environment

Five Surprisingly Good Things That Happened in Canada in 2016

The election of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named south of the border is leaving many Canadians with a case of the climate doldrums as 2016 winds to a close — but here’s the thing: 2016 was actually the most promising year Canada has had on climate action in more than a decade.

To be sure, us Canucks have had some not-awesome news on the climate and energy front lately, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval of the enormously polluting Pacific Northwest LNG terminal near Prince Rupert, B.C., Enbridge’s Line 3 from Alberta to Wisconsin and the hotly contested Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain oil pipeline to Vancouver.

Many had higher hopes of climate leadership from Trudeau and they’re not wrong to be disappointed. However, as this year comes to a close, it’s also worth looking back on some of the significant steps forward that were made in 2016 — victories that in many cases were unimaginable even two years ago.

David Suzuki: How Do We Feed Humanity in a Warming World?

Calculating farming’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is difficult, but experts agree that feeding the world’s people has tremendous climate and environmental impacts. Estimates of global emissions from farms range widely. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency puts them at 24 per cent, including deforestation, making agriculture the second-largest emitter after heat and electricity.

Agriculture contributes to global warming in a number of ways. Methane and nitrous oxide, which are more potent than CO2 but remain in the atmosphere for shorter times, make up about 65 per cent of agricultural emissions. Methane comes mainly from cattle and nitrous oxide from fertilizers and wastes. According to the World Resources Institute, “Smaller sources include manure management, rice cultivation, field burning of crop residues, and fuel use on farms.” Net emissions are also created when forests and wetlands are cleared for farming, as these “carbon sinks” usually absorb and store more carbon than the farms that replace them. Transporting and processing agricultural products also contribute to global warming.

Does National Unity Have to be a Casualty of Canada's Energy Debate?

Workers are laying down their tools across the Canadian oilpatch as the price slump draws on. Alberta had a net loss of nearly 20,000 jobs in 2015, with skilled workers being laid off and little hope in sight. The reaction, then, to talks of climate action has been often hostile, with people fearing more economic damage from carbon pricing or other new environmental regulation.
 
But for some there is an upside to the glut of out-of-work skilled people: it’s an opportunity to shift gears and put them to work in a growing green sector. Former oilsands tradesman Lliam Hildebrand started a non-profit group, Iron & Earth, to get oilpatch workers back to work on the next generation of green energy projects. (Investment in clean energy now doubles that of fossil fuels world-wide.)
 
“We have the skills to build the renewable energy infrastructure required for Canada to meet their climate target,” Hildebrand told CBC News. “That will open up a huge amount of opportunity for us if we can start diversifying our energy grid and it would ensure that we are less vulnerable to price fluctuations.”
 
The new organization brings a fresh perspective to a longstanding perceived tension between climate action and its spinoff benefits and the fear of damaging existing emissions-intensive industries.

In a panel discussion last week Environment Minister Catherine McKenna assured Albertans that the Liberal government would not risk damaging “national unity” by acting quickly on climate change. For some, her comment begs the question: when exactly will the Liberals be ready to start acting on their emissions reductions targets?

Top Five Climate and Environment Issues for Obama-Trudeau Bilateral Summit

The strained relationship between Canada and the U.S. over the last decade was in no small part due to disagreement over the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline. 
 
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper was a staunch supporter of what he called the “no-brainer” project. President Obama, on the other hand, felt like all sorts of brain should be involved when deciding on the future of such major fossil fuel infrastructure. And he rightfully rejected the border crossing pipeline project, which had clearly failed his climate test.
 
Now, with Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the helm of America’s Hat, the two most intimately tied economies in the developed world have a lot of catching up to do. Even with Keystone XL dead and buried (sort of), environment and energy issues are still top of mind for the two leaders.
 
In a recent Q and A with the Huffington Post, Trudeau acknowledged the timing is right for bold leadership on climate change and the environment: “There is a nice alignment between a Canadian Prime Minister who wants to get all sorts of things done right off the bat and an American President who is thinking about the legacy he is going to leave in his last year in office,” Mr. Trudeau said.
 
“The issues that are important to him and to me are climate change.”
 
Obama and Trudeau already had an informal ‘bromance’ meeting soon after the new Prime Minister took office in November 2015. But now, with the unprecedented Paris Agreement behind them, the two leaders have an incredible opportunity to break new ground on climate action and environmental protection at this formal summit.
 
Here are the top five energy and environment issues these self-proclaimed climate leaders should have on their agenda:

What Your New Liberal Majority Government Means for Climate, Environment, Science and Transparency

Holy smokes.

Polls are in and Canadians across the country are expressing surprise at the strong win for the federal Liberal party.

While there’s much ink to be spilled over former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reign, he’s likely locked in a bathroom now, so we’ll save that for another, less change-y time.

Canada, you have a new Prime Minister. I would say 'go home, you’re drunk.' But don’t, because you’re not. This is actually happening.

But wait, what is actually happening? We have a new majority government. Before the fun gets away with us, let’s do a quick reality check for what the Liberal Party and incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have been promising all y’all on some of our top DeSmog Canada topics: climate, environment, science and transparency.

Environmental Issues Demand Work Across Party Lines: Interview with GreenPAC's Aaron Freeman

Aaron Freeman has been working on environmental policy, in one fashion or another, in Canada for 25 years — long enough to witness what he calls the steady decline of environmental priorities in Ottawa.

And yet the majority of Canadians claim they care deeply about the environment and expect governments to act on major environmental problems like climate change. So how to resolve the disconnect?

Freeman launched GreenPAC, a non-partisan political action committee, in March as a way of mending the divide between environmental concerns and environmental action at the political level.

Recently GreenPAC released a list of environmental champions from across the political spectrum and urged Canadians to support their campaigns.

DeSmog Canada asked Freeman to break down how he sees strong support for environmental candidates making the difference when it comes to making environment a top priority in Ottawa once again.

It's Time to Talk About a New Vision for the Canadian Economy

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

The federal leaders’ debate on the economy focused on important issues — jobs, deficits, infrastructure spending, pipelines, climate change — but no one talked about a different vision for Canada’s economy.

What if we challenged our leaders to answer the dilemma posed by American journalist Charles Bowden: “Imagine the problem is that we cannot imagine a future where we possess less but are more”?

Not being able to even imagine an economy without continual growth is a profound failure.

A better economic vision would support the right of all Canadians to live in a healthy environment, with access to clean air and water and healthy food. It would respect planetary boundaries and provide the moral imperative to decrease growing income disparities.

'Woe is Us': Oil Industry a Hot Mess After NDP Alberta Victory

While Jim Prentice and his Progressive Conservative cadre lick their wounds after last night’s landslide victory by the New Democratic Party and leader Rachel Notley, punditry about the oil industry’s place in the transformed province is in full force.

Even before the results were in, Canadians were being warned new leadership in Canada’s oilpatch will mean very scary things for the economy: fleeing investors, abandoned projects, market uncertainty.

Now that the victory bells have rung, the hand-wringing has leveled up.

The NDP win is “completely devastating,” for the energy industry, Rafi Tahmazian, fund manager for Canoe Financial LP, told Bloomberg.

The oil patch will pack up and leave,” Licia Corbella, editor of the Calgary Herald’s editorial page, tweeted. “Woe is us.”

Yet many other onlookers are saying fresh leadership in Alberta could bring long-overdue policy changes that not only benefit a broader cross-section of society, but industry itself, by remedying systemic imbalances that have granted an unhealthy amount of power to oil interests for far too long.

Communications Breakdown: Speak Boldly and Carry a Big Schtick

This article was originally published in “Canada's Map to Sustainability,” a special issue of Alternatives Journal (A\J) in partnership with Sustainable Canada Dialogues (SCD). Comments on the A\J website will inform SCD's white paper on how Canada can achieve sustainability later this year.

Even though people pay attention to images of oil-soaked birds in the aftermath of oil spills, researchers know that another, less perceptible, issue is the death of algae from the use of chemical dispersants after these disasters. Although people focus on shifting to hybrid cars to reduce their carbon footprint, researchers show that we also need to think about methane emissions from the global livestock industry.

Though people promote the environmental benefits of digitization in our workplaces and media consumption, researchers remind us that this shift generates massive amounts of e-waste with its own ecological footprint. Despite nearly universal scientific consensus about the harmful impacts of climate change, government and the public keep ignoring it.

Three environmental communication dilemmas help to explain: The scale of environmental issues, difficulties portraying environmental problems and a tendency to individualize problems.

Canada is Trading Away its Environmental Rights

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

In 1997, Canada restricted import and transfer of the gasoline additive MMT because it was a suspected neurotoxin that had already been banned in Europe. Ethyl Corp., the U.S. multinational that supplied the chemical, sued the government for $350 million under the North American Free Trade Agreement and won! Canada was forced to repeal the ban, apologize to the company and pay an out-of-court settlement of US$13 million.

The free trade agreement between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico was never designed to raise labour and environmental standards to the highest level. In fact, NAFTA and other trade agreements Canada has signed — including the recent Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with China — often take labour standards to the lowest denominator while increasing environmental risk. The agreements are more about facilitating corporate flexibility and profit than creating good working conditions and protecting the air, water, land and diverse ecosystems that keep us alive and healthy.

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