Canada’s Desperate Need to Do Something About Climate Change

Today is the federal election in Canada, so let me pause my reflections on Philosophy in Pop Culture and turn my attention to it for a moment. And to specifically reflect that at least the media sources are saying that climate change and thus reducing carbon is a big issue for Canadians, which is something that at least all the major party leaders also believe because they themselves spend a lot of time talking about it. So considering that this is, obviously, a global issue, let’s examine it in light of that and what role Canada can play in it.

Let’s start by assuming that there is a carbon issue contributing to climate change. Some may want to disagree, but it’s not relevant to the discussion I want to have, for reasons that will become clear in a moment. So, worldwide we need to reduce carbon emissions. Okay, so what should Canada do about it? Many of the parties are screaming for radical reductions and carbon taxes and all sorts of things, but does this make sense for Canada given the position it’s in?

The first thing we need to figure out is how much Canada itself is actually contributing to the problem. After all, if Canada, say, produced no carbon emissions then we’d clearly have no need to do anything but could still be impacted by climate change and still see it as a problem for us. In addition, we need to do this to see what the impact of us actually reducing our carbon emissions would have on the problem. Note that in the rhetoric I’ve seen this is almost never actually brought up. They talk as if we need to make radical changes to stop climate change, but never say what that impact would actually be. So let’s start there.

From Wikipedia and other sources, Canada’s percentage is about 1.6%, and we fall about tenth on the list. From this site, that ranking is confirmed. The only thing that’s interesting from the second site is that when you look at it by rankings per capita, we’re pretty high on the list — we jump up to fourth — relatively speaking. But the immediate take-away from the percentage is this: if Canada’s carbon and greenhouse gas emissions dropped to 0, it would do not one bit of good if countries like China, the U.S., India and Russia don’t do anything to reduce emissions. And if they significantly reduce their emissions, things will improve dramatically even if Canada does nothing.

So, first, there is no reason for us to join or attempt to live up to any climate agreement that the Big Four either aren’t a part of or are exempt from. One of the complaints in Canada was over Stephen Harper pulling us out of the Kyoto accords, but if I recall correctly the Kyoto accords exempted China and Russia from having to meet emissions targets, which by this made it a stupid agreement anyway. There’s what I believe is called the Paris Accord, but the U.S. pulled out of that one, making it, again, a pointless accord. The only reason for Canada to join and attempt to live up to these accords is just to be able to at least say to those countries that they aren’t the only ones making sacrifices in this, but it’s only that social/political guilt-trip that would have any real effect. Canada actually reducing its emissions is going to have no real impact, one way or another.

Second, this means that Canada taking drastic steps to reduce emissions isn’t a good move for Canada. After all, if we do it and no one else does, then nothing will change. And if at least the biggest contributors do it and we don’t then we should see a major improvement regardless. So Canada should not be taking drastic steps itself. Instead, it should be looking for a way to get the biggest contributors to take strong steps to reduce emissions.

Now, it is interesting that Canada is relatively high when it comes to per capita emissions. Of course, so is Australia, and their emissions are miniscule compared to everyone else’s. It might be worth looking into why Canada’s emissions are so high per capita and seeing if we can do anything about it, but I suspect that the reasons are rather trivial: Canada is a modernized society which has higher emissions overall, but is also a very large country that is very spread out, and is also a very cold country. So Canada is going to have higher emissions due to transportation and heating than other countries are. There’s … not much we can do about that, other than to encourage cleaner options. Which we definitely can and should do. But if all countries went to the exact same set of clean options, Canada’s per capita emissions would still be higher (unless they all went to 0) because of a relatively small population in a large landmass country that also has a long period of winter.

Now, countries like China can protest that while they produce a massive, massive amount of emissions, their per capita emissions are relatively low — they’re 12th on the list — and so they’ve already reduced their emissions per capita as far as they can reasonably go. It’s time for others to reduce their emissions per capita to China’s level and then they can complain about China. However, one problem with this is that China’s per capita emissions are so low likely because they have a lot of people in rural areas that are not yet modernized, but as China modernizes those areas their per capita — and overall — emissions will greatly increase. Heck, even a migration to the urban areas will increase that dramatically. Second, for all of the biggest contributors a small increase will have a dramatic impact. Take China. Their overall emissions in 2016 were 9056.8 MT. Let’s say that they reduce that by a mere 10%. That would be 905.68 MT, which is almost as much as Canada and Australia produce combined. So China reducing emissions by 10% would reduce the overall emissions by about as much as Canada and Australia reducing their emissions to zero would … which is a lot harder to do than reducing the emissions of a country by 10%, even if they were being incredibly efficient with their emissions. Which China obviously isn’t. So what we should be focusing on is getting the big contributors to reduce their emissions, not on getting the smaller contributors to reduce theirs.

So, it doesn’t look like Canada needs to take drastic steps to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. That’s not going to impact climate change at all. What we need to do is find ways to guilt or bribe the biggest contributors into reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. A carbon tax in Canada is not going to do that.

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