Greenpeace Canada analyst hopes study serves as a wake-up call for Trudeau government, but says “You can’t wake up a man who’s only pretending to be asleep” on climate change
SPEAKER: It’s the 21st century. We know climate change is real. We know that one of the challenges we have is that pollution has been free, but we need to put a price on it.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News Network from Montreal, Canada. Earlier this week, officials from Environment and Climate Change Canada, a department of the Canadian federal government, presented the results of a study on warming in Canada. Their study concluded that Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world and that northern Canada is warming even more quickly, nearly three times the global rate. The officials also reported that three of the past five years have been the warmest on record in this country. Their study is the first of its kind. Entitled Canada’s Changing Climate Report, the study has been in the works for years and is the first of a series aimed at informing policy decisions and increasing public awareness and understanding of Canada’s changing climate. Now here to discuss this new study with us is Keith Stewart. Keith is a Senior Energy Strategist with Greenpeace Canada and part-time instructor at the University of Toronto. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from York University and has worked as a climate policy researcher and advocate for 19 years. He joins us today from Toronto. Thanks for coming back on The Real News, Keith.
KEITH STEWART: Thanks for having me.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: So Keith, even with all of the warming that has occurred in this country since the beginning of the fossil fuels era, we Canadians continue to live in what is one of the world’s relatively colder climates. Why should Canadians be concerned about this report? How is the warming of the atmosphere and of the oceans affecting their lives in practical terms and what practical effects should Canadians anticipate as Canada continues to warm?
KEITH STEWART: It’s kind of a standard joke that oh, in Canada it would be nice if it was a little warmer. The problem is the rate of change. We haven’t historically– well, in the geological record climate has changed a lot over time– but we’re trying to pack change that usually take 50,000 to 100,000 years into 50 years. Because we’re burning fossil fuels and sort of increasing the greenhouse effect trapping heat, which it then causes a whole bunch of other changes. You might think oh, a little bit warmer that would be nice, but you’re also changing rainfall patterns. You’re going to have drought in some places. You are going to have more wildfires, the kinds we’ve seen in B.C. and Alberta the last couple of years where people literally couldn’t breathe. Walking outside in Vancouver was like breathing eight packs, smoking eight pack of cigarettes. In urban areas, one of the warnings in the report is we’re going to see even more flooding. In particular, the kind of flash flooding which in one incident here in Toronto back in 2013, we saw $960 million worth of damage in a couple of hours. We saw street cars under water. People had to be rescued from the GO train by boat. These kinds of severe impacts– the heat waves, the droughts, the wildfires, the flooding– these cause enormous damage to our economy, they cause enormous damage to our health, and we’re only seeing the thin edge of the wedge here.
When you look at this report, a big part of the message in the report is: what the future looks like depends a lot on what actions we take today. In their low emissions scenario, if Canada warmed about one point seven degrees, it would warm by another two degrees, that’s bad because it would have a whole bunch of negative impacts. The negative impacts by far outweigh the positives. In the high emissions scenario, the one we’re actually on the path to right now, they’re talking about warming by six degrees in Canada, on average even more than the far north, by the end of the century. That would make agriculture basically impossible in large chunks of the prairies. They say oh, you can just move further north. Well a lot of places in this country you move further north, they don’t have soil to be able to support agriculture. Here in Ontario, we have this thing called the Canadian Shield. It’s all granite. You can’t grow crops there. And similarly, forests which are suited for one climate system, can’t move themselves north 50, 100, 200 kilometers in the space of 20 years.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This study was released on April 1st, Keith, which also happened to be the date on which a federal carbon tax of $20 a ton took effect in provinces that lack provincial pricing plans, including the provinces of New Brunswick, Ontario Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. The carbon tax, as I’m sure you know, is the centerpiece of the Trudeau government’s strategy for fighting climate change. In your view, is this carbon tax adequate both from the perspective of the amount of the tax and the breadth of its application? And if not, what kind of a carbon tax do you think we need in this country given the urgency of the situation?
KEITH STEWART: I think one of the problems we have in this country right now is action on climate change has been narrowed to carbon tax, no carbon tax. And really we need a whole, vast suite of efforts not just carbon taxes but also massive investments in things like public transit, so people can get to where they need to go without having to drive a car. We need to invest in better sewage/stormwater systems so that we’re not having these floodings. We need to invest in rapidly transitioning to renewable energy. A carbon tax is a key part of that. Raising the price of fossil fuels makes them less attractive relative to cleaner forms of energy. It also brings in some cash that can be done to build things like great public transit systems or, put up windmills and solar panels. So in the U.S. we are talking about this as a Green New Deal, kind of built on the New Deal that Roosevelt, that the Americans brought in to fight the Great Depression. That’s the kind of change we need. This carbon tax is a component of that and I think it’s kind of like the lowest possible measure, $20 dollars a ton kicking in this year. That’s 4.4 cents per liter of gasoline. When you look at the price of oil, the price of gasoline goes up and down. That’s not a huge change. That on its own is by no means enough. They’re also talking about increasing it $10 a year. Greenpeace would support that. We also think the money should be invested back in renewables, but that’s got to be just one piece of a much bigger package.
The big problem we have right now is no one is treating the climate crisis really like a crisis. We treat it more as kind of a messaging problem; we do a few things it will go away. Or, on one side of the political spectrum with the conservatives at the provincial level and federally who are fighting against even the small carbon tax that’s being proposed, they’re proposing we do nothing. That somehow if we ignore the problem, it will go away. One of my friends was asking me, “do you think this new report that just came is a wakeup call?” And was like well, there’s an old proverb that says “you can’t wake up a man who’s only pretending to be asleep” and that’s the problem with a lot of the politicians in this country and around the world. They’re pretending to be asleep on this issue, hoping they can get out of office and it will be someone else’s problem down the road.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Now at the same time as the Trudeau government has raised alarms about the extent of warming in this country, federal and provincial governments continue to subsidize fossil fuels to the tune of about $3 billion a year. Also, as we’ve reported extensively on The Real News, the Trudeau government is spending billions of taxpayer dollars to buy its TransMountain tar sands pipeline. Keith, doesn’t this new study– I mean, what Justin Trudeau did on Monday was he held it up and said to the public and in particularly was addressing the conservatives and those who are opposed to the carbon tax, this shows that we have to impose a carbon tax. But doesn’t it also highlight the recklessness of the Trudeau government’s continued defense of the fossil fuels industry, its massive investments in the fossil fuels industry, this perpetuation of our dependence on fossil fuels?
KEITH STEWART: Absolutely. Subsidies in fossil fuels is basically like a negative carbon tax. You’re making them cheaper in order to get people to use more. Similarly, the federal government yesterday was denying that, in response, were denying that the purchasing the pipeline was a subsidy to fossil fuels. Well it is and I think the Trudeau government is trying to have it both ways. They say we’re going to do a carbon tax and we’re going to promote expansion of the oil industry. If you’re serious about climate change, that means getting off of fossil fuels as quickly as possible by mid-century, at the latest. Building a new tar sands pipeline that has to operate for 50 years to make the money back, makes no sense at this point if you’re seriously committed to achieving the Paris climate goals, to protecting the future of our economy, of our communities, of our ecosystems. So it’s not one step forward, one step back which is kind of what we’re seeing from the federal liberals. It’s got to be leaping forward and I think the big problem in Canada and also similarly in the U.S. and many other places is that entrenched power of the fossil fuel interests in Canada and particularly the oil lobby. In the US it’s also the coal lobby who are basically saying, don’t go too fast. Give us time to get our money out. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has launched an election campaign in Alberta saying, we want to double the rate of growth of oil production in Alberta and here’s all things you have to do to help us do that which is kill regulations, get rid of carbon pricing, build new pipelines. That’s basically asking people to vote for climate destruction.
And I think this is going to be a big issue in the federal election here in the fall as we have the conservatives who are saying do nothing about climate change and give more subsidies to the oil industry. You have the liberals who are saying let’s do stuff on climate change but not touch oil production. So they are doing a coal phase out, they’re doing a bunch of other measures. But basically, oil is sacrosanct and what we really need is a push for this kind of a Green New Deal which actually, we can make our lives better. We can create great green jobs right across the country. We can deal with all sorts of problems in this country by the kind of investments that are necessary, putting people to work, solving the climate crisis.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: We’ve been speaking to Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada about an important and alarming new study showing that the rate of warming in Canada is far above the global average. Thank you very much for joining us today, Keith.
KEITH STEWART: Thanks so much for having me on.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News Network.