Doug Ford’s new majority in the legislature is the headline news but a majority of Ontarians voted for parties proposing action on climate. Fifty-four per cent voted for either the NDP, Liberals or Greens compared to 41 per cent for the Conservatives.
That’s just loser talk, you might say. And it is. In fact, it was exactly the argument Andrea Horwath was making — just moments before resigning.
But it remains true that Ontarians are overwhelmingly supportive of clean energy, worried about the climate crisis and broadly want more action to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
Those issues simply weren’t on the ballot. And that climate silence is pretty hard to stomach given all the ammunition Ford handed the opposition parties, not to mention the deadly derecho that ripped across the province right in the middle of the campaign. Ford’s first term was wildly out of sync with Ontarians, a caricature climate villain. As Jessica McDiarmid reported, he cost taxpayers over $10 billion scrapping renewable energy projects and climate policies.
In the most gratuitous move of all, Ontario ripped fully functioning EV charging stations out of the ground at Metrolinx stations. And, in an incredible face-palm moment during the campaign, Ford tried to argue that more highways would help fight climate change.
With the exception of the Green’s Mike Schreiner, the opposition parties simply did not mount a sustained prosecution of the case against the Ford government. One of the most telling opinion findings came from Abacus Data. Its polling found climate was the sixth most important issue on the minds of voters but that only 30 per cent of people thought another Ford majority would be bad for action on climate change.
After everything, just 30 per cent.
You can also see clearly from those Abacus numbers that affordability was by far the biggest issue. But cost-of-living, housing and inflation aren’t unique to Ontario. They were top of mind in Australia’s election just two weeks ago where the opposition managed to tar the incumbents with their climate record. Australians swept the anti-climate party from power, a government that was similar to Ford’s in its gut-level antipathy to climate action. Media outlets dubbed Australia’s a “climate election.”
Considering that 30 per cent number, it’s worth wondering whether climate advocates need something like Ontario’s Working Families Coalition, which used to run aggressive, independent campaigns pre-election. The coalition tried to ensure that, whatever happened in the campaign, the public would be fully aware of the Progressive Conservatives’ intentions towards workers and labour issues.
(Another sobering development in the Ontario election was that eight of the unions that once supported the Working Families Coalition threw their clout behind Ford, as did the coalition’s lead organizer.)
Whether it’s an independent operation or one run by the opposition parties, they’d be wise to take a lesson from Ford’s exemplary campaign and provide both contrast as well as a positive, tangible picture of the way forward.
Chris Turner, author of the just-released book How To Be a Climate Optimist, wrote in the Toronto Star:
“It’s not enough for climate advocates and progressive politicians to declare their opposition to (highways). They must be able to describe a vision of Canada’s future that represents a much better way of life, in which such highways are not only unnecessary but a detraction no one needs.”
There was an interesting announcement out of Ottawa this week: the feds are setting up independent working groups with each province to identify and support low-carbon industries. Who knows what will come of it, but working independently with each province and bringing along the federal treasury for incentive strikes me as a savvy idea in such a vast and varied country where provinces are prone to unite in opposition to Ottawa.
Public transit still hasn’t recovered from the pandemic — ridership is 52 per cent of two years ago. But cities are taking advantage of federal money and moving to electrify their fleets. London, Ont., is the latest to agree to switch over to zero-emission buses and Victoria, B.C., is getting its first this summer.
Meanwhile, GM has received 30,000 orders (!) for its electric delivery vans. The company has set up a new business called BrightDrop to build the “Zevo” vans, which will be manufactured in Ingersoll, Ont. starting this year. The Zevo600 set a Guinness World Record for driving 418 kilometres on a single charge.
The electrification of transport is happening so quickly in some parts of the world that Bloomberg figures “oil demand from passenger cars, two-wheelers, three-wheelers, and buses has already peaked.”
Look at how much of the uptake is electric scooters, motorcycles and three-wheelers (mostly in Asia). As Colin Mckerracher writes, “the EV revolution still rides on two wheels for now.”
Clean electricity is the workhorse of decarbonization and there’s been lots of juice about the topic recently. That’s very welcome attention because far too many people don’t yet have a practical picture in their heads of what the energy transition actually looks like IRL.
The David Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Climate Institute and Electrifying Canada all released major studies, based on heavy analysis. Both show a “Big Switch” off fossil fuels is totally possible — if we put in the work to scale up solar, wind and energy storage.
After years of spiralling cost overruns, Trans Mountain got a new $10-billion loan a few weeks ago. All we knew is that the feds had made a loan guarantee so taxpayers would foot the bill if anything went wrong, but Finance Canada had refused to disclose which banks were involved.
John Woodside reports it was a consortium of Canada’s six biggest banks: RBC, TD, CIBC, BMO, Scotiabank and the National Bank of Canada.
Why the secrecy? Richard Brooks of Stand.earth told John:
“Because it's a boondoggle from a financial standpoint, because it's literally a carbon bomb that's being built across the mountains, because it is a project that is violating Indigenous rights and goes against all the climate science, including the International Energy Agency and their modelling around what we need to do to reach net-zero emissions and keep temperatures under 2 C, nobody is proud of this project.”
Canada’s big banks increased support for fossil fuels by 70 per cent last year, but even that wasn’t enough for Texas politicians. RBC was shut out of a US$190-million bond deal in the state just because the company has a vague net-zero commitment for 2050. Texas is one of 16 states fighting back against the divestment movement by barring banks that have taken any action against gun manufacturers or fossil fuel companies
If you’re wondering how to shift your own finances away from the Big Bank-Big Oil nexus, have a look at Where should climate-concerned Canadians bank?
A golden (?) anniversary
It is 50 years since the nations of the world first came together to address environmental breakdown. That conference in Stockholm launched the sustainability agenda and this week, the United Nations reconvened the countries for Stockholm+50.
The conference concluded with an official statement explicitly stating the need to phase out fossil fuels — oil, gas and coal — a first for an official UN conference. The readout of the final text also called for financial and technical support for a just transition for fossil fuel dependent countries
This week is also the 30th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit where the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed.
The three living former directors of the UNFCCC joined up to warn about the huge gap between what governments have promised to do and the policies actually implemented. Writing in The Guardian, they warn we are locking in a future of “ruined harvests and more food insecurity along with a host of other problems.”
At Stockholm+50, the fossil fuel treaty initiative released a study showing that oil, gas and coal “sabotage” all 17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The global youth movement and faith leaders called for a new agreement to manage and phase out fossil fuel production.
Photo from Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty
A series of cities and states have joined the campaign for a treaty in recent weeks, including Hawaii, Paris and Geneva as well as Montreal and Victoria, B.C.
China’s renewables boom
China set a world record last year for new solar power and is on track to double the number in 2022. It also installed more offshore wind in 2021 than every other country in the world combined over the last five years.
If you’re interested in the numbers, China is tracking towards 100 GW of new solar this year. For context, the entire installed solar capacity in the U.S. is 121 GW. Germany has a total of 59 GW.
Deadly heat wave in South Asia driven by climate change
The heat wave broiling India and Pakistan (I’ll never hear those words without thinking of the harrowing opening of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future) was made 30 to 100 times more likely because of climate disruption.
World Weather Attribution found protracted, early heat waves across such a huge area were once rare, once-in-a-century events but they are now 30 times more likely.
WWA says its numbers are probably an underestimate. The U.K.’s Met Office did its own analysis and said the heat wave was as much as 100 times more likely and could happen as often as every three years.
Exxon to face trial for climate crimes
The high court in Massachusetts ruled that Exxon will have to go to court over its history of climate denial. State attorneys general and cities across the U.S. are increasingly turning to the courts for climate damages and the oil industry has faced a series of setbacks this year in its efforts to avoid trial. Other cases are now proceeding in Rhode Island, Colorado, Maryland, California and Hawaii.
The chair of Honolulu city council, Tommy Waters, says:
“We are facing incredible costs to move critical infrastructure away from our coasts and out of flood zones, and the oil companies that deceived the public for decades should be the ones helping pick up the tab for those costs, not our taxpayers.
“The reason these companies are fighting so hard to block this case is they don’t want even more evidence to come out. This is just like Big Tobacco when they tried to take advantage of the public.”
Hydrogen from wind for Newfoundland
The annual Energy N.L. conference is usually precisely what you’d expect — a cheerleading session for oil and gas. There was a lot of buzz this year that Alberta-based Cenovus would move forward to expand its offshore West White Rose project, and on Tuesday, the company announced it would do just that.
But at this year’s conference, a major player in renewables came to pitch a wind-to-green hydrogen facility. (You may remember that Newfoundland dropped its ban on wind power earlier this year in a move timed with the feds’ approval of Bay du Nord.)
Pattern Energy is based out of San Francisco and has projects around the world producing over six gigawatts of electricity. It already has wind projects in five Canadian provinces and is now looking to add wind power in Newfoundland to make green hydrogen. The obvious market is Europe, which is charging towards 20 million tonnes of hydrogen per year as it weans itself off Russian oil and gas.
Pattern Energy has signed an option to lease land at a former U.S. navy base where it’s proposing to build a wind farm and hydrogen electrolysis plant and is looking at producing products like green ammonia as well.
Wayne Power, the deputy mayor of Placentia and chair of the board for the Port of Argentia told the CBC:
“Today I guess we’ve taken the next step in Argentia transitioning in the green economy.”
A solar flower for your weekend
Here’s a heartwarming little story: a high school in Saskatoon has installed a “Smartflower” on its lawn. The petals are solar panels, supplying electricity to a school microgrid. The petals even close up at night to clean themselves (or to protect the flower from storms).
Starting this fall, the Smartflower will become part of the school’s curriculum.
Heat pumps so hot right now
Montreal is requiring all new buildings to be zero-emission, starting in 2024 for small buildings and larger ones in 2025. Existing buildings will have to meet increasingly strict performance standards that become carbon-neutral by 2040. Los Angeles just banned fossil gas in new homes by a unanimous city council vote.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands is mandating heat pumps any time a heating system gets replaced, similar to Germany where replacements will have to be at least hybrid heat pumps by 2024.
You might be interested in the story of Aki Energy, which is leading an energy transformation in Manitoba. The First Nations social enterprise has already installed 500 ground source heat pumps for Manitoba First Nations, over 200 kilometres of loop in the ground.
Heat pumps work in reverse during hot months and provide air conditioning.
You can read all about it in, Making heat pumps ordinary: The Aki Energy story, written by Darcy Wood, the former chief of the Garden Hill First Nation who is currently CEO of Aki Energy, and co-founder Shaun Loney.
That’s all for this week. Thank you for reading Zero Carbon. Please forward it along and write to me with feedback or suggestions at [email protected]
Support for this Zero Carbon came from The Trottier Foundation and I-SEA.