For the first time in three million years our planet has approached 400 parts per million(ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. CO2, as many people know, is the most important greenhouse gas (GHG) emission particle contributing to the dangerous environmental crisis we know as climate change. For reference, many scientists suggest that the safe level of GHG emissions is 350 ppm. For those of us concerned about climate change, and the future of our species, 400 ppm is a significant landmark, prompting reflection on Canadian climate change policy and environmental strategy.
One of the most significant threats to climate change mitigation in Canada is the expansion of the carbon-intensive tar sands industry. Environmental organizations and concerned citizens across North America are trying to prevent the expansion of tar sands extraction by blocking pipelines. To the south of Alberta there is the battle over Keystone XL, to the west there is the Northern Gateway pipeline and to the east there is the reversal of the Line 9 pipeline. Blocking these pipelines is an essential part of climate change mitigation, but it is also important to consider the bigger picture.
People trying to address the problem of climate change are on the defensive. If our atmosphere were a bathtub, then we could say that Canada is cranking open the tap at a time when the tub is already about to overflow. Pipeline activists are focused on opening the tap less quickly when our society needs to be draining the tub. The rate at which GHG emissions are pumped into our atmosphere should be decreasing at this point in history, not just increasing less quickly.
Nothing will address the root cause of climate change more effectively than putting a significant price on CO2. With a price on carbon we can make polluting so expensive that emitting massive amounts of GHG emissions is no longer an economically viable option. A price on carbon targets all sources of GHG emissions in one fell swoop, including but not limited to tar sands’ diluted bitumen pipelines.
Gone are the days when Conservative fear-mongering around a price on carbon can sway voters. In the recent BC provincial election the debate was not about whether there should be a price on carbon but instead on how high this price should be.
At the federal level things might seem less hopeful. Peter Kent, our environment minister, recently said that the five consecutive “fossil” awards Canada has received for obstructing progress at international climate change conferences are “worn with honour.” While Conservatives are flaunting their incredibly immoral climate change policies, and in the process undermining the interests of the majority of Canadians who are desperate for climate change action, their popularity is suffering as a result.
It is only a matter of time before Canada, and the world, adopts a price on carbon. Citizen’s Climate Lobby Canada is attempting to lubricate this process by promoting one of the most exciting carbon pricing options available. They call it the carbon fee and dividend. This policy mandates that the government collects money from polluters who emit GHG emissions and that this revenue is dispersed back to the public in equal amounts in the form of a dividend. Unlike other carbon taxes, this revenue neutral strategy would financially benefit poor and middle class Canadians who live a low carbon lifestyle.
For those of us who are serious about combating climate change, we need to speak out in favour of a price on carbon while we are also speaking out against tar sands pipelines.
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