Friday, January 13, 2017

Remembering When We Had the Wisdom and Courage to Take On Climate Change

“Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment, whose ultimate consequences are second only to global nuclear war.”
       
     - From the “Consensus Statement from the ‘Our Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security’ Conference, Toronto, 1988 (see: When Canada led the way: a short history of climate change,” Elizabeth May, Policy Options, October 1, 2006)

I was 13 years old in the mid-1980s when I first started writing about climate change – although at that time, it was mostly called ‘global warming’.  As a young teen, science programs on television, like David Suzuki’s “Planet for the Taking”, and articles in popular science magazines like OMNI, really resonated with me.  My grade 8 science fair project was on the “Greenhouse Effect” – a topic of public popularity, but hardly cutting edge science in the mid-1980s, given that Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius had first written about the heat trapping properties of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere back in 1896 (see: Svante Arrhenius,” Wikipedia).

It was interesting to trace the coastline of a Florida-free North America inundated by rising oceans, and to colour Greenland “green” on the map to highlight the ice that would one day not be there.  But I gave little thought to what those science project maps would mean in the real world: billions of people displaced from their homes, and my own children and grandchildren inhabiting a world that I would be unable to recognize. It’s not because climate change was an abstract concept that I thought little about the consequences. It was mainly because I believed that the international community would never allow such a catastrophe to befall humanity.

You see, back in the 1980s, we knew we could tackle climate change.  We had reasons for environmental optimism.  Canada and the United States worked together to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions, leading to the Acid Rain Treaty signed by U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1991 (see: U.S. – Canada Air Quality Agreement,” Wikipedia).  And the Montreal Protocol to close the hole in the ozone layer was agreed to by the international community in 1987 (see: The Montreal Protocol,” Wikipedia).  Back then, Canada was a world leader in the advocacy of science-based international responsibility.

In 1988, the Prime Ministers of two cold, oil-producing nations – Canada’s Brian Mulroney and Norway’s Gro Harlem Brundtland, called for the creation of a “law of the air” - a binding international treaty to stabilize the planet’s atmosphere (see: Norway and Canada Call for Pact to Protect Atmosphere,” the New York Times, June 27, 1988).  In 1990, at the second World Climate Conference, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher championed the idea of sustainable development in the context of a warming planet, saying, “The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.” (see: The 'Iron Lady's' strong stance on climate change,” Douglas Fischer, the Daily Climate, April 8, 2013)

But all of that was before a public opinion campaign was waged by the oil industry to undermine the science of climate change.  This secretly funded campaign left many Canadians confused and doubtful about the global scientific consensus (see: ”Dark Money’ Funds Climate Change Denial Effort,” Scientific American, December 23, 2013).  In America, it ultimately led to the election of Donald Trump, who claims climate change is a “Chinese hoax” (see: Yes, Donald Trump did call climate change a Chinese hoax,” Politifact, June 3, 2016). It’s also led to 20 years of lost time – time that we could have used to slowly wean our economy off of fossil fuels.

Emissions have continued to sky-rocket. Only lately have our governments decided that they needed to be seen to be taking action on climate change. Small prices have been put on carbon pollution in British Columbia, Quebec, and recently in Ontario and Alberta.  Prime Minister Trudeau has said that there will be a minimum $10 per tonne price on carbon in place throughout the nation by 2018.  Actions have been timid in part because elected officials lack the courage to face an electorate that includes a large number of people who either don’t believe in the reality of climate change, or don’t understand its causes.
Some environmentalists have been eager to pat our governments on the back for taking small actions to reduce emissions.  But these initiatives will be more than offset by the continued public subsidies given away to profitable fossil fuel corporations, and the building of pipelines needed to expand production in the tar sands.  Environment Canada projects emissions to rise, despite the feel-good government rhetoric (see: Environment ministers face rising carbon emissions numbers,” CBC, January 29, 2016).

The International Energy Agency (IEA) isn’t buying it either.  Every year, the IEA produces a report on global energy use and expected trends.  2016’s report, released a little less than a year after the Paris climate treaty was negotiated, includes a number of scenarios for the future use of fossil fuels (see: Scenarios and Projections,” IEA.org). The IEA’s “450” scenario, named after the number of parts per million of carbon dioxide that would be in the atmosphere if warming were to be held at just 2 degrees Celsius as called for in Paris, would see the demand for oil peak in 2020, and steadily decline.  But the IEA didn’t select the 450 scenario as the most likely direction for the planet.  It instead opting for what it calls the “New Policies” scenario, based on the actual commitments made by the international community to limit warming.  Together, these commitments would see the world warm by about 3 degrees Celsius (see: World on track for 3C of warming under current global climate pledges, warns UN,” the Guardian, November 3, 2016).  That’s better than the 4 to 5 degrees of warming the planet would see if did no more than we are doing today, but the IEA’s most likely scenario wouldn’t see oil demand peaking until 2040 (see: Peak Oil? Not until 2040 says the International Energy Agency,” World Economic Forum, November 18, 2016).

A rise in annual average temperature between 2 and 3 degrees doesn’t sound like much – especially in the midst of a Sudbury winter.  But the 2 degrees Celsius barrier was originally chosen by the international community because the best available science at the time suggested that if warming were limited to that amount, we would likely just miss triggering the feedback loops that lead to runaway warming (see: Runaway Climate Change,” Wikipedia).  A tremendous amount of carbon is stored in the North’s permafrost.  It’s already melting, and the warmer it gets, the more greenhouse gases will be released by melting permafrost.  That’s a feedback loop.

It’s for this reason that 2 degrees Celsius has been called the climate’s “magic number”.  But a growing number of climate scientists are saying that 2 degrees Celsius might still lead to an unacceptable level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (see: Will We Miss Our Last Chance To Save The World From Climate Change?” RollingStone, December 22, 2016).  That’s why the Paris climate agreement has an aspirational warming limit of 1.5 degrees C – a limit initially proposed to the international community by Canada.  But it’s one that pipeline-approving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has no desire to hold Canada to.

It is only within this framework that a climate action plan that sees the tar sands double its production could be considered a success story for the planet.  And yet, that’s exactly what many so-called ‘progressives’ are saying about Alberta’s plan.  It is true that Alberta’s plan to reduce carbon pollution is probably the most aggressive plan of any Canadian province.  However, it is far from the plan that we need now to limit warming after 20 lost years of inaction.

Rather than defending extremely weak plans, progressives ought to be calling for workable solutions – and shaming the governments of Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia and Canada for their weak efforts, just as they did Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.  With only a few years left to avoid the risk of feedback loop-triggering tipping points in the climate system, the weak and contradictory actions of Liberals and New Democrats are in no way a replacement for the complete inaction of Conservatives.

Earlier this week, Hollywood celebrity Jane Fonda was in Alberta, where she urged Canada to do more.  Predictably, Alberta Premier and bitumen pipeline champion Rachel Notley, referred told the media that Fonda was “ill informed” and “did not know what she was talking about” (see: Jane Fonda 'dining out on celebrity' but starved for facts, Alberta premier says,” CBC, January 11, 2017).  But Fonda was right to point out that we shouldn’t let ourselves become suckers to good looking liberals who talk a good game on the climate, but who are committed to continuing to run the “globally pervasive experiment” we were warned about in 1988.  What’s clear is that those who call themselves ‘liberals’ and champion projects that will see carbon emissions grow are the new enemies of the planet.

My 13 year old self would never have imagined that in 2017 we would be facing a systems crisis caused by climate change, thanks in part to a science disinformation campaign, and to political leaders who substitute weak and contradictory actions for doing the right thing out of fear over an electoral backlash.  In my childish naivete, it would not have occurred to me that humanity would lack the wisdom to unplug the apparatus used to conduct an experiment whose ultimate consequences would lead to the destruction of the planet.


(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

A significantly edited version of this post appeared in the Sudbury Star as "Wisdom, courage needed in climate change fight," online, Saturday, January 14, 2017, and in print, Monday, January 16, 2017. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Time to Knock Down Liberal Straw Men on Climate Change & Carbon Pricing

Climate change has been one of the biggest news stories of 2016.  It was hard not to trip over an article or editorial in the daily newspaper that didn't mention climate change or carbon pricing.  Even regular political news has started to be viewed from a bit of a climate change lens.  Think of how the election of Donald Trump has been, in part, framed around a desire to take more aggressive action, or less action, on reducing emissions.

Of course, a lot of the reporting was pretty poor.  While it may be that news editors for papers and networks have finally come to accept that climate change is a real thing, columns and opinion pieces which deny this reality continue to regularly appear in the papers and on TV - if with less frequency.  Even pieces which accept the facts of climate change are often presented in such a way as to suggest that the climate crisis is somehow purely a problem for the physical environment, which allows for the perpetuation of the "economy vs. environment" myth.  And far too many discussions about the impacts of carbon pricing fail to even mention "climate change" - the very reason that governments are starting to finally put a price on carbon pollution (too often, carbon pricing is instead portrayed as a 'cash grab').

We've come a long way, but we've still got a long way to go.

Effectively and Efficiently Fighting Climate Change

In 2017, my home province, Ontario, will be putting a price on carbon pollution through a cap and trade scheme.  In 2018, Ontario's trading scheme will be joined to Quebec and California, creating one of the world's largest carbon trading markets.  It's an effort which, unfortunately, is doomed to fail - mainly for political reasons.

Ontario anticipates a base price for carbon allowances to be established at around $17 per tonne.  That's too low to have much of an impact on consumer behaviour, but certainly it's high enough to cause the public to grumble about rising gasoline prices and home heating rates.

Ontario is going to use the revenues generated from its carbon auctions to fund initiatives identified in its Climate Change Action Plan, many of which should eventually have some pay off in reducing emissions - although there may be a few misguided efforts included as well.  It's a pretty base framework - a lot more should have been included.  But overall, Ontario's Climate Change Action Plan identifies some decent initiatives to do the things that we should be doing anyway.

I can't help but wonder, though, if the Climate Change Action Plan points the way forward, why doesn't the government want to fund these worthy initiatives through general revenue?  I understand that Ontario is running deficits and we do have a substantial debt to contend with.  But if the Plan really does lay out worthy initiatives to combat climate change, why choose to rely on an unstable funding source?  Even if cap and trade proves to be a failure, that's no reason to throw out the Climate  Change Action Plan.

Do Nothing No Longer an Option

But even the Province's tentative steps towards carbon pricing are raising concerns among some sectors.  Recently, 20 local Chambers of Commerce issued press releases requesting the Province to hold off on cap and trade (see: "Defer cap and trade program: Sudbury chamber," the Sudbury Star, December 20, 2016). The Chambers cited various reasons, including the anticipated impacts on energy and heating, along with the election of Donald Trump and his desire to do nothing on climate change, a position which the Chambers believe will negatively impact Ontario businesses.

Of course, the chambers failed to identify in their releases the reason that Ontario is implementing a cap and trade scheme in the first place: because of climate change.  The chambers offered no alternatives to the Province on how they believe carbon should be priced - maybe because the chambers haven't actually given anything but a no-price option much thought at all.  And frankly, that's just not on - not now, with federal government saying that there will be pricing in place at $50 per tonne by 2022.  With this in mind, it's completely irresponsible for these chambers to be asking Ontario to hold off with cap and trade in absence with proposing a better way of pricing carbon.

Unsubstantiated Claims and Wild Exaggerations

Predictably, the Province's response to the chambers' request for deferral was, "No" (see: "Province won't defer cap and trade," the Sudbury Star, December 23, 2016).  However, in response to the Chambers of Commerce, Ontario's Minister of Environment and Climate Change took some liberty with factual information to support his position that cap and trade is the most "effective" way of fighting climate change.  Some of the more wilder assertions made by the Minister were that "third party economic experts" have said that Ontario's plan will be the most "cost effective", and linking economic growth in California to that state's cap and trade program.

The Minister's claims were quickly debunked by Laurentian University Professor of Economics, Dr. David Robinson, in a scathing blogpost which took Minister Murray out back to the woodshed, economically speaking (see: "The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change has its Head in the Sand," Economics for Northern Ontario, December 26, 2016).

But Minister Murray wasn't through with making wild claims about carbon pricing.  In a recent attack on a revenue neutral carbon tax - of the sort that they currently have in British Columbia - Minister Murray made the outrageous claim that a tax would "spike by dollars" the price of gasoline (see: "Cap-and-trade to cost at the pumps," the Sudbury Star, December 29, 2016).

Of course, this is just pure bull-nonsense.  The Minister knows - or at least he ought to know - that even B.C.'s $30 per tonne tax on gasoline did not send gasoline prices soaring by more than a dollar per litre in that province.  It didn't happen. And yet Minister Murray wants Ontarians to believe that it did - or that at least a similar tax in Ontario would.  This is exactly the sort of fact-free nonsense that simply has no place in any discussion about carbon pricing.

Of course, maybe a revenue neutral carbon tax would actually spike gasoline prices by dollars as the Minister has suggested.  I'm not sure how high that tax would have to be, but it would clearly but much higher than the $50 per tonne price the federal Liberals are talking about, to say nothing of the paltry $17 per tonne Minister Murray's own Ministry estimates the going rate for carbon pollution will be in this province in 2017.  In essence, Minister Murray has set up a straw man to be knocked down in the name of "moderation".  Since no one is actually talking like an extremists, Liberals like Murray have to invent one.

Justin Trudeau's Pipeline Straw Man

Minister Murray isn't the only one setting up straw men to be knocked down.  Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invented his own straw men to justify the federal Liberal's decision to approve two new pipeline projects.  In an attempt to portray these approvals as a moderate decision in the fight against climate change, Trudeau tried to stake the middle ground between doing nothing and "shutting down the oil sands tomorrow and stop using fossil fuels within a week." (see: "Trudeau's New Pipeline Talking Point - Straight from the Oil Industry," DesmogCanada, December 21, 2016).   And maybe between those two extremes, the Liberals pipeline approvals make sense - but it would only be between those two extremes.

DesmogCanada rightly asks, just who is campaigning to shut down the oil sands tomorrow?  The answer, of course, is nobody.  So why did Trudeau raise the point - inventing an opposition which just doesn't exist?

It's been my experience, and maybe yours too, that when logic can't win an argument, one turns to other ways of seeking to influence opinion.  One of those tactics is the invention of straw men, to make one's own position look reasonable.  Another is to just make stuff up and hope that nobody notices.  Trudeau opted for the former, while Minister Murray clearly seems to be using a number of misdirecting tactics to bolster his own position on cap and trade in absence of factual analyses.

An Online Exchange with Minister Murray

Yesterday, in my frustration over Minister Murray's fact-free statement on rising gas prices, I called him out for it on Twitter.  Surprisingly, I received a response from the Minister.  He contradicted my assessment, and doubled down on his own, claiming that the statement was indeed a "fact" - but offered nothing in the way of evidence to support his outrageous claim, besides pointing out what he considers to be the virtues of cap and trade - which have nothing to do with his original statement about carbon taxes.

Oh, and about those virtues of cap and trade?  The Minister appears to actually believe that cap and trade will reduce emissions more deeply and at less cost, because we won't have to wholly rely on price for reductions.  Let's break this down a little bit, because it's not exactly easy to understand, in defiance of what others might generally accept to be facts.

More Straw Men

What I think the Minister is referring to is the idea that Ontario's Climate Change Action Plan is to be funded through revenues raised by cap and trade.  So cap and trade on its own will help reduce emissions, and then emissions will be further reduced by initiatives in the Plan that are now funded.  OK, that's probably the case.  I'm not sure who might have ever suggested otherwise, but maybe there is some straw man out there making a claim that we can lower emissions more deeply by just pricing carbon than we could if we were to take multiple actions.  Maybe there's someone who has been saying that, but I don't know who they are.

Oh wait a minute.  Maybe Minister Murray wants us to think that it's those people, like Citizens Climate Lobby, that are championing a carbon fee & dividend approach to carbon pricing.  Or maybe it's the B.C. Liberal government, as they enacted a revenue neutral carbon tax.  In both cases, revenues are returned to the public (in the first, in the form of a dividend cheque, in the second in the form of tax cuts), and aren't available to fund government initiatives like those found in the Climate Change Action Plan.

Of course, neither Citizen's Climate Lobby, or the government of British Columbia, has ever insisted that the only thing a government has to do to reduce emissions is put a price on carbon and return proceeds to the public.  B.C. has invested in numerous initiatives to lower emissions - many that are the same as those Ontario has identified in its Climate Change Action Plan.  The difference is that B.C. has been funding these initiatives through general revenues, because it understands that these are the sorts of initiatives which build resiliency in their province, create jobs, and are good for the economy.

Maybe Ontario doesn't understand that.  If so, that's a huge concern, as all of the good initiatives in the Climate Change Action Plan are then put at risk of falling off the table when cap and trade collapses.

Liberals that Aren't

Here's one last thing on Minister Murray's economic paternalism.  Minister Murray is a Liberal.  It's always interesting and entertaining to me that the Party of laissez faire capitalism has decided to champion a father-knows-best approach to carbon pricing, rather than giving consumers the power to make their own decisions in a market that has seen its playing field leveled through a carbon tax.  Liberals ought to have some faith in our businesses and industries to innovate in the face of a changing market that sees consumers with more buying power looking for goods and services that provide the best value.  If Liberals like Minister Murray really believed in Adam Smith's free market, they would never have turned to cap and trade in the first place, given the significant intervention in the market that cap and trade entails (not to mention the picking and choosing of government backed winners and government shunned losers).

To me, that's telling.  Clearly, today's "Liberals" aren't really "liberal" at all - they're more interested in perpetuating the kleptocracy that ultimately enriches the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.

It's my hope that in 2017, we'll begin to start seeing results from the political realignment that finally started to surface in 2016.  Liberals like Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Murray (and Democrats in the U.S.) will be revealed as acting in the interests of the corporate establishment at the expense of regular people.  Their unsupported counter-factual nonsense will be exposed for what it is and what it does: obfuscation that ultimately acts against the interests of democracy.

In 2017, I hope that it becomes evident that those who call themselves "liberals" have placed themselves in the camp of enemies to the planet.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Pan-Canadian Climate Deal Misses the Mark on Fossil Fuels

Kudos to Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government for enacting Canada’s first national climate change strategy – an action that those concerned about climate change have been looking to our government to undertake since at least the late 1990s. 

The “Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change”, despite its name, hasn’t actually been endorsed by all of Canada’s governments (see: “Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change,” the governments of Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and Yukon. December 2016).  Conservative governments in Manitoba and Saskatchewan are still holding out for a better deal – or, if Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall gets his way, no deal at all.  Unlike Wall, though, most Canadians accept the reality of climate change, and have been looking towards our governments for real and meaningful action.

Like Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s own Climate Action Plan, there’s a lot of good ideas in the national version, including a call to phase out coal-generated electrical power by 2030 (with some exceptions) and a new model building code that will lead to net-zero energy efficient homes becoming the norm.  Both Ontario and Canada will invest in creating infrastructure to support the shift to electric vehicles, although both plans fall short of calling for an end to the internal combustion engine, as many European nations are now doing.

The national Framework puts a $10 per tonne price on carbon pollution starting in 2018, rising to $50 per tonne by 2022.  It’s unclear whether this modest price on carbon pollution will have much effect on consumer decisions, but it’s more than any Canadian jurisdiction has done so far (British Columbia has the highest carbon price in the nation, at $30 per tonne).

The Liberal’s framework creates some paths towards limiting greenhouse gas emissions, along with opportunities for job creation in an expanding clean tech sector.  What’s less clear is whether consumers will be shielded from rising energy prices, beyond dumping into their laps government subsidies financed by generational debt.   A carbon tax high enough to affect consumer choices, returned to Canadians in the form of a dividend cheque would provide insulation for consumers while lowering emissions and leading to innovation – but the Liberals opted instead to set Canada on a slower, more painful road to a low-carbon economy.


Although the Framework is a good start, what’s clear is that the Liberals are keen to put off having a mature discussion with Canadians about what climate change really means for the fossil fuel sector.   In Paris last year, Trudeau committed Canada to help hold warming between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius – the maximum temperature range that most climate scientists believe we can climb to before the natural environment undergoes self-accelerated global warming.  With 2 degrees Celsius in mind, there’s really no way of getting around the fact that oil and natural gas deposits are going to have to be left in the ground. 

Instead of acknowledging this reality, Canada’s Framework allows the oil and gas sector to expand for at least the next decade and a half.  Other sectors, like transportation, industry and - pay attention, Northern Ontario - mining are going to have to take up the slack and do more than their fair share to reduce emissions while Alberta grows the tar sands. 


At a time when Canada should be managing the gradual decline of our fossil fuel industries, calls to double production in the tar sands, and create a new liquefied natural gas industry in B.C.,  are absolutely absurd.   For this reason, while Canada’s new climate Framework might be a good start, with time running out to hold warming at 2 degrees Celsius, it’s not at all clear that it was worth the wait.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

Originally published in the Sudbury Star as, "Climate deal misses the mark on fossil fuels," in print and online as, "Column: Climate deal misses mark on fossil fuels," December 17, 2016, without hyperlinks.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Further Comments on the City of Greater Sudbury's Draft Transportation Master Plan and Request for Decision by Council


The following is a letter submitted to Greater Sudbury Ontario Council members for their consideration in advance of a Request for a Decision to approve the Draft Transportation Master Plan.

December 12, 2016

To: Members of Council
Re: Draft Transportation Master Plan

Thank you for the opportunity to provide additional feedback on the Draft Transportation Master Plan (DTMP).  I have previously provided correspondence to Council on this matter (June 24, 2015, available online here: “My Comments on Greater Sudbury’s Draft Transportation Master Plan,” ) and have made a public presentation at an earlier Council meeting.  I thank Council for the continuing opportunity to provide feedback on the DTMP.

With regards to my previous comments, I am happy to see that some of the concerns I raised have, in part, been addressed through revisions made to the DTMP (specifically, revisions to sections pertaining to transportation demand management and the identification of revised cycling routes).  With that in mind, I’ll use this opportunity to provide further comments, rather than revisiting many of the earlier issues that I’ve identified.  I’ll use the following observation as my starting point for these comments.

In Greater Sudbury, pedestrians are being killed at a rate twice the provincial average (see reference here: “Transportation plan a ‘step in the right direction’ – Coalition for Livable Sudbury co-chair,” Sudbury.com, December 7, 2016).

Recently, the Toronto Star called for action on the ‘epidemic’ of ‘violence against pedestrians’ (see: “Crack down on the epidemic of violence against pedestrians: Editorial,” the Toronto Star, December 11, 2016).  It should be noted that per capita, pedestrians are killed at half the rate in Toronto as they are in Greater Sudbury. 

I appreciate the attention that the City is making towards increasing pedestrian safety.  The recent installation of pedestrians cross-overs, along with the incorporation of a new section in the DTMP regarding pedestrian safety is important. 

However, as the Toronto Star editorial notes, along with lower speed limits on our roads, one of the most important things that a municipality can do for the safety of its pedestrians is to design our roads and transportation systems in such a way as to prioritize safety.  Road design elements play a considerable part in road safety – and yet, it’s one which has largely been ignored in Greater Sudbury and in most North American cities.  When it comes to road design, we have for too long sacrificed safety for speed. 

The result in our municipality has been a mounting toll of injury and death, depicted vividly on the Sudbury Pedestrian Collision Map

Pedestrian safety has been compromised as a result of a series of small, discrete decisions made over time, which have led to roads becoming wider, and made available for traffic travelling at ever-increasing speeds.  We’ve done this to ourselves, in the fight against congestion.  To save ourselves a few minutes in our daily commute, we’ve made our City less livable – and less safe – for all road users.

Let’s be clear about this.  The Draft Transportation Master Plan continues this trend.

Yes, there is a new section on pedestrian safety, along with a section of the plan that calls on the creation of complete streets.  Cycling infrastructure, which tends to have a calming effect on traffic, has also been identified along some of the City’s major corridors.  A Transportation Demand Management Plan and a Transit Plan are called for in the DTMP.  Together, these measures should lead to positive impacts for pedestrians in the City.

But it’s not enough.  As long as we continue to build high-volume new roads, and expand existing roads by adding new lanes or just by widening existing lanes, the war on pedestrians in our City will continue.  And that’s the vision for Greater Sudbury contained in the DTMP – from now until 2031.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  In fact, it shouldn’t be this way.  The new roads which the DTMP calls for are not needed to meet long term planning objectives.  As you know, the DTMP was prepared with the use of historic data from the earlier 2005 Transportation Background Plan.  The DTMP is built on the assumption that growth will occur in our City. 

The 2013 Hemson Consulting Plan indicated that the City can expect growth of just 10,500 people up until the year 2036.  With such modest growth projected, what need is there for all of the road projects identified in the DTMP – especially those which are not addressing a current issue of congestion?

Driving around in our City is pretty easy.  I drive almost every day.  I understand that there are some times of the day in which traffic may be heavier, and those driving are faced with minor inconveniences and hold-ups.  However, compared to “rush hours” in other Ontario cities, Greater Sudbury’s rush hour is pretty tame.  Even cities with smaller populations than ours, like Barrie, experience more congestion during their rush hour.

The Ontario Ministry of Finance has projected that Greater Sudbury will grow only by about 500 people between 2016 and 2041.  While any growth forecast is subject to revision as a result of changing socio-economic conditions, planning for the future ought to be carried out in a manner which is sustainable.  That includes the use of current data and an analysis of existing trends.  Not only is our City’s population growth expected to be modest to almost non-existent over the next 20 to 25 years, but the majority of that growth is almost entirely expected to be among those who are seniors.

Seniors tend to have a different set of transportation needs than other demographic groups.  They tend to own fewer cars, and are more likely to use alternative modes of transportation (walking, mobility devices,  transit) for their transportation needs.

Seniors are also far more likely to be killed when they are pedestrians – more than any other age cohort.

The City of Greater Sudbury needs to begin planning for the future that we are likely to have, and not on some unsupported aspirational future.  Sustainability rather than unsubstantiated hopes for growth must form the bedrock of all decisions.  Positive outcomes will ensue, including lower costs to municipal taxpayers by not having to fund expensive future retrofits, or just by saving money on projects which are not needed for the long-term health and welfare of citizens and businesses.

If there is no demonstrable need for a project, it ought not to be funded.  Where need dictates that a project should go forward, it should do so in a way which has regard to socio-economic, natural and cultural environments, while striving to be cost-effective for taxpayers.

If the Draft Transportation Master Plan had been prepared with the above in mind, I believe it would have prioritized the needs of moving people around our city over that of moving cars.  But the Plan we have fails – considerably – when it comes to moving people.  Background work into Greater Sudbury’s Sustainable Mobility Master Plan in 2011 revealed that fully one third of Greater Sudburians did not have access to a personal vehicle in order to get around our City.  Global trends suggest that Greater Sudbury isn’t unique, and that we can expect an ever-growing number of our inhabitants to find themselves lacking access to motor vehicles – especially as we become a more elderly city.

If approved by Council, the DTMP will form the backbone for transportation decisions made for at least the next 10 years – and likely will not be replaced by a new plan for as many as 15 years.  That’s why it’s so important for the City to end up with a Plan which serves our current and future needs.  The decision you are being asked to make with regards to the latest draft of the Transportation Master Plan on Tuesday, December 13, 2016 will be an important one – one which will, for many practical purposes, bind current and future councils and direct that growth and development in our City occur in a certain way – one which prioritizes the movement of cars over the movement of people.

With all sincerity, I ask that Council postpone making a decision on the DTMP.  This isn’t the plan that’s going to help put Greater Sudbury on a course towards sustainability.  It’s not the plan that is going to lead to a reduction in the carnage that occurs daily on our streets.  This isn’t the plan that a City whose only growing demographic cohort is aged 65 and up needs to be safe going forward into the future.

As Council members, I urge you to listen to the many voices you are hearing from the public who are calling for changes to the DTMP.  I understand that you are being pulled in a direction to finally make a decision one way or another on this plan – a plan which has been in preparation for years.  Residents who have spoken up and who continue to speak up have the interests of our communities at heart, and they, like me, recognize that this plan is deficient.

There are a number of practical steps which can still be incorporated into the Plan even at this late date which will lead to better outcomes for all road users.  With that in mind, I ask that Council direct Staff to:
  • Undertake a review of the DTMP’s modelling, based on the use of current data and recent population projections, in order to determine priority needs.  
  • Develop a priority listing for new roads projects, based on existing and planned circumstances.  Such a list may lead to the removal of many of the new roads / widened roads that appear on the DTMP’s schedules (examples: widening MR 80 to 6 lanes; extending Montrose south into the Ponderossa; removal of the 2nd access for Laurentian University; removal of reference to the Barrydowne Extension).   
  • Reducing road lane widths to 3.2 metres so that additional space for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure can be found in right-of-ways, and to increase safety (wider lanes lead to faster moving traffic and more collisions).   
  • Direction to reduce posted speed limits on our streets.    
  • Prioritize safe, separated cycling infrastructure on our main streets as short term projects in order to create a minimum grid for cyclists as recommended by Ontario Traffic Manual Book 18 (example: Paris, Notre Dame, Lorne, Regent, Elm, Barrydowne, Lasalle and the Kingsway).  
  • The use of design elements, such as pedestrian safety islands, square curb cuts at intersections, road diets, to increase safety and slow down fast-moving vehicular traffic.

If Council is reluctant to direct Staff to revisit the Plan at this time, as a fall-back option, I urge Council to consider approving the Plan only if the City pursues the “Do Nothing” option contained in the Plan, rather than the “Sustainable” option recommended by Staff.  The Do Nothing approach will at least have the benefit of providing a blank slate for new road projects, and could form the impetus for undertaking a new Transportation Master Plan founded on the principles of sustainability rather than unjustifiable growth.

I understand that these comments may seem harsh.  I understand that they may appear to be informed by an ideology to which you and your colleagues do not subscribe – sustainability and the use of data in preference to aspirational and – in the case of Greater Sudbury – largely unjustifiable growth.  The truth is that we’re probably not as far apart as we might seem.  I understand that you have the best interests of the community in mind when making decisions – as you will with any decision pertaining to the DTMP.  I know that this Plan has been ongoing and outstanding for years, and I share your desire to move forward with it.

And yet this Plan remains seriously deficient.  I think that we share similar concerns about whether any or all of the new road projects it depicts will ever be implemented – especially since many of these same projects have been on the books since at least 2005.  I understand that you may be wondering what harm there is in approving a plan that includes road projects which may never be built – or that will be built only when the stars align, as they did recently for a part of the Maley Drive Extension.

I understand these concerns, but I am here to tell you that it does matter – that planning for the future in a sustainable way is important – not just for our City’s built form, but for the City’s bottom line.  And it’s important for those who will one day live here as seniors – a demographic cohort that I aspire to join one day here in Greater Sudbury.

Our future is in your hands.  Please, let’s take the time to get this right.

Sincerely,
Steve May

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with positions and policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Letter to the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Re: Overall Benefit Permits to Destroy Species at Risk Habitat in the Proposed Maley Drive Extension Corridor

The following is a copy of a letter submitted to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in response to a posting on the Environmental Registry for comments on ER number 012-8874 - the issuance of overall benefit permits for the destruction of species at risk habitat in the proposed corridor of the Maley Drive Extension in the City of Greater Sudbury.

I've written extensively about the Maley Drive Extension proposal in the past.  My latest blogposts on the matter are: "Ontario's Environmental Assessment Process is Failing Species at Risk in Sudbury," April 26, 2016, and "Sudbury's Male Drive: A Case Study in the Erosion of Species at Risk Protection in Ontario," April 8, 2016.  Both provide some background of where the Maley Drive matter is currently at with regards to all three levels of government which have expressed an interest in building this new road - right through the habitat of two threatened species, whipporwill and Blanding's turtle, in absence of an Environmental Assessment which assessed impacts and alternatives.

You read that correctly: No Environmental Assessment has ever been undertaken which looked at alternatives to the route selected for this new road.

Here's my letter:

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Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the matter of the issuance of overall benefit permits related to the proposed Maley Drive Extension in the City of Greater Sudbury.  

The Environmental Assessment prepared to support the proposed Maley Drive extension was undertaken by the City of Greater Sudbury in the mid-1990s, and finalized in 1995 (the “Maley Drive Extension Class Environmental Assessment” prepared by Marshall Macklin Monaghan for the Region of Sudbury, dated October, 1995).  The 1995 Class Environmental Assessment was the last time at which input on the Maley Drive proposal was specifically sought of the public at large.
In 2008, an Addendum to the 1995 Class Environmental Assessment was completed, after the terms of reference for the project were altered somewhat (the “Maley Drive Extension / Lasalle Boulevard Widening Municipal Class EA Addendum” prepared by Earth Tech (Canada) Inc. for the City of Greater Sudbury, dated May 15, 2008).  The Addendum was prepared with limited public consultation.  It was also prepared in an environment which did not question the underlying socio-economic assumptions of the 1995 Class EA.

Neither the 1995 Class EA or the 2008 Addendum identified the presence of habitat of species at risk. 

This is astonishing, given that the one of the purposes of a Class EA is to provide an opportunity for the public to provide input to a project based on a baseline understanding of physical and socio-economic features.  The project is then informed by these public comments, and alternatives are assessed against a number of criteria.  In this case, the alternative choice to address the identified transportation issue became the proposed Maley Drive Extension – the creation of a new road to run between Lasalle Blvd. in the west and Barrydowne Road in the east.  As it turns out, this new road was planned to run directly through the habitat of two species at risk – whipporwill and Blanding’s turtle.

It has been only after the announcement of provincial and federal funding for the Maley Drive Extension project that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is considering the issuance of overall benefit permits to allow the destruction of species at risk habitat within the proposed Maley Drive Extension corridor.  This assessment ought to have occurred a long time ago – during the Class Environmental Assessment process.  However, for whatever reason, that did not happen.

Rather than the province compelling the City of Greater Sudbury to return to and review the 1995 Class EA to consider alternatives for the transportation issue identified at that time (and indeed to determine whether the underlying socio-economic assumptions about growth made more than two decades ago are still relevant today), the province instead opted to consider the City’s request for the use of overall benefit permits.  I understand that we can’t turn back the hands of time – but I did want to identify here that it appears that the provincial processes which might have led to sustainable outcomes for species at risk through the preservation of natural habitat have never been explored in the context of the Maley Drive Extension project.

With that in mind, I would like to remind the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry that one of the requirements for receipt of an overall benefit permit is that, “reasonable alternatives have been considered, including alternatives that would not adversely affect the species, and the best alternative has been chosen.” (see: source: “Species at risk overall benefit permits,” the Province of Ontario: https://www.ontario.ca/page/species-risk-overall-benefit-permits). 

With regards to “reasonable alternatives” for projects, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry documentation goes on to indicate (with my emphasis added in bold):

Requirement: consider reasonable alternatives
You will need to show the Ministry of Natural Resources that you have considered reasonable alternatives to your activity.
Alternative approaches to your activity include:
·         changing the location of the activity
·         using alternative methods, equipment or technical designs
·         changing the timing of the activity to avoid times when the species is there or is most sensitive to disturbance
·         changing the geographic scale, duration and/or frequency of the potential adverse effects
·         adding or changing approaches and timing of site restoration or rehabilitation after the activity is done
When considering reasonable alternatives to your activity, you must:
·         consider at least one alternative that would completely avoid any adverse effects on species at risk
·         identify alternatives that you considered but did not think were reasonable because of biological, technical, social or economic limitations
·         explain why the approach you have chosen is the best alternative” (source: “Species at risk overall benefit permits,” the Province of Ontario: https://www.ontario.ca/page/species-risk-overall-benefit-permits)

It is here worth repeating: at no time have any reasonable alternatives to the physical location of the proposed Maley Drive Extension through the habitat of species at risk ever been considered by any level of government.  The vehicle for providing that level of assessment – the Class Environmental Assessment – failed to identify the presence of species at risk habitat, and even the Addendum prepared over a decade later failed to identify the presence of the habitat.  At no time has the City of Greater Sudbury, the Province of Ontario, or even the Government of Canada ever considered alternatives to the proposed route.  However, all three levels of government have committed funding to this project.

Without appropriate consideration given to alternatives, it is premature to conclude that the best interests of the species in question is served through the issuance of an overall benefit permit and the re-creation of species habitat in other locations.  Habitat re-creation would not be necessary had the (former Region of Sudbury’s and the City of Greater Sudbury’s) class environmental assessments identified the species at risk habitat in the first place. 

I respectfully request the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to decline the issuance of overall benefit permits at this time, and reserve for itself the opportunity to issue permits at some point in the future – at a time when alternatives to the traffic issue identified in 1995 (if still relevant based on current socio-economic assumptions) been assessed through a public process.  In short, the City of Greater Sudbury should be directed to undertake a new Class Environmental Assessment based on current data, which looks at appropriate resolutions to any specific traffic issue identified. 
It may be that the City, with a complete data set and through a public process, arrives back at a point where the preferred solution requires the construction of a roadway through the habitat of species at risk.  In that case, at least the Minister can have some assurance that alternatives to this outcome have at least been considered and discarded.  That’s clearly not the case with regards to the request for overall benefit permits that the Minister is tasked with evaluating today.


Thank you again for the opportunity to provide these comments.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Let's Make the Regent Street Crossing at Junction Creek Safe for Pedestrians

The following is a letter to Greater Sudbury's Operations Committee regarding a request for a decision on pedestrian traffic signals requested by two community organizations and Greater Sudbury utilities, for a location on Regent Street, midway between intersections at Ontario Street and McLeod/Hyland streets.

A copy of the City of Greater Sudbury's Manager's Report to the Operations Committee is available here.

Sudbury Moves has an excellent time-lapse video which shows people (most of whom appear to be employees of Greater Sudbury Utilities) using this crossing one winter morning.  It's available here.

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December 3, 2016

To: Members of Greater Sudbury's Operations Committee

Re: Request for Decision – Pedestrian Traffic Signal Request – Regent Street at Junction Creek Crossing

I am writing to you today with regards to an item appearing on your Committee's agenda pertaining to a request for a pedestrian traffic signal on Regent Street, near the location where Regent Street traverses over Junction Creek. According to the Staff Report in front of you today in support of the Draft Resolution, this request for a signalized pedestrian crossing comes from Rainbow Routes Association, Connect the Creek Partnership, and Greater Sudbury Utilities (GSU).


I sincerely hope that you will take a moment prior to any vote at today's Committee meeting to consider these comments.

Disconnect Between Request and Resolution

While the City appears to have been approached by local trail organizations and the GSU to consider a pedestrian crossing, there appears to be considerable disconnect between what was requested of the City and the City's proposed response to that request. It is apparent that concerns were raised with the City by the trail organizations and GSU with regards to the safety of pedestrians and cyclists with crossing Regent Street at this location. After what appears to have been several years worth of consideration since the original submission, the City's proposed solution to this safety issue appears to be one which does absolutely nothing to make the current situation safer for users of the Junction Creek trail or GSU employees.

Posting signs urging pedestrians to travel more than 400 metres out of their way just to cross the road is not a safe – or sensible – solution to a matter of health and safety. These signs will do little or nothing to change pedestrian behaviour in this location. As the Staff Report points out in a different context, pedestrians “do not go out of their way to use traffic signals to cross the road.” With this in mind, there seems to be a significant disconnect between the City's solution (posting signs to advise pedestrians to use traffic signals located about 200 metres away to cross the street) and the observed and expected behaviour of pedestrians who desire to simply cross the street in this location.

Even after the installation of signs in this location, we can expect pedestrians to continue to cross the road here – to get to work, and to continue their journey along the trail. With this in mind, wouldn't it make more sense to find a solution to the on-going safety issue which is likely to lead to a situation of greater safety?

Public Input

While the Staff Report does not indicate when the request for a crossing was submitted to the City, it can be surmised that it was at some point prior to June 10, 2014 – the date that the City conducted a pedestrian and cyclist count at this location. That means that the City has had this request before it for a period of approximately two and a half years, if not more. It appears that during the past two and a half years, the City has not attempted to engage the public in any way, shape or form with regards to this request for a crossing. If opportunities were made to engage the public, it may be that I missed them – but I find it unlikely that there would be no reference to public engagement in the Staff Report had it occurred.

I find the lack of public engagement troubling. Why did the City choose not to consult with the very people who would be impacted by this decision – specifically, those who are currently crossing Regent Street to access the trail, or to simply get to work every day? It may have been that, after engaging with the public, alternative solutions to a signalized crossing might have been proposed, and a consensus on a finding a safe way forward might have resulted.

Further, had the City actively sought the input of the public on this matter prior to the preparation of its Staff Report, I doubt very much that I would be writing this letter to you, alerted to this issue as I was by a media article about the Staff Report. I regret this last minute submission, however this matter has only came to my attention on Friday, December 2nd.

Warrants

Pedestrian counts in unsignalized locations are always going to be impacted by the fact that pedestrians are choosing not to use facilities like the trail in this location because of the perceived unsafe crossing. For example, I am a user of the Junction Creek trail in and around this location, yet I refrain as best as I can from using the portion of the trail between Riverside Drive and MacLeod Street because of the unsafe crossing across Regent Street. While I might be able to dodge vehicles in a manner similar to what GSU employees appear to have to go through every day just to get to work, when I have my three small children in tow, crossing Regent at the trail simply isn't an option. That means that my family and I are deprived of the joy of using the trail, and are forced to walk along busy streets which are less friendly environments for children – and indeed for all pedestrians.

If there were a way to cross Regent Street more safely at this location, I suspect that there would be more people crossing the street. While I understand the provisions of OTM Books 12 and 15 are being followed here, it is hard to imagine that more people wouldn't cross the road if they could do so safely. Therefore denying the creation of a safe crossing point because not enough people are using the crossing out of concerns related to safety seems to be, to say the least, perverse.

Connecting the Trail

Not only is the trail in this location a part of the Junction Creek Waterway Part – it's also a part of the Trans Canada Trail – a trail that stretches across the entirety of our nation. Increasingly, trails like the Trans Canada trail are attracting tourists to communities which are lucky enough to be located along the trails. It has been an on-going goal for the past several decades to connect various sections of the Trans Canada Trail so that trail users are exposed to a minimum of interactions with motorized vehicular traffic. Not only does segregating trail user from motorized traffic lead to a safer circumstance for trail users, it leads to a more pleasant trail experience – one more likely to be replicated by others.

Posting signs that encourage pedestrians to cross the street at signalized intersections 200 metres away from the trail is not at all in keeping with a desire to connect the trail – and indeed, it appears that the City will be going out of its way to make life more difficult for trail users.

Further, while it will always be that cyclists will have the option to use either the Junction Creek Trail or a signed bicycle route along McLeod-Hyland and Wellington Heights as a detour around this section of the trail – I think one has to ask themselves whether creating a signed bike route for the express purpose of detouring around an unsafe trail connection (the Regent Street crossing) is working at cross-purposes to promoting the trail as a safe and healthy transportation route for cyclists? If a safe way to cross Regent Street at the trail were proposed, there would be no need for this detour (although it may be that there remains a separate need for cycling facilities along McLeod-Hyland)

Motorized Vehicular Traffic

I understand that there are concerns with regards to the potential for northbound traffic to back-up into the Regent/McLeod-Hyland intersection because pedestrians are utilizing a signalized crossing to safely traverse the street at some point mid-way between McLeod-Hyland and Ontario Street. The Staff Report rightly points out that it is illegal for motorists to block an intersection. Speaking as a motorist, I believe that we can rely on motorists to follow the rules of the road in a majority of situations that they find themselves in. This includes not entering an intersection when there is no possibility to clear the intersection prior to the light turning. That there will be some motorists who, for whatever reason, choose not to follow the rules of the road, is not a rationale to refuse to install facilities for pedestrians to use to safely cross the road.

For consideration, the City recently installed a pedestrian crossover on Brady Street at the Shaughnessy Street intersection. Brady Street is classified as a Primary Arterial in the City's Official Plan (while Regent Street in the location of Junction Creek is classified as a Secondary Arterial), and as such, we can expect that traffic volumes along Brady are some of the highest in the City. The intersection of Brady/Shaugnessy is less than 100 metres west of the Brady/Paris Street intersection, arguably one of Greater Sudbury's highest volume intersections. It's also less than 100 metres from the Brady/Lisgar intersection. If the City were really concerned about the behaviour of motorists blocking intersections as a rationale for refusing to install safe crossings for pedestrians, it is highly unlikely that the City would have ever installed a pedestrian crossover at this location on Brady Street, no matter whether it was warranted.

Alternatives to Request

Public consultation might have revealed that there may be alternative design elements which could be built into a safe pedestrian crossing at this location. Design elements such as a crossover with a pedestrian island refuge mid-street would lessen concerns about traffic backing up through intersections, as motorists must only wait for pedestrians to clear the crossover between the sidewalk and the island, rather than to clear the crossover in its entirety (which would take twice as long if traversing an equal number of lanes, which is the case on Regent Street). Yes, there would have been an additional cost to install an island in this location, but at the very least, the City should have explored this option (and likely other options) with those directly impacted by the request for a safe crossing.

My Request To Operations Committee

My request to Operations Committee is to put this matter on hold, and direct Staff through Council to engage with trail users, GSU employees and the public at large, on a way forward to create a safe crossing for pedestrians who are, and will continue to, cross Regent Street at the location. Public engagement may reveal sensible alternatives which address the safety needs of pedestrians along with any perceived issues which may affect motorists in this location.

Please keep in mind that pedestrians will continue to cross here without a signalized crossing, putting their lives at risk just to follow a trail or to get to and from work. It is unreasonable to believe that pedestrians will detour the distance of four football fields to arrive at a point directly in front of where they started, just tens of metres away. It's not happening now (although some, like me, are avoiding this area all together), and it won't happen in the future.

Let's acknowledge this issue and resolve it in a way that leads to a positive community building outcome. Let's make sure that people have a safe way to get across the street at this crossing.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

With Trump, It's Time to Talk Carbon Tariffs

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” – Donald Trump, November 2012.

The election of Republican Party nominee Donald Trump to the office of President of the United States of America means that there will be dark days ahead for those concerned about the climate crisis. Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax”(see:“Yes, Donald Trump did call climate change a Chinese hoax,” Politifact, June 3, 2016). , campaigned on tearing up the 2015 international Paris climate treaty (see:“Donald Trump promises to rip up Paris climate agreement in energy speech,” MSNBC, May 26, 2016) , and expanding U.S. energy production from the very dirtiest form of carbon energy – coal (see: “Donald Trump, in Pittsburgh, pledges to boost coal and gas,” the New York Times, September 22, 2016).

The chances of a Trump administration putting a price on carbon pollution are somewhere between zero and when hell freezes over.

Trump is already in the process of disassembling out-going President Barack Obama’s meagre climate change initiatives.  The Keystone XL pipeline is being resurrected from the dead (see: “Donald Trump Victory Breathes New Life Into Keystone XL Pipeline,” the Huffington Post, November 9, 2016), and cries of “Drill, Baby, Drill!” are emanating from his transition team as they talk of opening more federal lands and oceans to fossil development (see:“Trump advisor promises a return to ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’,” ThinkProgress, November 15, 2016).

If the writing wasn’t already on the wall throughout Trump’s junk-science fueled election campaign, the appointment of well-known climate change denier Myron Ebell to head the Environmental Protection Agency transition team was like erecting a 10-storey high billboard telling the fossil fuel industry to let the good times roll (see: .“Myron Ebell, the Climate Contrarian Now Plotting the EPA’s Precarious Future,”  InsideClimateNews, November 16, 2016). 

Over in Marrakech, Morocco, at the COP22 climate conference, delegates from around the world are shell shocked.  They’re putting on a brave face, pretending that it’s still business as usual (see: “Climate skeptic Trump makes environmentalists at Morocco meeting sweat,” USA Today, November 10, 2016).  Ultimately,  the international community will have to confront the U.S. as a rogue state – and international leaders like Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had best start turning their attention towards that.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is already thinking ahead.  Earlier this week, Sarkozy said that Europe ought to consider placing carbon tariffs on U.S. imports if Trump refuses to put a domestic price on carbon pollution.  Talk of tariffs is only going to increase as more regions and nations price carbon – while Trump calls for more protectionist trade policies, and for tearing up trade deals like NAFTA (see: “Trump vows to ‘rip up’ all trade agreements,” The Hill, March 3, 2016).

Not that it will likely matter to Donald Trump, but the World Trade Organization has already given a nod towards legitimizing carbon tariffs to protect business exposed industries that are subject to domestic carbon prices (see: “WTO and Border Adjustment Laser Talk,” Citizens Climate Lobby, undated).  While the federal Liberals haven’t yet released the specifics of their climate change plan, the plan will almost certainly have to include carbon tariffs that will level the field for goods crossing the Canadian border nations that refuse to price pollution.  

A national carbon tariff would also benefit provinces like Ontario, which is rolling out a Cap and Trade scheme in 2017. One of the big criticisms of Ontario’s Cap and Trade initiative is that many of the province’s biggest polluters won’t have to pay into it for several years, due to being deemed ‘trade exposed’(see:“The climate plan and you,” Dr. David Robinson, Northern Ontario Business, July 4, 2016).  The freebie allowances they’ll be receiving from the government will depress the market, and may render the whole initiative ineffective. Premier Kathleen Wynne has been intending on using Cap and Trade revenues to fund a myriad of climate initiatives. With a national carbon tariff in place protecting trade exposed industries, it may be that Ontario can quit handing out permits to pollute. That’ll be better for both the environment and the government’s bottom line.


Carbon markets are popping up everywhere.  China, long deemed a climate enemy thanks to its reliance on coal to power economic growth, has committed to opening the world’s largest carbon trading market next year (see: “China Will Start the World’s Largest Trading Market,” Scientific American, May 16, 2016). In a world turned upside down, it was China that emphatically told President-Elect Trump that he would be defying the wishes of the entire planet if the U.S. opted out of the Paris agreement (see:“China warns Trump against abandoning climate change deal,” the Financial Times, November 11, 2016).

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

Originally published in the Sudbury Star as, "With Trump in, it's time to talk carbon tariffs," in print and online as, "Sudbury Column: Time to talk carbon tariffs vs. U.S.," November 19, 2016, without hyperlinks.