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Carbon – Oh Canada!

Carbon – Oh Canada!

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 56) – All IMHO:

Before we get into this post I should lay out my current world view:

  1. I believe climate change is a real thing;
  2. I think we have trashed the environment and are living beyond our means;
  3. I despair at the pollution and over fishing of our seas;
  4. I am not a tree hugging member for the Green Taliban;
  5. I am a libertarian who believes in free markets, socialized healthcare and education (a contradiction, I know). 

I wonder what our children and grandchildren will think about us after we are gone, when they are trying to clear up our mess. Actually I am optimistic about the longer term future as I believe our children will evolve, be less selfish and not take on our Bul#$!t. 

The problem is that GHG’s, environmental degradation and water contamination are everybody’s and nobodies problem all at the same time. In reality, we only react to what is affecting us directly. If you are lucky enough to live in a country like Canada, then many environmental issues are somebody else’s problem. Whilst there is empathy for others issues, as a Canadian I can turn off the bad news and potable water still comes out of the faucets and gasoline is very cheap. 

Canada has a new, trendy Prime Minister, Mr Justin Trudeau . He is different, he is not a “baby boomer” and he caught a lot of the youth vote. Expectations are high and he seems to want to start clearing up the mess. In one of his first overseas trips at the Paris COP21, Mr Trudeau signed Canada up to reduce GHG’s by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. Therefore we have 14 years to achieve this target. However in the present, some chickens are coming home to roost. 

  1. Of total global GHG emissions, China is 30%, the USA 15% and Canada 2%. The two elephants in the room need to sign up!
  2. The world is drowning in debt. In my province alone (Ontario) the debt is $295 Billion ( i.e. 2 x California’s debt with half the population. Does anyone really think this will ever be dealt with other than by default or high inflation, which is default by another name? 
  3. Canada’s regions & provinces are not in agreement on how to meet the COP21 commitment.
  4. It is hard to achieve international targets in a Federal system such as Canada or the USA, see item 3 above. 
  5. Change is difficult because the cost of energy in North America is very low and fresh water & arable land are abundant. 

IMHO a dramatic shift in priorities is required to address Canada’s COP21 commitments and environmental degradation. However with low cost energy, abundant resources and very high debt, change will be difficult. Change will cost money, what to do?

In my view the answer is the market, not politicians administering a cap & trade system or carbon tax. If you are the Premier of Ontario, a carbon tax looks very attractive, any tax looks attractive. However lets be clear, cap & trade or carbon tax are just that, they are taxes! Politicians do not have a good record of administering taxes and keeping to budgets. How many non-productive government jobs will be required to administer a cap & trade system or carbon tax?  

IMHO governments role is to set the agenda and the market should deliver the solutions. For example Germany is targeting 45% renewable energy sources for power generation and a net zero energy building code by 2030. I have lived in Europe as well as North America and despite current group think, the energy performance of buildings in North America is far below that of Europe. So if I where Prime Minister, I would:

  • Remove politicians, particularly provincial politicians, from having control over Carbon tax revenue. They will only chisel and trade this revenue away for short term electoral gains.
  • Phase out coal power generation and move to renewables and nuclear. Yes nuclear! France generates 75% of is electricity from nuclear and has a very low carbon foot print because of it. IMHO the future of nuclear waste disposal is Elon Musk shooting it into to space or onto Mars. 
  • Change the building code across Canada to be in line with Germany’s 2030 targets using 3 year increments to get there. This has to be top down legislation to all provinces. The building design & construction industry will complain and lobby but other countries are doing this, why can’t Canada?
  • Progressively increase the price of gasoline to reflect the full cost of motor vehicles in road infrastructure, congestion and pollution. After 10 years in Canada, gasoline prices still look ridiculously cheap to me. This will start to make public transport more attractive and encourage private sector investment. 
  • Enact legislation requiring carbon accounting with mandatory reporting for ALL new and existing buildings including industrial, then start to legislate and penalize poor performance based on bench marking.

There will be costs for the above but they will be costs that generate jobs, technology transfer from other countries and Canadian expertise. This has to be better than politicians miss-managing additional tax revenue?

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