Busting Myths About Climate Change in Canada

MYTH

The climate has always been changing; what’s happening now is no different.

FACT

Climate refers to atmospheric conditions over a long period of time: years to centuries. The climate we experience results from complex chemical, physical, and biological processes that interact with complicated social and political structures. As creatures and citizens of both ecological and political societies, our impact extends to all organisms with whom we share the safe harbor of Earth’s climate. Although earth’s climate has always fluctuated, the rate of climate change has increased dramatically due to human activity as societies have industrialized. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that Earth’s average surface temperature has increased by roughly 1°C since the industrial revolution. (In 2014, they had estimated a rise of about 0.85°C).

MYTH

Canada’s emissions are a relatively small part of global emissions, so what we do doesn’t really matter.

FACT

According to the most recent data available, Canada emits about 1.6 per cent of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Though a seemingly small percentage, this puts us among the world’s top ten emitters. We’re also in the global top ten for historic emissions (cumulative emissions since the industrial revolution) and emissions intensity (GHG emissions per unit of gross domestic product-GDP). When it comes to per capita emissions, however, we’re number one. In other words, Canadians produce more greenhouse gas emissions per person than anywhere else is the entire world.

If that weren’t bad enough, both current and historic emissions will contribute to warming for centuries to come. As both a heavy-emitter and a wealthy nation, Canada has a responsibility to play a leadership role in addressing climate change. We also have sufficient resources to invest in emission reduction and alternative energy. In doing so, has the privilege to act as a global role model.

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MYTH

Carbon pricing is an ineffective tax-grab.

FACT

Based on the polluter-pays principle, carbon pricing requires that polluters to pay for damages caused to the natural environment by their activities. Carbon pricing internalizes many of the environmen-tal and societal costs related to the production and consumption of goods and services (which prices previously ignored) and adjusts overall prices to reflect the true environmental cost. William Norhaus, the 2018 Nobel Prize winner, champions the effectiveness of carbon pricing; by signalling the carbon intensity of industrial practices, goods, and services to producers and consumers, it incentivizes innovation towards less carbon-intensive choices. In Sweden, for example – the country with the world's highest carbon price – the economy grew by 60 per cent between 1991 and 2016, while emissions were reduced by 25 per cent.

In order to effectively reduce Canadian GHG emissions, carbon pricing must be part of a larger suite of policies including – but not limited to – direct regulation of the oil and gas sectors in the short and medium term. For carbon pricing to be implemented justly, it must be done in a way that does not place further strain on low-income individuals and households. That means that a portion of carbon pricing revenues should be rebated to people with low-income to mitigate the increased cost of goods and services, while still raising awareness about the cost of consumption.

MYTH

Climate change is a conspiracy. The science of climate change is unclear.

FACT

The work of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) represents a global scientific consensus. The most recent IPCC report was produced by over 90 climate scientists from 40 countries and consolidates more than 6,000 scientific references. NASA also reports that “multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 per cent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree [that] climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”

8-Working as an International Community

MYTH

Canada’s economy cannot survive without a thriving fossil fuel sector. Workers need oil and gas jobs in order to support their families.

FACT

Canada’s resource-based and carbon-intensive economy has historically experienced cycles of boom and bust as global economic conditions shift and commodity prices rise and fall. The move towards a low-carbon economy offers a tremendous opportunity to rebuild towards a more robust, more sustainable, and healthier future. Despite challenges in the short-term, climate action has the potential to create more diverse well-paying jobs and assist in moving away from the devastating boom and bust pattern.

Studies by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the International Labour Organization show that dollar-for-dollar, investing in renewables and energy efficiency creates more jobs than conventional energy projects. A shift to clean technology development promises tremendous economic and health benefits to Canadians. Research by the Conference Board of Canada highlights Canada’s “competitive edge” in wind and solar power, energy efficient turbines, and waste management. The United Nations Environment Program also predicts that “green trade” internationally will grow to at least $2 trillion (U.S.) by 2020.

So, while workers do need good jobs to support their families, these need not necessarily be oil and gas jobs.

MYTH

If everyone does their part to reduce personal and household emissions, we’ll be fine.

FACT

Personal, household, and church greening is important to be sure. It reduces carbon emissions and other pollution, lessening the impacts of our lifestyles. Greening also sends market signals to the business community that citizens want sustainably produced goods and services. Similarly, it supports environmentally conscious businesses, providing living models of ecologically sensitive economic development. Finally – and most importantly – individual actions to reduce emissions create psychological changes in how we see our relationship with the Earth and prepare us for the deep social and economic changes that we urgently need to take.

Given the scale of the problem, however, we need a system-level, policy-driven response. In other words, in order to stay within the scientifically determined global temperature limits, government action is imperative.

House and Front yard garden

MYTH

Larger countries like China and India aren’t taking action, so anything Canada does is irrelevant.

FACT

Yes, China leads the world in GHG emissions. It consumes more coal than any other country in the world. At the same time, it is a world leader in solar energy manufacturing and installations (second only to Germany). According to Climate Action Tracker, “China is implementing an emissions trading system, with first trades expected in 2020, and has also announced a mandatory renewable energy certificate scheme that sets targets for renewable energy for each province individually.” The market share of electric vehicles in China is expected to hit 12 per cent in 2020 (up from 4.2 per cent in 2018), compared to less than one per cent in Canada. Mid-2020, China will also have among “the most stringent emissions standards in the world.”

And India? India is among just a handful of countries around the world that have climate and energy policies that are compatible with the Paris temperature targets of 1.5 – 2 C of warming! Investments in renewable energy have now surpassed investments in fossil fuels, putting India on the leading edge of renewable energy. They are also on track to hit targets for non-fossil power years ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, coal remains heavily subsidized and though the coal tax has been doubled three times since 2010, it still sits at a meagre US$3.2 per tonne.

The individual strengths and weaknesses of these highly populated countries must also be contextualized historically. Because of our historically high emissions, Canada now owes a debt to the rest of the world. Neither China, nor India, to say nothing of the majority of the Global South carry such a debt.

Finally, given that we share one planet, and one atmosphere, holding out and waiting for others to lead only serves to aggravate the crisis we collectively face.

MYTH

If global warming were real, it wouldn’t still be so cold.

FACT

The weather, as we experience it in our day-to-day living, is the condition of the atmosphere over a short period of time (illustrated by the small grey circles on the graph below). By contrast, the climate is the average weather of a place over many years (illustrated by the solid black line).

One of the characteristics of climate change is more extreme weather events – floods, fires, storms – that are often related to both extreme heat and extreme cold. The key is how temperatures (and the weather more broadly) fluctuate over time. In this regard, the average is undoubtedly on the rise.

MYTH

Climate change is a future problem that will only impact far away places.

FACT

Climate change is happening here, and it is happening now. The April 2019 report, “Canada’s Changing Climate” identified a striking range of impacts already being experienced in Canada – particularly in the far north and along coastal regions. Namely, , more snow and rain in winter, glacial melt, flood risks, and seasonal shifts. It is also clear that no part of the country is immune to climate impacts. A warmer climate will “increase the severity of heatwaves and contribute to increased drought and wildfire risks.” At the same time “more intense rainfalls will increase urban flood risks.”

MYTH

Climate change is a partisan issue.

FACT

Neither Elections Canada, nor the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) define climate science as a partisan issue.

According to the CRA, “A charity may carry out [public policy dialogue and development activities] that support or oppose a law, policy, or decision of government that a political party or candidate also supports or opposes. A charity can do this at any time, inside or outside of an election period, as long as in doing so the charity does not refer to or otherwise identify the political party or candidate.”

Under the Elections Act, Elections Canada, regulates both “partisan advertising”, and “issue-based election advertising.” Partisan advertising is explicitly aimed at promoting or opposing a party or candidate; issue-based advertising refers to “the transmission of a message to the public during an election period that takes a position on an issue with which a candidate or registered party is associated, without identifying the candidate or party in any way.”

Hold federal leaders accountable to address the climate emergency.

We are in the midst of a global climate crisis.

The Canadian electorate must ensure that our new government has a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change.

Countdown to the federal election:

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