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During this federal election campaign, my youngest grandchild turned three months old and I had my 79th birthday. What can I hope for our futures?
I cast my first vote for John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives before most of today’s voters were born and steadily migrated through the ideological spectrum.
I worked in Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal office, belonged to the NDP for 35-plus years (I ran provincially in Alberta for the great Grant Notley in 1982), and then my growing obsession about global warming sent me into the Green Party, our best electoral hope to combat this crisis.
Today’s world is at least dimly aware that global warming threatens civilization. But cautious politicians and confused voters have wasted at least a generation in denial, grudging acceptance and knowingly inadequate first steps.
Today’s electorate is more worried as gloomier projections by scientists and young people like Greta Thunberg are galvanizing public opinion.
The 2019 election may turn into a referendum on global warming. I hope so, although wealth disparity and racism need strong responses, too. Indeed, effective global warming policies will address them (think of hundreds of millions of poor non-Caucasian climate refugees).
Furthermore, global warming is only part of our existential crisis. Earth is also in the midst of a sixth great extinction, partly due to global warming but for other reasons as well. Global efforts have been inadequate here as well.
I see little evidence that the world will undergo the necessary change in worldview that alone can save us.
What do Canada’s political parties offer now on global warming? Only brief summaries are possible here, but I think the Green Party’s ideas are the best and the Conservatives’ the least credible.
Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives oppose a carbon tax, preferring more expensive and less effective policies with unspecified limits to try to achieve the inadequate greenhouse gas reductions first put forward by Stephen Harper. Unfortunately, the situation has become far more dire and everyone knew Harper’s limits would never achieve global goals.
According to an analysis by the Globe and Mail, “The Conservative Party … staunchly supports the oil and gas sector and its continued expansion and does not believe that policies tackling climate change should impact household pocket books. The policy options left to the Tories then are limited and several experts have concluded that they will fall far short of Canada’s commitment.”
Scrapping the carbon tax would be an historic mistake. Surely not many people will vote Conservative because of this plan, unless they want to delay necessary action.
The same Globe and Mail analysis says the Liberal government “concluded a sweeping agreement with provinces and territories (minus Saskatchewan) that laid down a road map for achieving the Paris targets and promised joint action. The federal government has embarked on enacting some 50 measures − from the carbon tax, to support for electric vehicles, to regulations on the carbon content in fuels, to investments in public transit and clean technology. The government has also set a target that by 2030, 30 per cent of light-duty vehicles sold will be zero emissions vehicles.
“The carbon tax is at the centre of the Liberal plan. …”
That policy has just been updated to “push Canada to net-zero emissions by 2050, joining the European Union and countries making the same climate pledge at the United Nations in New York City this week,” according to CBC.
“The Liberal Party’s plan is to set legally-binding, five-year milestones to reach net-zero emissions in 30 years … but it’s offering scant details so far on exactly how the target would be met.”
This sounds good but details are lacking. The Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says: “Do we have all the details? No. We’re going to figure this out, but the first thing we need to do is we need to get through this election.”
The NDP “would ramp up Canada’s plans to cut greenhouse-gas emissions − bringing them 38 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The party says that’s what is required for Canada to do its part to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels,” according to the Globe and Mail.
“To get there, the NDP says it would continue with Canada’s carbon-pricing regime, including maintaining the pricing set by the Liberals from 2019 to 2022. …
“The NDP is committing to a suite of aggressive timelines to remove fossil fuels from the electricity grid, transportation and building sectors. It would offer low-interest loans in order to finance energy-saving retrofits of all Canada’s housing stock by 2050. …
“Prof. (Mark) Jaccard (of Simon Fraser University) said that … he would need to see a carbon price that is progressively more stringent, but he said that option isn’t detailed in the plan. Similarly, he notes that none of the party’s goals around retrofits, the electrical grid or zero-emissions vehicles are accompanied by enforcement mechanisms. …
“Finally, Prof. (Andrew) Leach, of the University of Alberta, notes that the plan set out by Mr. (NDP Leader Jagmeet) Singh would spark even more jurisdictional fights between Ottawa and the provinces. For example, building codes are adopted and enforced at the provincial level, rather than the federal level as suggested by the NDP’s plan.”
Not surprisingly, the Green Party has the most rigorous suite of global warming policies. It “is pledging to double Canada’s GHG-reduction targets, bringing Canada’s goal to cut emissions to 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030,” said the Globe.
“The Greens say they would hike the carbon tax annually by $10 until 2030, which would raise it to $130 a tonne in that year.
“The party also says it will eliminate all fossil-fuel subsidies and ban hydraulic fracking, which is used by non-oil-sands oil and gas producers throughout Western Canada.
“The Greens would also stop all pipeline expansion, including the Trans Mountain pipeline project. …
“Similarly to the NDP, the Green Party is proposing to dramatically change the building, electricity and transportation sectors, but on even tighter timelines. …
“The concerns expressed by experts over the timing, costs and lack of detail about the NDP’s plan are amplified when they turn to the Green Party.”
More details on costs and targets will no doubt be released by the parties as we approach voting day. It would be disingenuous indeed, however, for parties to deny that the programs will be expensive – although nowhere near the inevitable and tragic costs of inadequate action.
I have become pessimistic about humanity’s future and I abjectly apologize to the youth for my generation’s failure.
Phil Elder is emeritus professor of Environmental and Planning Law with the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at the University of Calgary. Phil’s wife, Janet Keeping, was leader of the Green Party of Alberta from 2012 to 2017.
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