The Culture of Climate Change in Canada
by Ashwini Selvakumaran
Climate change is now a frequent word floating around in our mouths. Climate change, which many people believe can be caused by industrial pollution, changing weather and car exhaust, may now be a frequently-discussed topic thanks to our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s strong stance on achieving carbon emission reductions and potentially a new set of targets for Canada.
In a nutshell, climate change occurs when long-term weather patterns are altered — for example, through human activity. Global warming is one measure of climate change as is a rise in the average global temperature. Climate change is an important issue that must be addressed by all nations multi-laterally. It is certainly one of this century's greatest destabilizing forces which undermines our global economy, threatens our health, and increasingly leads to conflict.
Canada has a huge part to play in where it factors regarding climate change as Canadians have a huge appetite for energy. Ironically, citizens of developing countries—where climate change will take its greatest toll—produce only a fraction of the greenhouse gas of Canadians. Additionally, Canada makes up less than one half of one percent of the world's population, but is the world's eighth largest producer of greenhouse gases (702 million tonnes in 2011) showing what a huge contribution they make in this problem. Canadians also spend about $75 billion annually—five per cent of our GDP—on energy to heat homes and offices, and to operate cars, factories, and appliances. This is equivalent to $2,200 per person.
15% of Canada’s population refuse to believe that climate change is a problem. However, it is unavoidable that Canada's greenhouse gas emissions are increasing. Energy consumption has grown about 22 per cent and emissions by 19 per cent since 1990. Rising emissions trigger more rapid climate change and worsen air pollution, with serious health consequences. On a sectoral basis, the energy industry and the transportation sector contribute the greatest share of emissions. For individual Canadians, transportation accounts for most greenhouse gas emissions, primarily due to automobile use. Energy use in the home accounts for the remainder of greenhouse gas emissions produced by individual Canadians.
So what can be done to combat this problem?
Internally, there are many strategies that Canada can implement to combat the issue of climate change. Governments and industries need to act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They must also take action to adapt to and minimize the negative effects of climate change and take advantage of new opportunities. Canada has the scientific knowledge and resources to lead the world into an era that is powered by the sun, fuel cells, and other clean energy sources. Governments need to support the development of these new technologies and provide incentives for industries and consumers to reduce their use of fossil fuels. This kind of action can strengthen our economy by creating growth and jobs while producing less pollution.
Because of the effect of vehicle emissions on air pollution and health, “green” policies in the transportation sector may be especially important. These must include serious efforts to make other forms of transportation available and affordable. This is a challenge in cities, but even more so in rural areas.
The government can also set efficiency standards for appliances, buildings, vehicles, and fuel that can effectively lower emission levels by monitoring air pollution and setting safe limits. Local and provincial/territorial governments need to put policies and programs in place to limit air-pollution levels and to protect people’s health when levels rise too high. One way to reduce emissions would be to switch from fossil-fuel-based power to alternative sources of energy such as nuclear, solar, and wind. A second, parallel option would be to achieve greater energy efficiency by developing new technologies and modifying daily behavior so each person produces a smaller carbon footprint. Additionally, retrofitting buildings and developing energy-efficient technology greatly help curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Hospitals and other health-care facilities have a special responsibility to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. These facilities can undergo energy audits and take concrete steps to increase their energy efficiencies and switch to cleaner energy sources.
Schools also have a special role: protect our children, educate them about climate change and health, and encourage young people to be leaders for change.
On a global scale, first, at the Paris Climate Conference in December, Canada can once again set an example on the world stage. The new Canadian government has acknowledged the immediacy and significance of the threat of climate change, and has promised action. The pledge to present a united front of federal, provincial and territorial leaders in Paris is seen by many, including UNEP, as a welcome sign. The positive contribution of a country like Canada is valuable to international negotiations.
Canada being one of the biggest countries and having one of the richest industries in the world can also help by providing funding to third-world countries to help combat climate change. The funds can help developing countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for sea-level rises, extreme weather, and other consequences of climate change. In particular, Canada can support one of the poorest countries in the world who contribute to the least amount of greenhouse gases but are one of the worst impacted countries due to drought, desertification, and disease spreading throughout it. Through Canada’s leadership, this may also influence other countries to make valuable contributions in supporting poorer countries to help combat climate change. Efforts to cut emissions (mitigation) must therefore be global. Without international cooperation and coordination, some states may free ride on others' efforts, or even exploit uneven emissions controls to gain competitive advantage. And because the impacts of climate change will be felt around the world, efforts to adapt to climate change (adaptation) will need to be global too.
“We do not inherit the land from our fathers, we borrow it from our children.”
This Aboriginal saying speaks to our joint responsibility for the health of our children and generations to come. Becoming less dependent on fossil fuels will improve health today and tomorrow. If we take action now, our children and grandchildren will not be held ransom to future environmental woes they did not create.
As individuals, we can take concrete steps to reduce our use of fossil fuels. We can lead by example. We can urge industries and governments at all levels to bring in programs and policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
When we work together, we can accomplish even more. All of us – individuals, families, communities, governments, businesses, the health sector, and voluntary groups – must do our part. Through Canada’s leadership, we can all help to reduce climate change.