A warming planet doesn’t mean we should give up

Local environmentalist says what America needs most is a neighbour who can demonstrate what's possible

According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, 2016 was the hottest year ever since detailed records were kept, coming in at 1.3 deg. C above the pre-industrial average, and a full 0.2 deg. higher than 2015, the previous record holder. While part of that record increase in temperature is attributed to a natural El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean, 1.3 deg. C is too close for comfort to the 1.5 deg. C target that the international community agreed to in Paris last year.

Unfortunately, as the alarm bells ring even louder, some in Canada are already waving

Graph One, with data from the World Resources Institute.

the white flag and claiming that we must align our policies on this issue with those of the United States, at the very time when the United States most needs a good neighbour to demonstrate what can be done to address this international problem. Rather than look over our shoulder at what the Americans might be doing, we should concentrate on what needs to be done here in Canada, and the two graphs below illustrate that quite clearly.

Graph One, (source: World Resources Institute) shows the 2012 (the latest year for full data) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per person for different nationalities. While India and China are usually singled out for attention due to their large populations, on a person by person basis, they are actually quite good global citizens. It’s us in Canada who, with the exception of a few petro-states, are the highest per capita emitters in the world and are clearly in need of improvement.

Graph Two (source: Environment and Climate Change Canada) shows more clearly where that change needs to take place within Canada. While all provinces need to reduce emissions further, Alberta and Saskatchewan obviously have a huge opportunity ahead of them.

In 2014, almost 48% of Canadian emissions came from these two provinces alone, most of that resulted from coal burning and hydrocarbon extraction. According to Statistics Canada, even in 2014 (the last year where full data is available) with oil then worth over US$87/bbl, Alberta and Saskatchewan economies generated about $1,300 in GDP for every tonne of GHG emissions, less than one third of the more than $4,000 per tonne of emissions generated by Ontario and Quebec from their manufacturing and service economies. However with oil prices now at about 50US$ per barrel that ratio will be even wider. The more oil they extract, the greater our emissions and for very little economic benefit.

Graph Two (source: Environment and Climate Change Canada) shows more clearly where that change needs to take place within Canada.

Clearly in a carbon constrained world, fossil fuel extraction of the type we have seen in Alberta and Saskatchewan is inconsistent with a sound economy and environment. In the 21st century, the goal is to move toward maximizing the economic value of every emission. That means using our resources in a more environmentally and economically sound way. Reducing our emissions while increasing the economic benefit we get from those emissions by processing raw materials into finished goods here in Canada. It isn’t a question of economy or environment, and it never has been. It is economy and environment together.

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