In the past few days, the Liberals announced:
Federal funding to replace coal with electric arc furnaces at Algoma Steel in Ontario. That announcement was $420 million and the prime minister hinted a similar announcement is in the works for a steel plant in Hamilton.
Money for a high-frequency train running on dedicated tracks between Toronto and Quebec City.
Funding for Calgary’s Green Line — a light rail project that’s been stalled under the Kenney government.
A new zero-emission deadline for all new cars and light duty trucks. This was a strange announcement — three federal ministers announced a new “mandatory target” of 2035. But they wouldn’t say what laws or regulations would make the new target “mandatory.” A cynic might have wondered if the point was to get the date and word “mandatory” on the record.
There were actually more announcements, but you get the point: the Liberals clearly intend to campaign on climate. At the Algoma steel announcement, Trudeau declared, “there’s no doubt that climate change is the test of our generation.”
In Alberta, the prime minister was eager to call out denial and delay: "There's a tremendous opportunity, and the fact that some politicians here in Alberta have been fighting against even recognizing that climate change is real has slowed down Alberta's ability to prepare for the economic future and the jobs of the future."
Against the backdrop of extreme weather, fires and mass fatalities, the campaign focus should be about speed — how urgently will the feds act to defend Canadians from climate impacts and how quickly will they drive down carbon emissions? But it’s not at all clear that any other party can compete with the Liberals and raise the urgency.
The Conservatives now have a climate plan. It’s much more credible than past versions but party leader Erin O’Toole has hardly been a voice of climate urgency.
The NDP had leverage with the minority government but hasn’t prioritized climate action. They’ve made some useful amendments in committees but haven’t promoted anything voters would remember beyond the tired and facile “you bought a pipeline” criticism of the Liberals.
The Greens? They ought to be the drumbeat of urgency but Annamie Paul never really emerged as a climate hawk and the party seems paralyzed by internal battles.
The Bloc Québécois does have a real opportunity to drive urgency. Quebecers are highly climate-motivated and understand climate impacts all too well. In an election campaign, the Bloc is well-positioned to drive debate about the policies and support needed to protect Quebecers from impacts like floods and deadly heat waves.
Adapting to climate change has never been much of a political issue in Canada. But this summer has already shown that we are grossly unprepared. Governments had plenty of warning that an unprecedented heat dome was going to roast western North America. Even so, we couldn’t muster basic emergency response. Heat stroke victims waited hours for ambulances and calls to 911 were simply put on hold.
It’s incredible after so many years of warnings, but Canada doesn’t have a national adaptation strategy. There’s a federal process underway to develop one but we can’t afford to wait years for action.
As the old saying goes, campaigns matter. If we really are heading into a federal election, Canadians deserve one in which the parties compete over the urgency of cutting climate pollution and defending ourselves from the crises we’re already experiencing.
The heat dome in western North America was so severe that it was declared a “mass casualty event” in Oregon. Scientists are getting much faster at pinpointing how climate change is supercharging extreme weather. It used to take months to complete “attribution studies” but World Weather Attribution has already released a rapid analysis on the heat dome.
The group says the event would have been “virtually impossible without human-caused climate change.” The experts determined the heat dome was a one-in-1,000 year event but could happen every five to 10 years if temperatures rise just 2 degrees“ (they’re already up over one degree).
The severity of the heat wave has clearly unnerved even the experts. “It was unexpected to see such levels of heat in this region. It raises serious questions (about) whether we really understand how climate change is making heat waves hotter and more deadly,” said Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, a meteorologist who worked on the attribution study.
The BC Coroners Service reported that over 700 people died suddenly during the heat wave. That’s nearly 4 times the weekly average and doesn’t account for deaths in other Canadian provinces or U.S. states. The attribution study cautions the full toll will almost certainly be much higher.
“The latest heat-related death numbers are alarming, yet they are likely a severe undercount and the real toll will only become clear after mortality statistics are reviewed for the role of heat in exacerbating underlying conditions.”
One billion animals
The stench at low tide was nauseating and marine biologist Chris Harley estimates more than one billion intertidal creatures were literally cooked to death under the heat dome. The University of British Columbia scientist recorded temperatures up to 50 C along rocky shorelines.
Top court orders more action from French government
France’s top court ordered the Macron government to take “all necessary additional steps” to reach its climate targets. The court gave the government nine months to comply or face sanctions.
France has committed to cut climate pollution 40 per cent by 2030 but the court found it was not on track and existing policies aren’t sufficient. The prime minister's office promised to unveil new measures in the fall.
Tidal power in the Bay of Fundy
The Bay of Fundy has the highest tidal range in the world and all that power has literally ripped apart previous efforts to generate electricity. There are two new efforts underway. Sustainable Marine has one system undergoing ocean testing. And BigMoon Power has completed its tests and is now building generators which it plans to install this year and start selling power to Nova Scotia.
"There have been some setbacks, but all of those who now remain in the energy business here in Nova Scotia are all on the precipice of doing something very exciting,” said BigMoon’s vice president.
Oil and gas clean up funds “Not Well Spent”
Early in the pandemic, the federal government gave $1.7 billion to fund clean up of inactive oil and gas wells. At the time, it was seen as a clever way to support workers without subsidizing more fossil fuel production. But a new report by the Parkland Institute and Oxfam Canada found that, in practice, the program “amounts to little more than a bailout to the oil and gas industry” in Alberta.
In one example, $100 million went to Canadian Natural Resources Limited even though the oil giant has increased dividend payments for 21 consecutive years. “The public is footing the bill where corporations are more than able to pay up ... and where they are legally obligated to do so,” said the lead researcher, Megan Egler.
The program earmarked $100 million for wells on Indigenous lands but only 5.5 per cent of the sites identified by Indigenous communities have actually been cleaned up.
Canada’s forests used to suck carbon out of the atmosphere slowing the pace of climate breakdown but that “carbon sink” has collapsed and the forests are now emitting carbon dioxide. The same is true at a provincial level, according to an analysis by Barry Saxifrage using B.C.’s official greenhouse gas inventory.
Billions in pipeline support
The provincial and federal governments have given at least $23 billion in support to pipeline projects since 2018, according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development.
“The main question I would like this report to raise is whether these investments align with the future we want in Canada,” said author Vanessa Corkal.
“There are clear opportunities for the government of Alberta and the government of Canada to be investing in areas that are more economically viable long term, and that leads directly to the climate question of what industries are going to be thriving in a low-carbon economy?”
U.S. offshore wind
Canada’s coastal provinces have been strangely passive as offshore wind power grows around the world. There are no offshore wind farms in Canadian waters but New Jersey has just approved two projects for a combined 2.7 GW. The move follows approval for a 800 MW wind project offshore Massachusetts in May. Energy analysts are now wondering if all the new American offshore projects will upset the history of one-way trade where Canada exports hydropower to the U.S.
4,500 new EV chargers in Quebec
Hydro-Québec is rolling out a program for electric vehicle drivers that can’t charge at home. The utility announced a partnership with municipalities to install up to 4,500 charging stations. The program will fund curbside stations that provide overnight charging.
I’ll leave you with a personal essay by Sarah Miller. You may have run across her writing before — she posed as a home buyer in 2019 and wrote a fantastic article on Miami real estate in the era of rising oceans. That one was called Heaven or High Water. Miller actually lives in California so she’s been living through the drought and recent heat dome.
In this latest piece, All the right words on climate have already been said, Miller gives voice to what I, and I suspect a lot of you, have been feeling lately. The one preemptive twist I’ll give is that, although all the words may already have been said, we need to keep saying them — for many people their gravity is only just beginning to sink in.
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