Learn More About Climate Change in Canada

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(Image credit: 10 10 on Flickr)

The issue of how to deal with climate change in Canada is a controversial one, with various levels of government — municipal, provincial and federal — all taking different approaches to tackling this important issue.


Up until the election of the new Trudeau federal government in October 2015, Canada had been roundly criticized both domestically and internationally for its lack of action on climate change. 

While progress was stymied at the federal level, there has been progress over the last few years at the provincial government level, namely in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, which have both committed to a cap-and-trade system.

Up until recently, British Columbia was heralded as a leader on climate change, introducing the first carbon tax in the world in 2008. A study by researchers at the University of Ottawa found that the B.C. carbon tax had reduced fossil fuel use in the province by 19 per cent since its inception, when compared to the rest of the country.

However, in 2013 the B.C. government froze planned increases in the carbon tax, calling into question the government's commitment to climate action. The B.C. government now says it plans to keep the freeze on the carbon tax until at least 2018.

Climate change and environmental protection remain hot topics in Canada, with polls for many years consistently showing these issues as top-of-mind. DeSmog Canada reports regularly on the issue of climate change in Canada and we index all of that news in the section that follows below.

  

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DeSmog Canada's latest news coverage on Climate Change in Canada 

 
Flooding in south Yorkshire, England.

Imagine a world where average temperatures are almost 10 degrees Celsius higher than today, an Arctic with temperatures almost 20 degrees warmer and some regions deluged with four times more rain.

That is the dramatic scenario predicted by a team of climate scientists led by the University of Victoria’s Katarzyna Tokarska, who looked at what would happen if the Earth’s remaining untapped fossil fuel reserves are burned.

Tokarska, a PhD student at UVic’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, used simulations from climate models looking at the relationship between carbon emissions and warming — including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report — and concluded that known fossil fuel reserves would emit the equivalent of five trillion tonnes of carbon emissions if burned.

That would result in average global temperature increases between 6.4 degrees and 9.5 degrees Celsius, with Arctic temperatures warming between 14.7 degrees and 19.5 degrees, says the paper published Monday in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.

These results indicate that the unregulated exploitation of the fossil fuel resource could ultimately result in considerably more profound climate changes than previously suggested,” says the study.

It might not have packed quite the same visual punch as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s behaviour in the House of Commons on Wednesday, but the Saskatchewan government’s throne speech —  delivered just the day prior — may be remembered for being equally as bizarre.

Specifically, because of the implicit rejection of climate change science, which was described as “some misguided dogma that has no basis in reality.”

The throne speech, delivered by Lieutenant Governor Vaughn Solomon Schofield, pointed to “oil and gas, coal and uranium, livestock and grains” as allegedly victimized sectors.

They look at those jobs like they are somehow harming the country and the world,” she read. “To those people, my government has a message. You are wrong. You could not be more wrong.”

When you stare at climate change, sometimes climate change stares back.

So what happens when one refuses to look away?

That’s the challenge taken on by filmmaker Josh Fox in his new film, How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change.

Like its title, the film is a long and artful look at an almost too-familiar topic, but one that takes you to unexpected places.

Fox, celebrated for his award-winning documentary GASLAND that charted the impacts of prolific fracking in the U.S., including near his home in the Delaware river basin, begins How to Let Go of the World by celebrating a local success against the gas industry in Pennsylvania.

But his celebration, which is marked by some impressive dad dancing, is cut short by the realization that a beloved family tree has been overtaken by woolly adelgids, an insect infestation prompted by the warmer winters of climate change.

Connecting extreme weather events with climate change isn’t exactly a new thing.

After Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New York and New Jersey in 2012, Bloomberg published a front page spread proclaiming, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”

For years, major storms, droughts, floods and fires have been connected to climate change. The climate angle was even fair game during last summer’s wildfires in western Canada.

So how did the climate conversation around the still-raging Fort McMurray wildfire that destroyed thousands of homes become so befuddling-ly messed up?

Conversations about climate change as a factor in the wildfires has garnered about as much attention as the wildfires themselves. For a recap of the “middle-finger salutes,” schadenfreude and #tinyviolins mock-sympathy for the people of Fort McMurray, check out this article on Slate.

(Add in, May 12: It's worthwhile to point out that while there were a lot of unfortunate aspects of the public conversation about the fire, many environmental NGOs rallied their organizational capacity to raise money and basic support for evacuees. The executive directors of Canada's most prominent environmental groups including the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, Ecology Ottawa, Environmental Defence, Equiterre, Greenpeace, LeadNow, Sierra Club, Stand and West Coast Environmental Law urged support for evacuees in a joint press release published Friday, May 6.)

Cara Pike, climate communications expert with Climate Access, says the urge to link what’s happening in Fort McMurray to climate change should be tempered by a keen sensitivity to the very real human suffering on the ground.

By Ed Struzik for The Tyee.

A sudden shift in the wind at a critical time of day was all it took to send a wildfire out of control through Fort McMurray, forcing more than 80,000 people out of their homes in what has become the biggest natural disaster in Canadian history.

Earlier this week, Darby Allen, the regional fire chief for the area, minced no words when he was asked what might happen now that more than 1,600 homes have been destroyed.

''This is a really dirty fire,'' he said. ''There are certainly areas within the city which have not been burned, but this fire will look for them and it will take them.''

The media line now is that fire experts saw this coming five years ago when one of the Flattop Complex fires tore through the Alberta town of Slave Lake in 2011, forcing everyone to leave on a moment's notice. A report released shortly after predicted that something similar could happen again, and its authors made 21 recommendations to prepare for the possibility.

Exactly a year has passed since the centre-left New Democratic Party (NDP) rolled to a stunning win in Alberta.

Yet it’s still deeply surreal to think about that victory on May 5, 2015, which increased the party’s seat count from four to 54 in the 87-seat legislature and elevated former labour lawyer Rachel Notley to the position of premier.

After all, the Progressive Conservatives (PCs) — a union-bashing and petroleum-entrenched behemoth of a party — had governed the province without challenge since 1971.

For much of the ‘90s and 2000s, the province was led by Ralph Klein, an austerity-obsessed alcoholic who cracked jokes about human-caused climate change, berated homeless people for being unemployed and blew up a hospital to save a bit of money.

If people keep rapidly extracting and burning fossil fuels, there’s no hope of meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement climate change commitments. To ensure a healthy, hopeful future for humanity, governments must stick to their pledge to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 C above pre-industrial levels by 2050. Many experts agree that to meet that goal, up to 80 per cent of oil, coal and gas reserves must stay in the ground. That makes fossil fuels a bad investment — what analysts call “stranded assets.”

Putting money toward things that benefit humanity, whether investing in clean energy portfolios or implementing energy-saving measures in your home or business, is better for the planet and the bottom line than sinking it into outdated industries that endanger humanity.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna earlier this month said the federal government does not have a preferred carbon pricing system. Whether the provinces and territories go with cap and trade or a carbon tax, McKenna simply wants to see Canada produce less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“I just care about how do we reduce emissions at the end of the day,” McKenna said during a panel discussion on Canadian climate action in Ottawa. “That is the most important piece.”

Unlike the previous federal government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has made putting a price on carbon pollution a priority. A recent meeting between premiers and the federal government on a national climate strategy nearly broke down last March because of the Trudeau government’s insistence on a national minimum carbon price.

“The carbon pricing lobby sucked all the air out of the room,” leading Canadian energy economist Mark Jaccard told DeSmog Canada. “What we should be doing is looking at those jurisdictions that have made progress and learn from them instead of closing our eyes saying ‘I want a carbon price and don’t bother me with the evidence.'”

Gary Krause was mystified by an unusual fish he caught in his trawl net off B.C.’s Pacific north coast in October. It was a Pacific electric ray, named for a pair of organs behind its head that can knock a human adult down with a powerful shock.

Trawl fishery records show 88 of these rays in B.C. waters since 1996. Although an electric ray was first recorded off Vancouver Island’s west coast in 1928, nearly a quarter of the more recent sightings came from 2015 alone.

Fishermen like Krause, who worked an astounding 4,000 days at sea over the past 35 years, are often the first to observe the beginnings of fundamental ecosystem shifts. In 2008, he also identified the first ever brown booby, a tropical seabird, in Canada’s Pacific waters.

Why are creatures like electric rays, which prefer warmer southern California or Baja waters, turning up with greater frequency further north?

I’m not a scientist. And chances are, neither are you.
 
That likely means we both find ourselves deferring to the opinion of others, of experts who know more about complex matters — like health or nuclear safety or vaccinations or climate change — than we do.
 
But heck, even scientists have to rely on the expertise of others (unless they’re some sort of super scientist with infinite knowledge of all things. Ahem, Neil deGrasse Tyson).
 
But for the rest of us intellectual Joes, we rely heavily on what we think the experts think. As it happens, figuring out what the experts think isn’t so easy, not even in those instances where the majority of experts agree on a subject.
 
Take for example, the issue of climate change, which is just what cognitive scientist Derek J. Koehler had in mind when he launched a recent pair of experiments designed to investigate what factors might contribute to our collective failure to grasp expert consensus.

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