Melting ice and cold hard cash
Not so long ago, on Valentines Day 1899, on a planet quite different from our own, the crew of the Belgica finally cut their ship free of Antarctic ice. The ice was seven feet thick and it would take another full month to chop and blast their way to open water. The sailors had been trapped in the ice for 13 months.
Among the crew was a certain Roald Amundsen, as well as the photographer Frederick Cook. As ice gripped the Belgica in 1898, Cook wrote in his diary:
"We are imprisoned in an endless sea of ice... We have told all the tales, real and imaginative, to which we are equal. Time weighs heavily upon us..."
Approaching that same region aboard the research vessel Polarstern on Valentine’s Day 2023, scientist Karsten Gohl described a very different scene: “I have never seen such an extreme, ice-free situation here before.
“The continental shelf, an area the size of Germany, is now completely ice-free. It is troubling to consider how quickly this change has taken place.”
For most of the period since the Belgica’s unhappy voyage, there hadn’t been much change at all. But over the last six years, sea ice around Antarctica has undergone intense melting.
This year set a record low, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, a perverse Valentine’s Day present from the fossil fuel industry.
“Much of the Antarctic coast is ice-free,” the NSIDC announced on Feb. 14 and, since the austral summer is not yet over, “further decline is expected.”
Antarctica’s vast glaciers like Thwaites, dubbed the “Doomsday Glacier,” are now cracking and melting from below as the ice shelves holding them in place disintegrate.
At the other end of the Earth, Arctic sea ice should be expanding and thickening at this time of year. But it, too, is tracking below its previous record low — one of those tipping points that keep scientists up at night as less of the sun’s energy is reflected back into space and a hotter Arctic creates havoc and extreme weather across the globe.
It’s an insane, uncontrolled experiment to conduct on our only home. And it should be front of mind for the political leaders now finalizing their plans and budgets. You imagine Chrystia Freeland peering down from Parliament Hill at the Rideau Canal, its beloved Skateway still unsafe for skaters on the last weekend of Winterlude.
Is Canada’s finance minister fending off requests for climate spending or trying to pack in as much as she can? And what would a federal budget look like if it took the climate emergency seriously?
Invest two per cent of GDP is the answer, according to Climate Action Network Canada and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. An average of $57 billion per year over the next five years.
The authors of Spending What It Takes tallied climate spending since the Paris Agreement and found the Trudeau government has significantly boosted the budget, as you can see for the years between 2016 and now:
Those calculations are a valuable service because it is devilishly difficult to make sense of all the overlapping announcements, reannouncements and pledges covering different multi-year periods. Canada is now spending about $10 billion per year and plans to hike the number to $15 billion. The feds are also adding new support to the oil and gas industry, like the carbon capture tax credit, which will run about $1.5 billion per year.
Federal investments now run about 0.5 per cent of annual GDP. It’s a big jump up to two per cent — one that Freeland is almost certainly not going to deliver. But distilling things down to simple numbers provides another valuable public service: a clarifying and useful measuring stick.
Despite the recent budget increases, the authors argue that “Canada’s current plans fall far short of what is necessary to compete amid the accelerating global shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, and massive climate spending in the United States under the Inflation Reduction Act.”
The giant sucking sound of money heading for the incentives under the Inflation Reduction Act might weigh more heavily on Freeland’s mind than slush on the Skateway or the polar seas. Finance ministers and CEOs from Europe to China have already begun to roll out their strategies.
Minister Freeland has already indicated her budget will address the Inflation Reduction Act, prioritizing health care and the transition to green energy, while staying “fiscally prudent.”
She can’t refreeze the Rideau Canal with a federal budget, much less the poles of the Earth. But we will soon find out how high climate investments rank for this federal government.
Barclays dumps oilsands
Barclays provided US$4.3 billion to oilsands companies between 2016 and 2021 but the London-based bank announced this week it’s had enough.
An interesting twist on this Barclay's announcement: Their previous policy was to not fund oil sands companies that didn't have a credible plan to get emissions intensity below global median. As a result, their funding to oil sands dropped to zero.https://t.co/MFcl1tjQg0 pic.twitter.com/mxvTOv58qa— Keith Stewart (@climatekeith) February 15, 2023
Another British bank — NatWest — cast new policies well beyond the oilsands, announcing it would immediately stop taking on new clients involved in oil and gas extraction; the bank said it would phase in the same policy for existing customers by refusing to renew, refinance or extend loans for fossil projects.
“We want to ensure our capital is being used to support a transition while continuing to reduce the financing of harmful emissions,” said NatWest CEO Alison Rose.
Gas expansion in Ontario
“Energy giant Enbridge is plotting a multibillion-dollar expansion to its gas network in Ontario that would lock the province into a fossil fuel future for decades to come,” reports John Woodside. Enbridge wants to raise customers’ rates $16 billion over the coming years to fund the expansion.
Last year, Enbridge’s planned pipeline for Ottawa was rejected because it conflicted with the city’s climate plans.
On the related issue of gas for power generation, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund’s Aakash Harpalani just published an insightful post about two other Ontario municipalities that grappled with gas.
In November, Brampton decided to build battery storage instead of a gas plant. But this January, “in Windsor, the utility presented gas as the only option and warned that the community could face power shortages if council delayed or turned down the deal.” Windsor went with gas.
“Both had their communities’ best interests at heart as they weighed the available evidence and reached opposite conclusions.
“The big difference was in the evidence they had available to them.”
Pompeii goes solar, but you wouldn’t know it
The frescoes at the ancient Roman ruins of Pompeii are now lighted with solar power, but you’ve probably never seen anything like these roof panels:
“They look exactly like the terracotta tiles used by the Romans, but they produce the electricity that we need to light the frescoes," says Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the park.
The photovoltaic tiles are made by the Italian company Dyaqua, which calls the product “invisible solar” and says they can be made to look like terracotta, stone, concrete or wood. Here’s a closer look:
Suing the RCMP
Photojournalist Amber Bracken and The Narwhal filed a lawsuit against the RCMP, claiming Bracken was wrongfully arrested on Wet'suwet'en territory and detained for three nights while reporting on blockades against the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
"As a journalist, I never wanted to be the story," Bracken said. "But the police took that decision from me when they finally made it impossible for me to do my job."
The Narwhal’s editor-in-chief Emma Gilchrist said the lawsuit was intended “to clear a path for all journalists in Canada to do their work without risk of police interference."
First trillion for EVs
You can only imagine how much steeper this growth would be if “the established automakers” weren’t making customers wait months or years to buy one…
Cumulative EV sales have crossed a trillion dollars. More than 50% of that was in the last 18 months.— Colin Mckerracher (@colinmckerrache) February 14, 2023
Long product cycles means many established automakers are about to be caught flat footed.
My latest:https://t.co/fGcyOPQzMD pic.twitter.com/U1nMdYqGK9
Praying for rain in Kenya
The president of Kenya called a national day of prayer on Tuesday because the sixth consecutive rainy season seems doomed to fail in East Africa and the Horn of Africa.
“Kenya and other east African nations have been experiencing some of the worst drought conditions in decades, causing crop failure, loss of livestock, wildlife and biodiversity, and malnutrition,” reports The Associated Press.
The UN humanitarian agency describes the drought in East Africa as a “rapidly unfolding humanitarian catastrophe.”
Way too much rain in New Zealand
Just two weeks after unprecedented downpours and flooding, New Zealand’s North Island was battered for days by cyclone Gabrielle. New Zealand declared a state of emergency — only the third in the country’s history — as residents swam through bedroom windows to escape and huddled on rooftops hoping for rescue.
"The severity of it, of course, (is) made worse by the fact that our global temperatures have already increased by 1.1 degrees," said Climate Change Minister James Shaw.
"We need to stop making excuses for inaction. We cannot put our heads in the sand when the beach is flooding. We must act now."
Free heat pumps! (If you live in P.E.I.)
Nearly 3,000 free heat pumps have been installed in homes across Prince Edward Island and, starting this week, the provincial government expanded the program to any Islanders making $75,000 or less. If you make less than $55,000, you can get a free electric hot water heater, as well.
“The free heat pump program makes it easy for island homeowners to help the province reach our nation-leading net-zero goals. We’re closing in on nearly 3000 free heat pumps installed so far, and we want to keep that momentum going so even more Islanders can save money on their energy bills,” said the province’s Environment, Energy and Climate Action Minister Steven Myers.
Prince Edward Island is doing some impressive things on the energy and climate front. You might want to check out National Observer’s profile of Summerside, the little Canadian city that became an inadvertent climate leader; and Cloe Logan’s exploration of Why Summerside lit up fast after Fiona left P.E.I. dark.
This week, The Energy Mix’s Mitchell Beer “spotlighted Prince Edward Island as Canada’s next source of breakaway climate leadership.” P.E.I. hopes to have half its homes converted to non-fossil energy by the end of this year. From solar to wind, building retrofits to electric bikes, fertilizer to “toonie transit,” Canada’s smallest province is gaining international attention.
World Bank chief quits
David Malpass has been under pressure to quit since a humiliating interview last fall when he couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge the reality of climate change. Donald Trump’s pick to head the World Bank eventually fell back on the old canard, “I’m not a scientist.” He’s finally resigned.
Apparently, the sitting U.S. president always gets to choose who leads the global institution for developing countries — not that there’s anything weird or colonial about that.
‘It’s inequality that kills’
Naomi Klein was interviewed by The Guardian. “I always think about climate justice as multitasking,” she says.
“I have an ambivalent relationship with the word hope these days… We’ve screwed things up badly enough that even if we do everything right from here on out, we’re still looking at a future of staccato climate disasters.
“But I don’t believe we have the luxury of throwing up our hands and saying: ‘We’re doomed, let’s just go Mad Max on this.’ I think there are ways of preparing for those shocks that build a way of living with one another that is significantly kinder and more generous than the way we currently live with one another, which is really quite brutal.”
Rising seas and the rise of the far-right
I’ll leave you with this beautifully produced piece by NPR: Climate ripples and the rise of the right.
“When the seas rise in Senegal, so do the fortunes of far-right political parties in Europe. This is the story of how those seemingly unrelated things are connected.”
That’s all for this week. Thank you for reading Zero Carbon. Please forward it along and always feel free to write to me with feedback or suggestions for future newsletters at [email protected]
Support for this issue of Zero Carbon came from The McConnell and Trottier foundations and I-SEA.