Rivers on resolutions: Climate change is all that matters

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

December 31, 2019



What if my new year resolution was to stop writing about global warming?

I realize that I have been preoccupied, some might say obsessed, by what I see as the greatest existential threat facing the planet and all of its inhabitants. And there is a kind of frustration that, after spending decades working on climate change policy with governments and the private sector, so little has actually been accomplished.

coal fired elec

Coal fired electricity generators.

Brian Mulroney and Bill Clinton first talked about carbon pricing back some 30 years ago. Jean Charest, my minister of the environment, spoke of the urgency of global warming at the Rio climate summit back in 1992. Jean Chretien took us in the Kyoto protocol and McGuinty and Wynne got us off coal fired electricity.

Yet today Donald Trump is the world’s biggest advocate for dumping more carbon emissions into the atmosphere. And despite some progress on the climate file since Stephen Harper’s government was voted out of office, something as straight forward as Canada’s carbon tax is still being debated in the courts.

Today, over 90% of all new cars are still powered by petroleum and new houses are still being built with gas appliances and fixtures. The Alberta and Saskatchewan governments, with their populations solidly behind them, are promoting even more oil and natural gas development and export.

And even Ontario’s progressive development of green energy has been stopped in its tracks by a new government determined to unravel every single piece of environmental legislation developed by all three political parties dating back as far back as the 1980’s.

Yet the evidence, the signs, of what we are doing to the planet is overwhelming. The latest sign comes to us from satellite imagery of a massive patch of superheated water the size of Texas, threatening oceanic life just off the coast of New Zealand. This year flooding and storm intensity continued to expand across the globe – leaving an ever increasing path of destruction.

Wildfires in Canada now destroy 2.5 million hectares a year, an area nearly half the size of Nova Scotia and double the 1970s average. Alberta is one of the worst affected areas. Of course as the highest polluting jurisdiction in Canada, it is as if some invisible hand is administering retributive justice.


Forest fires raging through Fort McMurray Alberta

The Fort McMurray fire in 2016, smack dab in the heart of the oil sands, was the largest wildfire evacuation in our history. And Australia is a stark reminder of where we are heading. I received a Christmas card from a friend in Melbourne Australia. She wrote “The fires are a real tragedy and a reminder that we should be doing more to stop climate change.”

Indeed, Australia is by far the world’s largest coal exporting nation. That would be a good place to start.

Andrew Scheer and other climate change deniers have pointed out that Canada’s national emissions are only a fraction of those of China and the USA. For them it was a matter of ‘After You, Alphonse’ as per the old New York Journal comic strip. They conveniently ignore the fact that Canada will experience twice as much warming as these other nations – so it should matter more to us.

sea ice

Arctic sea – vital to the environment.

And the other thing they don’t tell you is that oil, coal and gas exports are not included in our emission numbers. So in 2014 we emitted more carbon embedded in our fossil fuel exports than we emitted nationally. We effectively doubled our contribution to global warming. But it is worse that that. By adding more coal, oil and gas onto global markets we help lower the prices of these commodities.

It’s simple demand and supply. Lower fossil fuel prices promote more consumption and carbon emissions, making a sad mockery of Messrs Scheer, Moe and Kenney’s perverse claims that they can combat climate change by simply exporting more fossil fuels. When he heard that kind of nonsense spoken in public, my father used to say, “they need their heads examined”. But these are political leaders at the highest levels so it has to be more than just deceptively flawed logic.

Energy use, including transportation and home heating, is still one of the biggest aspects of our carbon footprint. Lower fuel prices will forestall decisions to substitute cleaner energy for the internal combustion engine and that gas flame for your heating and cooking needs. Higher prices encourage conservation – that is why the carbon tax will be effective.

Greta Thunberg

The hope is the words spoken by Greta Thurnberg, a 16 year-old Scandinavian

A new year should bring us a moment for hope and promise. There is always hope but the promise for our future is not pretty. My annual predictions in the past have been erratic, sporadic and often just plain wrong. So this year I thought I’d just go with the collective global science community.

Their prediction is that we are moving faster than ever towards a tipping point. And if they are right, in about a dozen years global warming will become irreversible and get worse every year thereafter.

As we struggle with the effects of the proverbial hangover January 1st, we should contemplate what lies ahead for us in what seems to be a highly dystopian future. The fact is that our governments have failed to protect us. Or perhaps, and more accurately, we have mostly failed to elect the kind of governments which would have acted sooner and more effectively.

So I’m taking action in my own hands this year and suggest you join me. I’m making and planning to keep resolutions to lower my individual carbon footprint. I already have geothermal heating and cooling, an electric plug-in car and a solar panel. So this year I’m resolving to get rid of my remaining gas appliances entirely, including my fireplace and barbecue.

What about you?

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province. He developed the current policy process for the Ontario Liberal Party.

Background links:

The Future –     2019 Predictions –    2020 Predictions –     Australian Reality

Hot Water –     EVs –    Oil SubsidyWe Didn’t Get Much Done

Cost of Climate Change –    Exporting Carbon – 


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7 comments to Rivers on resolutions: Climate change is all that matters

  • Michael Hribljan

    I believe we are unfortunately fixated on a symptom and not the root cause, which is global population growth. Global population is growing at an exponential rate which drives our need for energy. In addition to climate change population growth also puts pressure on the natural environment, need for fresh water, food, medical resources, transportation congestion and so on – these are all symptoms like climate change. In addition to those pressures we have countries with large populations moving from 3rd world to 2nd world and 2nd world for first world standards of living, further driving the need for energy.

    To get ahead of the curve we need to be taking big swings, technologies and solutions that are going to make a real difference. This is a global issue not a domestic one, and I think our current government is taking a domestic approach to solving these big issues. We, as a country have resources, know how and knowledge that can support the world and I do not see our current plan of carbon taxing, wind and solar providing the answer. Its like putting out a house fire with a garden hose.

    Many of us are becoming less convinced renewables like wind and solar are the solution, simply the land area required for these technologies is extensive, they require alternate sources of power for back up, and create collateral environmental damage. Solar panels for example need extensive areas of land which have a significant environmental impact for instance. Also, we do not yet know how to recycle panels after their useful life, and also contain heavy metals and other toxic compounds – the amount of waste this is going to create has received little attention.

    So, where does this leave us, to coin a term we have to play the cards we’re dealt so to speak, gas and nuclear. In my opinion, as a country we need to export our LNG to countries that are using coal. Like it or not, the US has significantly reduced its GHGE’s by switching to gas on large scale. See the attached presentation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-ZWaWJZgV4 at time 10:40.

    As a country we are one of the global leaders in nuclear technology, heck, with all the discussion of green energy in Ontario, it’s our primary source (58%). In Ontario we shut down coal fire plants and expanded nuclear, wind and solar. Wind and solar combine for about 10% of our energy split I would argue we needlessly constructed wind and solar power at great expense to tax payers as we expanded our nuclear capability.

    The attached Ted talk really got me thinking about this and makes a lot of sense.

    The Liberal government is promoting carbon taxing, wind and solar and doing everything possible to cripple our energy industry in Alberta. The Conservatives are saying carbon taxing is a waste of time, export our LNG and build our nuclear capabilities. It’s not that outlandish, others are arriving at the same answers.

    • David

      Now that’s a comment…Consumption Based Co2 calculations rather than territorial would give us a truer picture for establishing and speedily reducing GHG emissions.

      Canada’s consumption of goods that are manufactured domestically under Canada’s laws governing emissions, create far less CO2 than the goods we consume that are manufactured in countries that produce the most CO2.

      The most ironic part, is that Donald Trump whilst resetting the global markets by bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.A. and making Canada manufacture parts, rather than assembling parts imported from China has reduced overall global emissions.

      The West has been deceived by lobbyists and retired politicians shilling for China.

      Canada and Mexico would do well to stand by the U.S.A. in bringing all heavy manufacturing back to North America where we have control of the process.

      China is an experiment that has gone beyond failure. Over last thirty years China has been making large profits and yet they have still failed to create an internal consumer market.

      As for democracy taking root in this country, I think there are more than enough examples of that not happening.
      The silk road they are establishing confirms they are only interested in exports, not imports.

      I am more concerned about China than climate change at this point.

  • Vince Fiorito

    …. rather than trying to assuage your guilt at flying or driving by buying carbon offsets as many are now doing, Jaccard recommends taking the money and donating it to a pro-climate group that can identify and support climate-sincere politicians and point a finger at the majority of those who are “faking it.”

  • Ray Rivers

    Will, thanks for your comment. You are right that the opposition is not to blame but that is not the case for premiers Ford and Kenney who have rolled back just about every climate change policy the previous governments had introduced. As for discomfort – my home is warmer now than ever, my maintenance costs are nil and my energy bills are way lower than they were when I was on gas (propane). My car is the best ever, costing me almost nothing to drive and no service appointments required. I smile as I drive by gas stations now. Fear of unknown is a potent dissuader from change – but once in the pool the water is wonderful.. Happy New Year to you.

  • Will Statten

    Ray, casting Consevative poliiticians in a bad light does little to help world reduction of GHG.
    I can equally blame a Liberal politiican named Trudeau who had a majority government for four years and failed miserably to reduce Canada’s GHG. A Majority!!. Don’t blame the opposition parties, they had no power to stop the kind of policies you would like to see implemented. And Liberal government today has the support of ndp and Greens to impose drastic measures. The Conservatives may howl, so what.! If the government is convinced of the magnitude of the problem, put themselves on the right side of history making. Why worry about reelection if you are right.
    Action is required, not endless virtue signaling and blame.
    Your personal actions are commendable Ray. However I wonder how much discomfort it has caused you.
    Happy new year,

  • Hans Jacobs

    Re: “Brian Mulroney and Bill Clinton first talked about carbon pricing back some 30 years ago.”…. Smokey Yunick was about 20 years ahead of them.
    Smokey advocated fuel pricing based on BTU content instead of volume, which would have made high carbon content fuels much more expensive, since greater carbon content = greater BTU content. Sadly, no one in leadership positions was paying attention.
    Even today, winning an election remains more important to politicians than preventing a global disaster.

  • Fred Pritchard

    I wish right wing politicians would stop lying and distorting the truth on climate science. The Doug Ford plan of fishing out a few buck a beer empties floating in a lake will not solve our problems. If they don’t want to fix it, then be honest and say so, but stop lying about how the do nothing conservative plan will work. I would love more solar energy, but we need government help to make it within reach of most folks. The world can’t afford more years of Dumb Doug and Donald the Liar. We need bold action soon, or you are correct, it will be too late.