At the end of last year's UN climate summit, we saw a landmark deal to “transition away” from fossil fuels. For those who saw our skies fill with smoke last year, the deal offers a glimmer of hope that we may yet avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change. More importantly, it offers the chance to get down to work on solutions. But in 2024, the question remains whether we will take the transition away from fossil fuels seriously.

We have entered a critical time for the climate, but public debate in Canada on climate policy lacks the depth, engagement and factuality necessary to help form real solutions. It feels like every time I listen to the news I hear commentators stressing the point that Canadians have lost their passion for climate action. Tuning in feels like watching endless reruns of a TV show called “environment versus the economy.”

We are meant to believe the hard economic times we face have turned our desires for climate action to dust because Canadians may not be as likely to want to make personal sacrifices by taking action individually. A point that by omission avoids an honest discussion of real climate solutions that can benefit individual people immediately and the planet for generations to come. It boils all climate action down to issues of individual cost, even when the focus of that action is directed at making a highly profitable industry do its fair share.

The framing of Canadian viewpoints on “individual cost” has also left out the heavy cost of not taking action and Canadians’ calls for corporations and governments to do more. That for every dollar of inflation over the last two years in Canada, 25 cents of that went to oil and gas and mining extraction profits conveniently gets left out of the debate.

It is a somewhat persuasive frame when repeated over and over, but it’s not a new one. It’s a rehashing of the same stale rhetoric fossil fuel advocates have rolled out every time their economic interests are threatened by systemic policy changes that might shift blame from individuals to the industry responsible. It is a framing of the climate dialogue designed to divide, to silence and to convince us all that we are alone in our concerns about the future of our planet.

The foundation of this frame is based on redefining what’s seen as “practical” and making climate action appear impractical by comparison. But like a house built on thawing permafrost, eventually, the foundation crumbles precisely because it underestimates people.

When East Coast LNG was proposed as a solution to Europe’s energy security crisis, it was framed by industry advocates as the practical path to energy security. Of course, even a basic understanding of the projects proposed, which would not have come online for years, would have shown this “solution” to be completely impractical, but that didn’t matter.

It also seemed practical to assume the oil and gas industry with all its money and power would have no problem convincing Canadians that East Coast LNG was the right way forward.

But even with all their might, the oil and gas industry couldn’t convince Canadians to support East Coast LNG. To the contrary, climate remained their leading deciding concern. Flash forward to 2024 and Repsol, the company with the most promising of the proposed projects, has cancelled its East East LNG plans. It turns out the project was neither practical nor even economically viable — at least not without massive sums of taxpayer money.

Public debate in Canada on climate policy lacks the depth, engagement and factuality necessary to help form real solutions, writes Conor Curtis @CiaranCurtis1 @SierraClubCan #ChangingClimate #CDNpoli #Canpoli #EmissionsCap #COP28

When Bay du Nord was approved by the Canadian government in April 2022, many assumed the project would move ahead, that it was inevitable from that point on. Once again, time told a different story.

Flash forward to 2023: Bay du Nord has been put on hold for up to three years and people’s desire for alternatives is growing. Hundreds took to the streets in St. John’s for real solutions that move the province beyond oil dependency, breaking the all too easily accepted rule that people in oil- and gas-dependent provinces support oil and gas expansion.

Despite repeated evidence that fossil fuel expansion presents us with no real solutions, the rhetoric of practicality and individual cost is still centre stage in our debates on climate.

The issue of an emissions cap right now is often framed as a debate of Alberta versus the rest of Canada. The voices that feature first in coverage of the emissions cap are those that fit into the assumed narrative that there is a dichotomy between Albertans and everyone else. This despite two polls showing support for the cap in Alberta.

That commentators have fallen for the line Canadians don’t care about climate change, after a summer of community-devastating wildfires many Canadians fear is due to be repeated, says more about their gullibility than that of the Canadian public. The commentator prominency of political strategists and former advisers instead of scientists and people actually impacted by climate change in Canada is, more than anything, disappointing.

It’s also getting pretty boring.

Because there are real dialogues to be had on the substance of climate policies that would get past the veneer of what we assume those policies, and their supporters, to be. Debates between politicians of all stripes and actual climate scientists, like those studying the cost climate impacts are having on Canadians, would offer the public far more value than debates between random columnist A and random columnist B.

News would do well to feature constructive discussions on carbon pricing between people who earn less than the average political strategist or think tank lobbyist. Rather than endless coverage of those who claim to know what the public is thinking, we can build a healthy dialogue on climate policy directly among those who are truly struggling right now — one that is informed by the facts of policies. Real discussions about corporations’ responsibility for pulling their weight on climate change could get to the truth of why Canadians feel the playing field is unfair.

The tough, practical questions are the ones we aren’t asking often enough and not asking them underestimates those watching and leads them to tune out. They’re the questions that require genuine engagement with the general public with solutions, not scandal, in mind.

Those real arguments, discussions and conversations are vital to our climate and the future of every child in Canada. But even if you disagree, you’ve gotta admit, it would make for far better TV.

Conor Curtis, a social and environmental researcher and writer from Corner Brook, N.L., is head of communications at Sierra Club Canada Foundation.

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Yes, and add to this conversations with people on whom fast-tracked mines are going to be imposed - as well a ecologists and others who care - threatening water quantity/quality, whole ecosystems (including ground, riparian, lacustrine and marine water and ecosystems), livelihoods, wildlife and their habitat, species at risk and already beleaguered biodiversity generally. The idea that a booming mining and manufacturing growth economy is going to be a real solution needs serious consideration. Though it will surely compound our ecological crisis, it has simply not been considered or blithely dismissed as reasonable collateral damage.

Hi Jillian, i agree wholeheartedly that "The idea that a booming mining and manufacturing growth economy is going to be a real solution needs serious consideration". Why is it not obvious to all that we CANNOT "grow" our way out of this dilemma? i (along with others) propose de-growth in the long term: like, say for instance a huge oil tanker bearing down on an iceberg. First you become aware of the berg, then you raise the alarm, then you stop and when you can, CHANGE DIRECTION. It seems to me we are seeing the berg (actually, it's bergs) and the alarm has been raised, but "they who captain the ship" would have us debate (as Tris said in her reply) the positioning of "the deck chairs on the Titanic" to distract us. And it has been such a successful strategy! What i don't yet understand is this: the captains are on the Titanic too. What is there escape strategy? i can't believe they are short sighted to the point of not having one.
But what will the rest of us do? What do i, what do you see as the likely outcome? It ain't good! Titanics and icebergs notoriously don't go together well.
So, i guess let's keep our eyes open (on the prize, however one wants to put it) and continue to do whatever it is we do to turn this tanker. And, in the words (if i remember correctly) of Valdy " please don't forget love". i think replies to articles like this one are an expression of that love. in peace and love, mg

Lots of good points in this rather good article. However, it also contributes to making the climate battle boring by ignoring the active urban climate fronts in every city and suburb. The fight against fossil fuel extraction is intrinsically linked to the fight to reduce fossil fuel consumption. And reducing fossil fuel consumption in your own region or municipality can be really interesting and exciting. See e.g. my National Observer article from 2019

We snooze on climate! We have snoozed on housing! We snoozed on drug use and dependency! The interesting phrase to me is: Canadians may not be as likely to want to make personal sacrifices by taking action individually. A point that by omission avoids an honest discussion of real climate solutions that can benefit individual people immediately and the planet for generations to come
The media or leadership always fails to mention why? 40 years of neoliberalism has destroyed our sense of the common good. This generation has been raised to put yourself first, and is told humans are naturally selfish, that the free market will solve any and all problems, that free market capitalism with few regulations, lower labour costs, and lower taxes will provide by making the rich richer and the dregs left will make the 90% not rich, better off! Worked well hasn't it. The Friedman Doctrine came be in the 1990s and it's states all profits go to shareholders, the heck with labour, the heck with externalities businesses cause, one being using the environment as a dump for their pollution, like CO2. Now capitalism works well, and I believe in it, but there is whole world of people who don't profit. Rising temperatures cause problems and here in Western Canada, drought is the concern. That's related, perhaps not entirely to warming and climate pattern diversions.
We all know what the term exponential means after COVID19. We don't want to know that term with climate change.
When profits take priority over humans and the environment we Canadians better be aware, very aware. As the second largest geographic country in the world we have no idea what could and is happening.
Profits and lack of private and public leadership caused this housing crisis. Without significant changes in regulations and more government initiatives in housing, we can't build our way out of that crisis and we won't make our way thru climate change without changes and sacrifices to our high fossil fuel use Canadian society!

I so agree with all that you've said here. It's not just boring, it's also profoundly irrational to the point of insanity or abject stupidity, like the deck chairs on the Titanic.
But since we ALSO know that conservatives are the ones being accommodated here since they're unbelievably still AGAINST climate action WHILE climate change breathes down our tender little necks, we need to SHOW how that makes them interchangeable with Trump at this point.
So CBC at least, as our public broadcaster (who they of course also want to AXE) should simply stop including them in discussions. You know, like THEY did when they initiated the still surprising insult of regularly refusing to attend debates BEFORE elections? And the way they won't even DO the CBC, preferring their own version (REBEL "News" pffffttttttt, "rebel. "Really?) like Trump now has (and Putin always has.)
Only NPR refused to cover Trump from early on, so taking a stand wouldn't be unprecedented.

Hi Tris, i just think you are so right. i believe that libs are "better" and the ndp arguably better still on the issue of climate change and mitigation thereof. However, i don't think either party is anywhere near to NEEDED solutions.
i like your analogy with the Titanic deck chairs; very apt i think. if i read you correctly, you suggest that the CBC should "stop including {conservative candidates} in discussions". Can you clarify/expand on this? i rather suspect that is not possible given the mandate of the CBC, "constitutional" freedom of speech etc. It might be a good thing in the long run that they are exposing their true selves, true beliefs and agenda so openly. the nakedness of the emperor is coming more and more clearly into focus (i think and hope). At least it is to me, and you if i read it right.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, love and peace, mg

Hi Connor, Thanks for this.
Either my eyes are opening wider, or the articles and discussions here are getting better and better, maybe both.
i was shocked at the headline "Canada’s climate debate is becoming a snoozefest". i haven't listened to or watched any of that, not because i feel it would bore me, but because it would anger me and i don't need the stress. It certainly seems to have stimulated you to make such a well thought out, written and detailed critique. As i like to ask, aren't we better off to know where "these people really stand"? i think that is what this article does so well, highlight where it is that "they" stand, and consequences of that. So thanks again, i will be watching for more from you, as life and it's crooked path allow. peace and love, mg