Pembina Institute: The oilsands in a carbon-constrained Canada

The collision course between overall emissions and national climate commitments

The oil and gas industry has made big contributions to Canadian society: providing jobs, technology and research excellence, while warming homes, fuelling cars and powering our electricity grids. Today, the oil and gas sector is facing unprecedented pressures. While dramatic fluctuations in the price of energy commodities are not new, increasing automation, adoption of new disruptive technologies, shifting market demands, and climate commitments are reshaping the future of this sector. Business-as-usual no longer applies — significant changes are necessary.

In a continuing effort to depolarize the conversation, this report seeks to help establish a basic, commonly agreed-upon set of facts about Alberta’s oilsands, their emissions performance and trajectories, and what Canada’s commitment to achieve deep decarbonization will mean for the sector.

Download the full report, or read the Executive Summary below.

Executive summary

Alberta’s oilsands are at a crossroads.

The oil and gas industry has made big contributions to Canadian society: providing jobs, technology and research excellence, while warming homes, fuelling cars and powering our electricity grids. Today, the oil and gas sector is facing unprecedented pressures. While dramatic fluctuations in the price of energy commodities are not new, increasing automation, adoption of new disruptive technologies, shifting market demands, and climate commitments are reshaping the future of this sector. Business-as-usual no longer applies — significant changes are necessary.

In a continuing effort to depolarize the conversation, this report seeks to help establish a basic, commonly agreed-upon set of facts about Alberta’s oilsands, their emissions performance and trajectories, and what Canada’s commitment to achieve deep decarbonization will mean for the sector.

Key points:

  • Carbon emissions from the oilsands sector are the fastest-growing source of emissions in Canada. This continuing upward trajectory not only reduces the country’s ability to meet its 2030 reduction commitments, but is on a clear collision course with Canada’s plan to become carbon-neutral by 2050. (Figure 1.)
Graph: Share of the oilsands emissions in national carbon budget to meet Canada’s 2030 targetFigure 1. Share of the oilsands emissions in national carbon budget to meet Canada’s 2030 target

  • Oilsands products are not homogeneous and there is a wide range in performance when it comes to carbon emissions intensity. As a result of variations in bitumen quality and extraction technologies, the range between the highest and lowest upstream emissions intensity per barrel is nearly threefold.
  • The oilsands industry has worked toward decreasing the emissions intensity of its products in the past decades. Continuous improvements have reduced the carbon intensity of specific oilsands products, ranging from a 4% to 21% reduction since 2009.
  • Despite these improvements in carbon intensity, absolute carbon emissions from the oilsands continue to increase overall, as growth in production outpaces gains from reductions in per-barrel intensity.
  • Studies reviewed for this report consistently find oilsands products to be more carbon intensive than lighter, conventional oil sources. Recognizing limitations of emissions intensity research and the challenge of comparing studies, the best estimate currently available suggests a barrel of oil produced in Canada is associated on average with 70% more GHG emissions than the average crude produced globally.
  • Acknowledging oil demand will not disappear overnight, most outlooks predict demand will plateau or decline within the next decade. Subsequent global shifts toward lower-intensity energy options are likely to put more carbon-intense crudes — such as the bulk of oilsands products — at risk over the next decade.
  • The rapid development and deployment of breakthrough technologies — as opposed to incremental improvements — is needed for the sector to decrease its absolute carbon emissions in line with our climate commitments, and to remain competitive as global energy systems change.

Recognizing the improvements that the oilsands industry has made to date and the commitments leading companies have announced to achieve ambitious targets in the future, there is still a need for the sector to embrace its responsibility to reduce overall carbon emissions in accordance with Canada’s 2030 and 2050 targets.

The Pembina Institute calls for both the Alberta and federal government to recognize the willingness of leading companies to adopt aggressive decarbonization targets, as well as mounting investor pressure to decarbonize the sector, and implement policies that will drive toward carbon-neutral — or even carbon-negative — oilsands production.

It’s time to have a national conversation about how to reconcile oilsands emissions with Canada’s goal to decarbonize its economy by 2050. The intention of this report, carefully and explicitly supported by available evidence and research, is to further fact-based dialogue, as we all embark on this tough, but necessary Canadian conversation.

Recommendations to improve oilsands climate performance

1. Establish strong regulations to decarbonize the industry

Intentional effort is required to encourage a shift toward low- and zero-carbon production, by creating strong incentives for the development and deployment of breakthrough innovation. Recognizing the willingness of leading companies to adopt aggressive decarbonization targets, as well as mounting investor pressure to decarbonize the sector, governments need to implement policies that will drive carbon-neutral — or even carbon-negative — oilsands production.

2. Define and enforce sector emissions targets for 2030 and 2050, with five-year increments

Meeting our 2030 and 2050 climate targets will require all sectors of our economy — and all Canadians — to do their fair share to contribute to the global effort of limiting the average temperature increase to 1.5°C. Decreasing GHG emissions reduction targets need to be set for the oil and gas sector, in five-year increments that would allow Canada to meet its 2030 national objective and its pledge to become a net-zero carbon emitter by 2050.

3. Support an innovation ecosystem to deliver breakthrough technologies

A robust ecosystem to support innovation, research and development, needs to be funded and fostered so it can deploy solutions aimed at delivering breakthrough reductions — beyond incremental improvements — in emissions of current oilsands projects, as well as non-combustion uses of Alberta’s oil and gas resources.

4. Improve emissions monitoring and reporting

Existing measurement, monitoring and reporting processes for oilsands emissions must be reviewed, strengthened and standardized in order to produce coherent data and enhance the transparency of the sector. As well, further analysis looking at existing and upcoming technology pathways is required to better situate oilsands products’ carbon intensity on the global supply curve.

5. Appoint credible and effective energy regulators

Effective energy regulators are needed both provincially and federally. They must be transparent and independent, with the ability to incorporate robust environmental and climate considerations into their decision-making, while having both the mandate to enforce regulations and the capacity to follow through on that enforcement. SOURCE

Ford’s Ontario pushes nuclear energy as part of its climate change fight

Progessive Conservative MPP Lindsey Park (centre) poses with the president of Women in Nuclear Canada, Lisa McBride (left), and Matthew Mairinger, the Canadian Affairs Chair at the North American Young Generation in Nuclear on March 5, 2020.

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government will count nuclear power, including technology that’s at least 10 years from deployment, as a clean energy answer to tackle climate change.

The latest move to push forward the Ontario government’s nuclear agenda comes in the form of a motion introduced on Thursday by the PC MPP for Durham, Lindsey Park, whose riding includes the Darlington nuclear plant that is in the early stages of a major refurbishment expected to cost $12.8 billion.

It reads: “That, in the opinion of this House, the Government of Ontario should include nuclear energy and the development of Small Modular Reactors as a clean energy option in its environment, climate change and clean energy planning and policies.”

The motion, which was debated and then passed by the PC-controlled legislature on Thursday, comes after the premiers of Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick agreed in December to work together to push forward the development of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs).

Saskatchewan is a major miner of uranium, producing around 20 percent of world supply, while New Brunswick is home to Canada’s only nuclear plant for electricity generation outside of Ontario.

But critics fear the Doug Ford government will be diverting funds that would be better served by focusing on proven and affordable clean technologies that don’t have the risk of catastrophic accidents and unanswered questions about long-term storage of radioactive waste hanging over them.

“We have a climate crisis right now, we can’t wait ten more years for some solution that may or may not be delivered,” said Mike Schreiner, MPP for Guelph and leader of the Green Party of Ontario. “We have solutions right now that are cheaper and cleaner and this government is literally ripping them out of the ground.”

The Ford government has cancelled more than 700 wind, solar and other clean energy projects, including two wind farms that were mid-construction. It has also dismantled the cap-and-trade system that put a provincial price on pollution and funded a range of green initiatives, and is taking its fight against the federal carbon price to the Supreme Court.

SMR technology is currently at an early stage of research and development. It is expected to make extensive use of factory-built modules that can be transported by truck and incorporate inherent safety features allowing them to be run without a high degree of technical supervision. Such modules would typically have a capacity of less than 300 megawatts, or between 10 and 20 times less than Ontario’s three existing reactors.

An illustration showcasing a Rolls Royce reactor module, one of the many SMR designs currently being developed, on a truck. Many such modular reactors are designed to be small enough to transport by truck or shipping container. (Rolls Royce)

The Ford government is pushing SMRs as a possible replacement energy source for some industry and for remote First Nation communities and other rural locations that currently rely on diesel generators. They also say other provinces are interested in using the technology to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Doug Ford wants to fight climate change with nuclear power, including tech at least ten years from deployment. Critics say he’s ignoring proven, cheap clean tech that doesn’t risk catastrophic accidents or raise questions about radioactive waste.

Dianne Saxe, the former provincial environmental commissioner whose role was done away with by Ford, said the motion risked diverting money that would otherwise go to proven green options.

“If what they mean is they are going to spend heavily on building new nuclear, then I’m really concerned that it is going to drain money away from what we already know is clean and works, which is wind and solar and biomass and small hydro and storage,” she said. “That’s where most of our money should be going and if they’re diverting money away from that it’s a bad idea.”

She argued that while all sources of energy have drawbacks, none but nuclear have consequences “that create a mortal danger to every generation after us for a hundred thousand years.”

Ontario currently gets around 60 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power. Along with the Darlington refurbishment, it is also spending $13 billion to refurbish six of the eight reactors at the Bruce nuclear plant on Lake Huron. Both of those refurbishments were approved by the previous Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne, while the Ford government is looking to further expand the life of the aging Pickering plant until 2025.

Park said in an interview that Ontario needed to embrace more nuclear in an electricity supply mix that also should include wind, solar, hydro, and even natural gas

“I don’t think you can be an environmentalist serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 without supporting nuclear energy as part of the supply mix,” she said.

But the Ford’s government actions in dismantling of green energy, abandoning a wide range of energy efficiency programs and rebuffing an offer from Quebec to provide it with a long-term supply of cheap hydroelectric power, mean that gas-fired generation will largely fill the void left by nuclear refurbishments and lead to a tripling of emissions from the province’s electricity sector in the next decade.

The nuclear industry cheered the motion, saying that it would provide clarity to investors and other potential partners, and said it would mean nuclear projects would be eligible for government programs targeted to clean technology.

“The recognition that nuclear is clean sends a clear message that the government sees nuclear as part of its climate change plan and that provides confidence to investors and other possible partners,” said Erin Polka, a spokesperson for the Canadian Nuclear Association. “Companies might not undertake a project if it’s ambiguous whether the project would be eligible for support as clean energy. Why go to all the trouble of planning and applying just to learn you don’t qualify? Clarity is good.”

Park told National Observer that SMRs present Ontario with an opportunity to show leadership: “We’re at a critical time in history and also in the province of Ontario where we have this new technology for nuclear that is on the horizon and we have other provinces in Canada telling us they are waiting on us to take the lead,” she said, referring specifically to Saskatchewan.

“They are waiting on us to do the prototype and so if that’s successful that is something they could implement in their province to replace coal,” she said.

Saskatchewan currently gets almost half of its electricity from coal and another third from natural gas, according to the Canada Energy Regulator.

In response to that idea, the Green Party’s Schreiner said that “Saskatchewan can wean itself off coal right now with lower cost wind and solar solutions.”

He said that nuclear currently cost around 9c per kilowatt-hour (kWh) and could rise to 15c/kWh with the Darlington refurbishment while the cheapest estimate he had heard for small modular nuclear was 16c/kWh. The Nation Rise wind farm the Ford government cancelled was selling power at 7c/kWh. He noted that wind and solar contracts recently signed in Alberta were even cheaper.

The federal Liberal government is not necessary opposed to SMRs, saying the country is well positioned to capture a share of the emerging global market it estimated would be worth some $150 billion per year by 2040. It is currently reviewing the 50 recommendations of the Canadian Small Modular Reactor Roadmap in areas including waste management, regulatory readiness and international engagement. SOURCE

Doug Ford faces a delicate dance with climate policy

Clockwise from top left: Ontario Premier Doug Ford visits a flooded area, Ford addresses crowds after his election victory, Environment Minister Jeff Yurek at Queen’s Park and Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford at a pro-pipeline rally in Calgary

Ontario Premier Doug Ford rose to power with folksy charm and strident rejection of serious climate policy.

His popularity has plummeted in the 19 months since then, as he ripped up the province’s existing plan and failed to meaningfully replace it. Meanwhile, climate credibility grows more and more crucial to Canadian political success.

As the new year begins, the Ford government now faces a serious choice: double down and put its chance of re-election in 2022 in jeopardy, or pivot and risk alienating a shrinking base that cheers inaction.

“Clearly, (he’ll) have to have an articulated (climate) policy in order to win the next election,” said John Wright, a former Ipsos pollster who is now a partner at Dart Insight and Communications.

What Ford has in hand right now is not that, but 2020 will offer several chances for a climate reset.

Ford’s policy replacement for cap and trade is an evolving draft, his environment minister said last month, after it was slapped down by the province’s auditor general for lack of “sound evidence.” The “Made-in-Ontario” plan makes a big deal about cleaning up litter and proposes little to reduce the pollution causing global warming.

Make no mistake, the Tories are not about to launch a climate plan Greta Thunberg would applaud. Anything they do will underwhelm the most fervently climate-focused voters. Those folks are likely looking to cast their votes for the opposition New Democrats, the regrouping Liberals or Mike Schreiner’s Greens anyway.

But the fact is this: a growing majority of voters actively seek out a government that takes climate action seriously.

Less than one-third of voters are indifferent to climate action (both in Canada in general and in Ontario specifically), and they already typically support conservative parties. A green turn would be one way to bridge the gap between that core and the remaining votes Ford needs to chase down, strategists and pollsters say.

“He has a lot of people — younger conservatives, millennial conservatives — who would be inclined to support him and support the federal party if there was more of a real recognition that climate change was something that needed to be addressed,” said Tim Powers, vice-chairman at Summa Strategies and managing director of Abacus Data.

“Climate is starting to matter to all conservative politicians,” says strategist @powerstim. “They recognize that the one-trick pony that was the carbon tax has gone to the glue factory and you can’t ride that thing anymore.”

“Climate is starting to matter to all conservative politicians,” he said. “They recognize that the one-trick pony that was the carbon tax has gone to the glue factory and you can’t ride that thing anymore.”

That creates some tricky electoral arithmetic for Ford and his Progressive Conservative strategists to consider.

The gap

Ford needs at least 38 per cent of the provincial electorate on his side to win a majority of seats at Queen’s Park next time around (he won with 40.6 per cent of the vote in 2018).

He is polling as low as 22 per cent recently, and almost a quarter of those who voted for Ford now have a negative impression of him, according to Abacus Data polling of 570 Ontarians conducted in mid-December.

Abacus Data polling from mid-December shows almost a quarter of voters who backed Ontario Premier Doug Ford now have a negative impression of him.

“I would imagine that Doug Ford and his government will have to come up with something a little more plausible if they want to cover this exposed flank in the next election, because they’re not lined up with the mainstream on this,” said pollster Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research Associates.

“They’re lined up with their core constituency, but that may not be enough for them to find power next time.”

Retired firefighter Rick Browning is the type of voter Ford’s government will be looking to win back by 2022.

“I really got screwed, and I screwed myself by voting for the guy,” the 61-year-old resident of Napanee said. “I didn’t really understand at the time what cap and trade was, and I voted for him to cancel that.”

Skeptical of all politicians, Browning backed Ford because he remained angry at the Liberals for the gas-plant scandal, in which the cost to cancel two proposed natural gas projects near Toronto ended up costing taxpayers almost $1 billion. He thought the province needed a change of government and was willing to give Ford a chance.

But he soon regretted his decision, after discovering new windows he had ordered would not be eligible for an energy-efficiency rebate, meaning he’d have to eat the full cost. The consumer incentives to greener behaviour had been funded by revenue from the cap-and-trade scheme, which capped greenhouse gas emissions while allowing polluters to buy and trade exemptions. When it went, so did they.

Ford also killed incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles, cut funding for flood management and called off some 700 renewable-energy projects (including two wind farms that were already being built). His government has also passed legislation reducing protections for endangered species and encouraging urban sprawl.

Browning, a Young PC organizer in his youth who voted to re-elect Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in October, said he was “in the woods right now,” provincially — undecided on where he might place his vote next time around.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford addresses the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Ottawa on Aug. 20, 2018. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Not much needed

Even critics of Ford’s lack of climate policies acknowledge it wouldn’t take much to reach those just outside the party’s orbit.

Greenpeace Canada’s Keith Stewart said just getting behind rather than opposing federal climate plans would help them claim significant progress toward the province’s reduction targets.

“If Ford were to get behind Ottawa’s spending initiatives instead of fighting the plans, they could probably close a bunch of that gap,” he said.

“I could see that as a viable path forward, where it’s basically the municipality doing the brunt of the work and Ottawa and Queens Park showing up with cheques.”

Ford could also champion a green industrial strategy that boosts the province’s flagging manufacturing sector, Stewart said.

“I can imagine Ford on a shop floor with a bunch of auto workers saying we’re going to build stuff,” he said, noting a group of workers from the shuttered GM plant in Oshawa are pushing for it to reopen to build electric buses.

He said a long-shot scenario could see them pursue fossil fuel companies for damages related to climate change, similar to ongoing cases against tobacco companies and, more recently, pharmaceutical companies.

Conservative voters are less insistent than other Canadian voters that a climate plan include specific components. Source: Abacus Data

Shifting rhetoric, policy awaited

Ford has struck a conciliatory note since the October election, in which federal conservative counterpart Andrew Scheer and his equally limited green policy failed to oust Trudeau, in part thanks to seats the Liberals won in Ford’s Ontario.

“This is not the same government it was a year ago, putting stickers on pumps and screaming about the carbon tax and attacking the federal government,” said Wright, who likened the current rapprochement to the 1914 Christmas truce at the Battle of the Somme, where the warring sides put down their weapons to kick a football.

“There’s no rhetoric, there’s no incoming shells — everybody has toned it all down,” he said. “I think the stage will be set for the new year for some decisions to be made around the environment.”

If tone is to turn into constructive policy, money to pay for it could be expected to show up in the government’s next budget, slated for April.

“Infrastructure is where I would look for money to go. Climate infrastructure. That’s a nice bridging-the-gap measure,” Powers said.

One of the most pivotal climate events for Ford this year will be the pending Supreme Court ruling on Ontario’s challenge of the federal price on carbon, which Ford once called the worst tax ever.

If the country’s top court agrees with lower courts and says it has no problem with Ottawa imposing carbon pricing on provinces that don’t reach a certain standard, Ford can choose to inflame anti-Ottawa passions or shrug, say he tried his best and move on.

Or he could use the ruling as justification to introduce a provincial version, which he could then use to fund a tax cut, said Peter Graefe, associate professor of political science at McMaster University.

But even if Ford’s government fills in the details on climate policy, it may face an uphill battle convincing voters it means anything.

“Even if he proposed a plan, would people accept it? Or would they see it as simply the next stage of delay?” Graefe said. SOURCE

Canadian youth don’t trust their government to deliver real climate action

Greta Thurnberg speaks at the New York Youth Climate Strike on Sept. 20, 2019, in front of 250,000 people. Photo by Fatima Syed

Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg is wrong: the kids are going to be just fine.

At least, that’s what Canadian leaders have told themselves for the past 20 years.

In the late 1990s, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government was an active negotiator in the first international commitment to reduce GHG emissions. Things looked promising. But by 2002, when the Kyoto Protocol was ratified in Parliament, Canada was already failing to meet its targets.

When the Conservatives came into power in 2006, they had heaped criticism on Liberal efforts to address climate change but also failed to produce credible alternatives. Stephen Harper dropped commitments to what he called the “job-killing, economy-destroying Kyoto accord” and instead introduced the Clean Air Act, which targeted contaminants creating smog without actually mitigating the production and consumption of fossil fuels.

More recently, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has made relatively bold commitments to climate action since the 2015 Paris Agreement. Liberals have promised to clean up our oceans, introduced a revenue-neutral carbon tax and committed to a ban on single-use plastics by as early as 2021. Yet according to the Pembina Institute, if Canada continues at the same rate of reduction in GHG emissions since Trudeau’s election in 2013, we won’t achieve the Paris Agreement target until the beginning of the 23rd century.

We are still nowhere near where we need to be and it’s time our leaders are honest about the challenge we face.

It doesn’t help that, when it comes to climate policy, Canadian politicians are acting like a bad Tinder date: making quick promises, delaying action and then ghosting on commitment altogether. Climate change cannot be a partisan issue. It is an existential threat to our collective future.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report explains that if we don’t achieve ambitious targets, we have less than 11 years before we experience truly unmitigable climate disaster.

We’ve already started to see the effects of climate change in Canada. The recent devastating impact of hurricane Dorian in Atlantic Canadamelting permafrost in the North and wildfires in British Columbia are all signs the consequences of climate change are on our doorstep.

The good news is young people want to help. We, more so than any other demographic, understand and want to engage with climate policy. MORE

Canada’s wisest policy: stealing policies from other countries

Canada has a rich tradition of thievery – and it’s a good thing we do. Much of our success comes from adopting sound policies that have already proven successful elsewhere.

Image result for cartoon reinventing the wheel

We implemented employment insurance in 1935, a full 15 years after it was introduced in Britain. We achieved universal health care in the early 1970s, a decade after many European countries. We adopted the GST 25 years ago, following a global trend toward “value-added taxes” that was already mature by the time we came on the scene.

The same is true of carbon pricing. It may be a contentious policy in Canada today, but there is nothing Canadian about carbon pricing; we introduced it here precisely because it works so well in other countries.

It should not be surprising that some Canadian provinces adopted carbon pricing 15 years after the first systems appeared overseas. Not only is putting a price on pollution – any kind of pollution – the most efficient way to clean up the environment, it’s an old, proven idea that prioritizes the power of markets over the power of government.

Compelling evidence comes from two of the planet’s oldest pollution-pricing systems.

Sweden has the world’s highest carbon tax, and introduced it in 1991. It took some tinkering, but the Swedes ultimately got it right. Economists estimate that just five years in, the carbon tax had reduced Sweden’s emissions by 15 per cent relative to business as usual. Since 1995, Sweden’s total emissions are down by 25 per cent, emissions per unit of GDP are down by 65 per cent, and its economy has expanded 12 per cent faster than the EU average. So much for the idea that carbon taxes kill economic growth.

How exactly did Sweden’s carbon tax work to reduce emissions? One significant shift came from how its buildings are heated. Sweden uses district heating, where central units provide heat to entire blocks and neighbourhoods. Carbon taxes made biomass cost competitive with fossil fuels, and its use in heating quadrupled in just five years.

Another successful example of pollution pricing comes from the United States. Prices don’t just work for greenhouse gases; a price on any type of pollution can work, as long as it’s well-designed. Remember acid rain? It didn’t disappear on its own. The United States set up the world’s first cap-and-trade system in the 1990s and eliminated the problem in less than a generation.

Once 3,200 American power plants had to pay for their sulfur-dioxide emissions, they quickly came up with creative ways to reduce their emissions and avoid those costs. They rerouted rail cars to gain access to different types of coal and then experimented with them to produce fewer emissions. They also invested heavily in “scrubbers” that pull sulphur dioxide directly from the exhaust stream.

The U.S. policy was a success by any measure. After 10 years, sulfur-dioxide emissions had declined by 36 per cent, even though coal production had risen by 25 per cent. The program more than paid for itself and saved billions of dollars compared to less flexible and more intrusive regulatory approaches.

Now back to Canada. As we enter the federal election season, Canadians should ask themselves: how best should we reduce GHG emissions to fight climate change? MORE

Why Greta Thunberg’s leadership of the environmental movement is so important

“Air pollution is just one factor in determining the overall toxicity of the environment. In addition, toxic chemicals are added to pretty much everything we use, including food, household items, personal care and beauty products, toys, furniture and clothing…. Children are most vulnerable to these effects because their immunity is usually weaker than that of an adult. “

While the ecological crisis is now scientifically confirmed, the public health crisis with which it’s associated has received much less attention.

Greta Thunberg, 2018. Anders Hellberg via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0.

f you follow the news, you must have seen her face. Awkwardly serious and surprisingly mature in speech, 16 year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden is currently one of the hottest names in global politics. Thunberg has been making headlines since 2018 when she first ditched school in order to protest against climate change. She has inspired thousands of people to act with her, collecting numerous accolades for her courageous attitude and countless public appearances.

Thunberg describes herself as a “climate activist with Aspergers.” According to her, this condition is one of the reasons she is able to focus so deeply on the ecological crisis and be a more effective campaigner – to “see through environment lies” as she put it in a recent interview. No wonder she’s now using the greatest ‘gifts’ she unwittingly received in order to fight back.

According to Masha Gessen in the New Yorker, “Greta’s protest serves a dual purpose. It not only calls attention to climate policy, as she intended, but it also showcases the political potential of neurological difference. ‘I see the world a bit different, from another perspective…I have a special interest. It’s very common that people on the autism spectrum have a special interest.”

This makes sense, since according to the National Autistic Society, people with Aspergers often have a tendency towards repetitive patterns of behaviour and a single-minded pursuit of interests. Thunberg’s brain may therefore be wired towards constant action and extraordinary focus, so it is perfectly suited for a tireless fight against global inaction on climate change. “It’s either you are sustainable or not — you can’t be a little bit sustainable” as she puts it. For her, things are as simple as they sound.

What’s not so simple are the connections between environmental factors and our mental and physical wellbeing. Air pollution and an excessive exposure to toxins have been found to affect the brain not only in adults but also in children, because inhaled pollutants can be transferred from the mother to the fetus during pregnancy. According to the World Health Organisation nine out of every ten people breathe toxic air daily. This means that almost every child currently living on the planet or in their mother’s womb is at risk. MORE


Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg to donate book proceeds to charity

‘Fundamental Incoherence’ in Trudeau’s Climate Policies, Says Campaigner

Ottawa praises BC’s green leadership, while fighting provincial legal case on Trans Mountain expansion.

Justin Trudeau’s government welcomes BC’s support on carbon tax, but is siding with Alberta’s Rachel Notley in fighting against BC’s right to regulate oil shipments. Photo from Alberta government.

The federal government’s treatment of British Columbia shows the Trudeau Liberals’ “incoherence” on climate change, says an environmental campaigner.

On one hand, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is calling B.C. an “exemplary climate leader” on Twitter, because the provincial government supports its carbon tax.

582px version of CatherineMcKennaClimateLeaderTweet.jpg

At the same time, the Trudeau government is fighting to force the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion through B.C. over the provincial government’s objections and accusing B.C. of hurting the country’s economy. MORE

Rethinking Approaches to Climate Change

The Trudeau Governments approach makes pollution a commodity through credits and offsets that allow for financial corporations to profit from polluting industries

As James Wilt noted in a Briarpatch article, carbon pricing doesn’t regulate emissions, it just puts a price on them based on an arbitrary calculation, the “social cost of carbon,” that tends to ignore the “externalities” – the cumulative emissions, feedback loops, and disproportionate impacts of climate change on countries in the Global South. These are not encompassed in corporate cost-benefit analysis. For business, they are just a cost of doing business.

Wilt describes the carbon tax as “a deeply neoliberal and individualistic” approach that “often excludes or minimizes impacts on fossil fuel corporations while downloading moral and financial responsibility on households that burn fossil fuels for transportation or heating. Perhaps most concerning of all is the way it serves to create resentment for – and siphon energy from – far more ambitious climate policy that would rapidly cut emissions, guarantee jobs, and improve public services for all.”

However, Canadian authorities, far from passively relying on market mechanisms, are quite capable of aggressive action to implement their goals where these are integral to their strategic profit and growth concerns. Missing from the Pan-Canadian Framework is the other, more important component of the Trudeau government’s climate approach: promoting further oil and gas exploitation and export, especially through building pipeline and rail capacity. This endeavour totally conflicts with its carbon-reduction promises. MORE