A Made in Canada Green Recovery
Contributed by Nick Clayton, Member of the Simcoe-Grey Greens
The government’s response to the COVID-19 health crisis has reaffirmed the role of government in society, and renewed public trust in institutions, science, evidence and experts. Now is the time to leverage that to create a resilient, prosperous, healthy and just future for all Canadians and First Nations. However, as we undertake an extraordinary effort in the hopes of a return to normal, it is important to remember that “normal was a crisis”.
Canada is, once again, at a crossroads where we must choose between short term economic stimulus, and a sustainable future. In the past we have consistently chosen the former at the expense of the latter. Now living in the future we have built, there is a climate crisis and our economy, built upon ecological and financial debt, has been brought crashing down by little more than two months of social distancing and an oil price war.
COVID-19 is a wake up call. This is what a disorderly societal transition looks like - disruptive and costly. For an orderly transition to occur, we must begin now. Canadians deserve to come out of this with a sense of hope, and the security that comes with knowing that there is a plan in place to weather future infectious outbreaks and avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Prime Minister Trudeau rightly stated that essential workers “deserve a raise”. Further to that, they deserve a guaranteed living wage, paid sick leave, extended health benefits, and affordable child care. In fact we all do, so that we may effectively do our part to safeguard public health. We are all connected, we are one immune system, and whatever happens to the least of us, happens to all of us.
A resilient, prosperous, and sustainable future does not exist within the carbon economy. Oil has been in decline for a decade, requiring increased production to counter dwindling profit margins. This translates to more pollution for less ROI, a losing proposition. In contrast, the clean energy economy, with sustainability and social justice at its centre, is a $26 trillion business opportunity, as detailed in the Clean 50 Reset plan.
It is imperative that we insulate and shock-proof our economy through diversifying our energy supply and greening the grid. The carbon economy is at the mercy of OPEC, a monopolistic cartel that is able to effectively control the global economy through oil markets. In contrast, solar and wind are now the cheapest source of electricity generation per kWh, and the sun and wind have yet to send us a bill.
Alberta is positioned to be the most competitive hydrogen producer in North America. Additionally, orphaned and abandoned wells are particularly well-suited for geothermal energy retrofits. Additionally, abandoned sites are ready-made for solar and wind installations. The skills for such projects are transferable from the oil & gas industry.
Deep energy efficiency retrofits of existing buildings are a win-win opportunity to decrease emissions while providing jobs. This is an economic investment opportunity worthy of support programs and public funding.
The agricultural sector is in many ways at the forefront of the climate crisis. Industrial operations are a source of pollution and crop farmers are also disproportionately affected by changes in climate. Independent operations are in an existential crisis in which farmers are indebted to input companies, whose products and practices degrade soil health, decrease biodiversity, and negatively impact pollinators. Existing subsidies should be conditioned on the use of regenerative farming. This type of farming has immense potential to reverse these trends by restoring soil health, increasing biodiversity, and sequestering carbon, all while maintaining or exceeding current yields.
Canada can become a model for the world by promoting healthy, active transportation, supporting emissions free public transportation, and scaling up EV infrastructure from coast to coast, as detailed in the recent Corporate Knights transportation white paper.
Recognition and respect are long overdue for the wisdom inherent in the culture of First Nations and Indigenous Peoples. Their knowledge has long shown the connection between land and people, a sentiment recently echoed by members of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, who affirm that “Planetary health is human health”. Adopting and upholding the principles of UNDRIP is a necessary step on our rocky path to reconciliation. This would serve as an acknowledgement of our centuries long relationship, in which Indigenous Peoples have suffered under colonialism when they could have instead saved us from ourselves, had only we possessed the humility to listen and learn.
The understanding that our health is underpinned by ecological health highlights the need for an environmental bill of rights, enshrining in the Charter the right of every citizen to clean air, water, and food. Ensuring that every Canadian is legally entitled to the essentials of life, and a livable planet, seems as basic a right as any.
It is a false assumption that defines prosperity as the continued benefit of those who reap the most under the status quo. Things need to change, and we do have the ability to change them. Recent announcements by the federal government have signaled a continued commitment to a clean energy future, mitigating the worst effects of climate change, and adapting infrastructure to withstand the effects we are certain to endure in the near future. This commitment must continue. We don’t have time; if not done now, the political and financial capital will not be available again until it is far too late. This is our defining moment.
Editor's note: Please take time this week to write or call your federal government to express your desire for a sustainable recovery. The more voices, the louder we are heard.
Nick Clayton is a secondary school teacher in Collingwood and a resident of The Blue Mountains. His proximity to the future generations through his young family and his profession motivate him to act on climate. He is a member of the Collingwood Climate Action Team and the Simcoe-Grey Greens.