OTTAWA — Each morning I wake up and before I’ve shaken off enough sleep to say my own name, I do two things: turn on the coffee machine and start reading the news. In recent years, the news drip has turned from bad to very bad to face frozen in a pose reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” Then, a few days ago, I awoke to the U.N. report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And the commentary. The steady supply of Twitter and Facebook and television and radio chatter: a decade or 12 years to drastically slash emissions, the coming collapse that’s coming sooner than we expected, extreme weather events and declining crop yields, and 2040 as the first year of our last years. Tough to read before breakfast. Maybe it’s better on an empty stomach.
On days like that, I find it hard to work. I start a bit later or end a bit early and I take a longer lunch. I try to read fiction — drifting, and I can’t help myself, toward the apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic or pre-post-apocalyptic fare — or take a walk. Maybe I’ll watch the worst Netflix programming I can find. Maybe I’ll play video games an extra hour on top of the too-many-extra hours I already play. Then I regroup and redouble my work, resolving that the insanity is not working in the face of existential threat but would be not working harder and talking about the ways that we might save ourselves or at least as many of ourselves as we can.
In Canada, the Liberal government has been thinking about ways to contribute to meeting climate goals. They’ve been working on a carbon pricing scheme that would introduce a national minimum price of CAD $20 per ton on emissions in 2019, rising to $50 per ton in 2022. A large, cold country whose natural-resource sectors make up about 17 percent of GDPand what seems like 90 percent of our politics, Canada has faced a long and difficult struggle to introduce a market mechanism to address emissions.
Over the past several months, the framework has begun to collapse. It was always rickety, but now it’s structurally unsound. In early October, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced that he was out —hurt feelings. Of Trudeau’s treatment of his government, the premier said “I don’t think anybody likes to be used as a prop, and I certainly am not inclined that way.” Manitoba joins Saskatchewan and Ontario in the climate-consensus exodus. Perhaps New Brunswick will follow soon. Alberta is partially in but could be on its way out by next spring. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his environment minister, Catherine McKenna, remain committed to making polluters pay. Trudeau has reiterated that if the provinces don’t introduce a carbon price themselves, the federal government will do it for them and return revenue directly to Canadians. He’s even prepared to fight the 2019 election over it.
Canadian provinces making life difficult for the federal government is nothing new. It’s part of what has held the country together for more than 150 years. At times, it has been good for the country. But now, provincial chauvinism and intransigence are toying with the future of humankind.
Canada might account for less than 2 percent of global emissions, but as I’ve written before, we are per capita filthier than most. It wouldn’t kill us to show a little moral leadership — indeed, it might help save us. I say help because as the IPCC report reminds us, it will take a concerted and radical global effort to address climate change — an effort that we need to start … years ago, ideally. As Climate Action Tracker writes, even if Canada implements its emissions plan in full, it’s likely to miss its Paris agreement targets — or, as they put it, Canadian efforts would rate “insufficient.”
If Canada is serious about mitigating the most serious threats of climate change and all that they might imply down the line — crashing markets, declining democracy, war — then a national commitment to carbon pricing by each province is the absolute least required. I could go on to discuss the many other things we could and should implement — immediate changes in consumer behavior, massive investments in renewables and revisiting the decision to buy and twin a pipeline — but that’s an argument for another day. Today, Canadians should take a minute to write to their elected officials provincially and federally and demand that we get the carbon tax done. Every elected official should take a moment to decide how they would like to be remembered. That is, assuming there will be anyone around to remember.