyalty isn't shaken by little things like policy, it's music to their ears: both a way to pretend to take the issue seriously and a way to continue with business as usual by asking little to nothing of them.

In short, the Conservatives have offered us a cynical posture perfectly in line with the fact that while two-thirds of Canadians care about the issue, only half care enough to think $10 a month would be worth spending to avoid the almost unthinkable planetary catastrophe we were talking about earlier.

What This Means for the Election

Here's the really uncomfortable truth of it: a vote for the Liberals is a vote for planetary disaster while saying the right things about it in front of the TV cameras. And a vote for the Conservatives is a vote for the exact same planetary disaster, maybe a teeny bit faster, while treating environmentalists as a public enemy in the media, and for anyone unfortunate enough to be trying to live here a few decades from now, there really isn't much difference between them.

Where does that leave voters interested in really doing what the real science is really telling us is necessary?

While Jagmeet Singh's NDP are working hard to separate themselves from former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley's pipelines-or-die fossil fuel shilling and BC NDP's Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) love not being much better, they are bringing some credible policies to the table with a promise to reduce emissions 37 percent by 2030.

The Green Party, on the other hand, which seems likeliest to make this issue their top priority, raises the bar even higher to aim towards a 60 percent reduction in emissions by 2030.

Sounds fabulous, right? Or it does until we look at what the science is telling us. According to the scientists who correctly predicted all of the runaway wildfires and so on happening in the daily news, carbon emissions actually have to reach zero by 2030 in every country in the world if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

And the political voices suggesting maybe we should try to avoid those worst impacts by finally taking scientists seriously? We're over here on the sidelines being ignored and ridiculed while everyone else tells us to "be realistic."

Better buckle up, it's a long hard road downhill from here.

Writer Michael Nabert has been a dedicated environmentalist for three decades, won an environmentalist of the year award for it, and reached an audience of millions online. He doesn't care whether you believe him personally, but if you don't believe the consensus of the world's experts, you might want to ask yourself why that is.


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By GWW (registered) | Posted June 27, 2019 at 12:32:08

You mention the Trans Mountain Pipeline at 125 megatons.(Is this the energy cost of pumping the oil thru the pipeline?) I would have thought this was more efficient than shipping the same amount by rail. Or do you prefer rail over pipelines? Carbon taxes should be directed towards the demand for oil and gas, not the supply. Worldwide oil demand increases by around a million barrels per day per year. Reducing Canadian supply does not affect world demand, which will be picked up by other suppliers. Oil and gas should have carbon taxes where it's consumed, or where Canada exports it to. I agree carbon taxes for consumption of carbon producing fuels is the correct way to go. I believe these will need to increased substantially over five to ten years to the point where electric cars and trucks are the first choice for transportation. (Hopefully Electric Vehicles will come on stream in appropriate volumes to materially affect oil consumption patterns) Likewise building codes should be to Passive Heating Design Standards. It's unfortunate that so many Condo's are glass towers with relatively poor heating and cooling properties.

Comment edited by GWW on 2019-06-27 12:33:24

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By MichaelNabert (registered) | Posted June 27, 2019 at 17:29:59 in reply to Comment 130011

Asking whether you prefer your oil be shipped by rail or by pipeline is the moral equivalent of asking whether you'd rather have poison added to your drink or to your entree; the only correct answer is neither. The laws of physics don't actually care how we ship the stuff, they simply continue to warm the planet further whenever we burn it, however it travels. When the entire global scientific community tells us that we absolutely need to reduce our use of fossil fuels as rapidly as possible to avoid the worst of a global catastrophe of almost unthinkable scope, the only rational response is to reduce our fossil fuel use as rapidly as possible. "But people still want to burn oil, so shouldn't we condemn all future generations to a brutal hellscape of largely unliveable violent scarcity just to secure some of the profits from destroying any hope we have for an even halfway decent future for the foreign investors in tar sands develppment" isn't a rational argument, it's ecocide. When the only way to avoid catastrophe is to move away from fossil fuels, all of the smart money moves away from fossil fuels.

Conveniently, the economic argument is just as strong as the environmental one. Clean energy is the fastest growing sector of the global economy, and producing jobs twelve times faster than the rest of the economy as well. The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate estimates that ambitious action on climate change can contribute $26 Trillion in growth, of which Canadians could enjoy a share, if we skated to where the puck is going to be rather than doubling down on an industry that is already dying as well as killing us. By contrast, the World Bank, hardly a fringe organization of the left, tells us that climate change is currently trending to destroy $158 Trillion in global assets by 2050, which is about double the entire world's total annual economic output. If the goal is to maximize Canada's economic growth, job benefits, and investment opportunities, fossil fuels are only the way to guarantee that we don't do those things, but we do wipe out our hopes of an even halfway decent tomorrow.

When someone argues that taking action on climate change is too expensive, that's because they refuse to consider the costs of not taking action, which are a lot more expensive. Similarly, when they say that we have to kill our hopes for tomorrow because there's money to be made, all of the evidence shows that there's more money to be made being at the leading edge of the technologies replacing oil.

Comment edited by MichaelNabert on 2019-06-27 17:30:37

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By MichaelNabert (registered) | Posted June 27, 2019 at 18:29:15 in reply to Comment 130012

As far as carbon taxing is concerned, perhaps you missed the part where the overwhelming majority of economists understand that it's a market signal that effectively reduces emissions with the least amount of harm to the economy, or the part where the evidence from dozens of countries that already do it was used to prove them right. Is there some logical reason that we should avoid using what has already been proven to be the best tool we have to accomplish what we need to do? When the stakes are life and death, as they are, wouldn't you think that using the best tools we've got is probably smart?

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted June 28, 2019 at 23:55:10 in reply to Comment 130013

I agree the carbon tax will work but I keep hearing that it needs to be over 10x the amount it currently is to make any real difference. The kinds of measures we need to save the planet are politically impossible. I got my degree in Environmental Studies 25 years ago and in my last year my overall conclusion was that we are screwed. There are not nearly enough people who care. The human environmental catastrophe peaked decades ago.

Carbon remains in the atmosphere for 100 years.

No one even talks about methane which is a greenhouse gas 100x more potent than carbon. Why not? Because the agricultural industry emits it. It is political suicide to attack farmers.

We are already over the cliff. What we are experiencing now is the wind whistling in our ears as we approach the rocks below. I'm a dad of two kids. I honestly just try to block out what their future will be like.

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By GWW (registered) | Posted June 28, 2019 at 14:57:33 in reply to Comment 130013

Carbon taxes will work only if there are viable alternatives in the market place. Electric vehicles instead of Internal Combustion engines. Right now there is a very small selection of vehicles, and they are not at price point to be competitive. Either Carbon taxes need to go up(Say fifty cents. or a dollar per litre) or the range of electric vehicles needs to go up, together with better prices. Perhaps in another five years with technological improvements EV's will finally become mainstream, In the meantime there is a worldwide inventory of hundreds of millions of ICE vehicles that will take at least ten to fifteen years to reach the end of their economic life.

With Housing, there are millions of existing homes that burn natural gas, because it is cost competitive. Its only when the carbon tax on home heating makes it less competitive than electricity will home owners switch. The possible scenario of what was a $1,500 natural gas bill for a year, would probably need a carbon tax of $3,000 before people switch to electric heat.

Addressing demand for fossil fuels in Canada is what Canadians should pursue, not the world level of supply of fossil fuels, as other nations/suppliers will step up to meet demand if Canada does not provide the supply of product thru pipelines.

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By MichaelNabert (registered) | Posted June 28, 2019 at 10:12:18

Canadian economists have already agreed that carbon pricing works.


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By MichaelNabert (registered) | Posted June 28, 2019 at 10:12:49

Here's the Nobel Prize for economics being awarded for proving that it works.


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By MichaelNabert (registered) | Posted June 28, 2019 at 10:16:33

If 7 in 10 Ontarians oppose the carbon price, that is because they have been deliberately misinformed by misrepresentation of the issue by the right which conveniently pretends that the rebate part of the legislation doesn't exist. When 90% of the money collected is returned directly to taxpayers and the remainder is available to the provincial government where it is collected specifically for use in funding policies which also reduce emissions, such as improved public transit, pretending that it's a federal tax grab when exactly zero dollars go into federal coffers is merely dishonest on all levels, rather than in any way a credible stance. You are providing the false logic of pretending that if you successfully lie to the public that it magically makes it true.

The public dialogue about Canada's new carbon price is one of the most dishonest I have ever seen. In article after article, I see unfounded opinions that federal rebates will not be enough to offset increased costs for consumers, even though economists are telling us quite consistently that most households will see more cash in their pocket rather than less.


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By MichaelNabert (registered) | Posted June 28, 2019 at 10:16:46

If you live in Canada, and you are not one of the most polluting individuals in the whole country, you will have more money in your pocket instead of less at the end of the year. How is a choice between "I spend $2 more on a tank of gas today, which I will get back with interest in a rebate on my tax return" and "we plunge the entire planet into the most catastrophic irreversible climate change" a tough decision?


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By MichaelNabert (registered) | Posted June 28, 2019 at 10:18:27

Here's the parliamentary budget office also confirming that the carbon tax will put more money into the pockets of an overwhelming majority of taxpayers than it costs them.


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By MichaelNabert (registered) | Posted June 28, 2019 at 10:19:16

Of course, just as with the acknowledgement of climate science as an issue to begin with, angry ideologues desperately cling to a tiny handful of outlier individuals who claim to disagree with the overwhelming consensus among their peers, only this time it's the barest handful of economists instead of the barest handful of scientists, and with about as much credibility, considering that we can see the evidence of it already working in dozens of real world examples.

So which part of the carbon tax do you really oppose? The idea that we might choose not to condemn future generations to millennia of hell, or the fact that it takes money from big polluters in order to put it into your pocket?

Comment edited by MichaelNabert on 2019-06-28 10:21:40

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By MichaelNabert (registered) | Posted June 28, 2019 at 10:24:57

Thanks for proving my point by ignoring the various questions I posed to you, though; that's always a real time saver. So when literally the entire global scientific community including literally every professional scientific organization that exists on the face of the planet agrees that increasing fossil fuel dependency spells disaster, you're still going to pretend that "would you rather have your hopes for the future obliterated by rail or obliterated by pipeline?" is the most important argument to have, but cannot for even a moment be bothered to acknowledge scientific reality or strive to logically support that ecocidal position? Good luck with that.

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By positive1@cogeco.ca (registered) | Posted June 29, 2019 at 09:20:25

PGFontana - "... you have made statements which are demonstratively false" Please do tell. Arguments should be evidence-based, or they are simply opinions.

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By MichaelNabert (registered) | Posted June 30, 2019 at 12:05:34

It is always instructive to observe the way that ideologues deal with intellectual concepts like the burden of proof. If something they wish to oppose is, for example, supported by research using real world examples of a thing which already works in dozens of places being sufficiently robust to win the most prestigious award for excellence and rigour in effective research that exists in the entire world, they feel totally confident either casually ignoring it or misrepresenting it completely out of hand. When it comes to their own position, however, they believe that it's more than sufficient to cite the opinion of a lone outlier, or take a single statement by some professional completely out of context to misframe it, in exactly the same way that the tobacco industry found that finding even a single doctor willing to deny the link between cigarettes and lung cancer was more than good enough for a legion of addicted smokers who really wanted to believe it to be true. (Anyone paying attention will note that not only have the same methods been used to deny the reality of climate change for years, but also by many of the same individuals who first got paid to do so for big tobacco.). So when PGFontana claims above to have "proven" that carbon pricing isn't the most effective tool we have thus far discovered to effectively reduce emissions with the least amount of harm to the economy, they are merely demonstrating that they really couldn't care the tiniest bit what "proof" means, they just want to cling to their ideologically driven position at all costs. So of course they have not in any way proven that carbon pricing doesn't work (it does) or that economists don't recommend it (they do) or their pet claim that it is something it very demonstrably is not (a "federal tax grab" that doesn't put a single dime into federal coffers at all in any way) and they very definitely have not in any way proven that any other tool is more effective at reducing emissions (full disclosure: we do indeed know of one thing that reduces emissions far more effectively than carbon pricing, and that is a severe recession or economic collapse, which is why the intellectually honest speakers on this topic clarify that carbon pricing is not the fastest way there but merely the fastest way there which involves the least amount of economic pain), but they don't really care about things like that. What they desperately want to do is lack-of-virtue signal in public about their tribal political identity.

Where this is the most obvious lies in the way that they invariably devolve into derision and name calling. A person with an argument they can support feels no need for insults, because they've got facts, logic, or evidence to back them up. This is not only evident in efforts to insult my intelligence (tone deaf indeed to the self evident premise that making declarative statements about people you don't know merely indicates that you aren't to be taken seriously) but even more painfully clear in the way that when a bystander like positive1 above asks a question like "can you give specific examples and back them up with some sort of evidence?"they instantly resort to insulting their intelligence merely for posing the question instead of offering a substantive response.

When someone uncorks that kind of derision even to casual strangers asking simple questions, it broadcasts that they clearly imagine that belligerence will somehow magically make a weak position stronger, that browbeating others will discourage us from challenging them knowing that abuse will follow. It merely indicates that even they know their reasoning is weak, and advertises that unlike the rest of us, their debating skills never improved after grade school. Not once ever in the entirety of human history has someone been convinced of the correctness of someone's position or been brought around to another way of thinking by beginning with derision and disrespect. They're not here to discuss anything like an adult, merely to flaunt the chip on their immature shoulder, and couldn't be more loudly telling us not to waste our time with them.

"When debate is lost, slander is the tool of the loser." - Socrates; we've understood this simple fact since at least 470 BC.

Comment edited by MichaelNabert on 2019-06-30 12:07:06

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted July 02, 2019 at 13:22:41

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By Ryan (registered) | Posted July 04, 2019 at 09:30:55

Instead of cherry picking localized weather events, here are the NOAA global weather anomaly charts for the first five months of this year.

NOAA Global Temperature Percentiles, 2019-01 to 2019-05

And here's the annual chart of global temperature anomaly since 1880.

NOAA Global Temperature Anomaly, 1880-2018

But sure, let's keep pretending the evidence is anything but clear.

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