September 1, 2019 11:30 am
Updated: September 3, 2019 12:51 am

The West Block – Episode 52, Season 8

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, September 1, 2019 with Mercedes Stephenson

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THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 52, Season 8

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guest Interviews: Joe Oliver, Kai Chan, Michael Bernstein

Location: Ottawa

Mercedes Stephenson: Climate change and the environment are set to be front and centre in the upcoming federal election campaign.

Story continues below

Extreme weather is being felt from coast to coast to coast. Damaging floods in the east, devastating forest fires in the west and searing heat waves in central Canada, leaving homes and lives destroyed.

Many climate scientists are drawing a link between extreme weather and climate change.

Last year, insured damage from severe weather events reached $1.9 billion, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

For the first time ever, the Bank of Canada flagged climate change as a vulnerability for the national economy. But could Canada benefit from a warming climate?

It’s Sunday, September 1st. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

Well, some Canadians are sounding the alarm on climate change, but others argue climate change may in fact lead to greater economic opportunities for Canada. From oil and gas developments in the Arctic to an extended growing season for food production, Canada’s former finance minister Joe Oliver, says it’s not all bad.

Mr. Oliver, thank you for joining us on the show.

Joe Oliver: Happy to be with you.

Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve penned a couple of controversial columns, one of which said that Canada would benefit from climate change. Can you explain to us why you think climate change is a good thing for Canada?

Joe Oliver: Well actually, I cited Moody’s Analytics which did an analysis of the impact of climate change on many countries around the world, and they concluded that with a 1 per cent increase in the temperature there’d be basically no change in Canada’s economy. If it started moving up to 2.5 or to 4 per cent, which is sort of extreme, then you’d get perhaps a .3 per cent increase in the economy of this country. So it’s not a lot, but the point is, it isn’t the dire catastrophe that you keep hearing about. Canada would in fact, be a beneficiary. But, we only represent 1.6 per cent of global emissions. And even if we devastated our economy, we would not have a measurable impact on where the global temperature would be in the year 2100. It would be less than one thousandths of 1 degree impact, so we can’t actually make a difference. So then we’re left with the final argument, which his well, we can’t do anything which would make a difference, but still, we should act as an example. And perhaps we can induce shame or create a kind of a moral imperative for other people. Well, that’s really a bit of a fantasy. If you look at the four largest emitters: United States, China, India and Russia who represent 57 per cent of global emissions, I mean they don’t—they’re not going to be influenced in any way by Canada. We’re missing an opportunity actually, to do something about something concrete and that is the whole issue of extreme weather. And we know that extreme weather is hurting the economy.

Mercedes Stephenson: But there are those who would say it’s all well and good to pour money into the infrastructure and to try to deal with these extreme weather events, but if you’re not dealing with underlying causes like climate change, then you’re pouring money down a black hole. What would you say to them?

Joe Oliver: Well the intergovernmental panel on climate change, the IPCC which is cited very often by people who are alarmed about the climate, have said that extreme weather is not caused by climate change. And there are other scientists who said the same thing. They further said that the amount of extreme weather hasn’t actually been increasing. Well you can argue about that. There’s statistics about it, but you know, as a matter of fact, that the dollar amount has been increasing because there’s more infrastructure that’s being built. So I don’t take that pessimistic view at all.

Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Oliver, the IPCC report doesn’t actually say there isn’t a link. They say the science is not certain, and they also say we have about 12 years to turn things around. Ninety-seven per cent of the climate experts around the world say that they believe climate change is real and the global community needs to act. So when you look at the majority of the scientific community saying this is a very serious concern and they believe there’s a strong possibility there is a link versus there’s not one.

Joe Oliver: Well the IPCC said that they couldn’t find any evidence, so that’s as far as I guess they went. The 97 per cent figure is not accurate. If you look, you can’t find a study where 97 per cent of the scientists said we have 12 years before it becomes irreversible. I mean that’s exaggerated rhetoric and I don’t think we should be terrifying our children and devastating our economy based on extreme projections, which have been made, I guess, for the last 25 years. I mean, 40 years ago, it was global cooling and that was going to destroy us. Now it’s global warming and there have been predictions, one after the other that said we had about 10 or 12 or seven years and sort of, it hasn’t happened. I’m not saying that there isn’t a serious issue here, but let’s not exaggerate it, and let’s do what we can practically to deal with it and not get into a fantasy world.

Mercedes Stephenson: You talk about the advantages for Canada when it comes to climate change and you cite some examples. For example, there could be more arable land that could be farmed, more land that would be available to be drilled on and that could benefit the Canadian economy through fossil fuels. Those potential possibilities are all the Moody’s report you’re citing, but the report doesn’t take into account some possible detractions, like geopolitical refugees from climate change and natural disasters that we’ve been talking about, generated by extreme weather events. Those could possibly cancel out the benefits you’re discussing. Are you at all concerned that it’s a temporary benefit that Canada would see from climate change, given these other factors?

Joe Oliver: Well look, just in terms of the arable land issue, the three Prairie Provinces have doubled the territory of France and the Government of Canada, the agriculture department, estimated an increase of between 26 and 40 per cent of arable land, potentially by 2040. And that’s really significant and none too soon, because the UN said that the world is going to need 50 per cent more food by 2050. So this is a very serious contribution that Canada can make.

Mercedes Stephenson: There are a number of mayors in Canada, including some of your former colleagues like Ed Holder, Conservatives who are saying there is a climate crisis and they’re declaring that in their cities. Do you agree with them?

Joe Oliver: Well I don’t think we have evidence to suggest that there’s an imminent crisis. I mean people keep talking about it, but the numbers, the data, doesn’t support it. Look, the computer programs, with the exception of the Russians, have been consistently wrong. I mean, and that’s simply historical fact.

Mercedes Stephenson: What would you say to fellow Conservatives like Preston Manning or Mark Cameron who say that you have to look at a carbon tax? You have to do something about what’s happening.

Joe Oliver: Well, you know, this argument you have to do something, even if it’ll accomplish nothing, leaves me a little bit cold. I mean, look, I was in Papua New Guinea, where the amount of people bereft of—don’t have access to electricity is over 80 per cent. And, you know, if they don’t get on with exploiting their coal resources, people will continue to live in misery, in poverty, with high mortality rates. I think you have to pause and say, well wait a minute, where’s my moral responsibility?

Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Oliver, thank you very much for joining us and sharing your views on this topic. We appreciate your time.

Joe Oliver: You’re most welcome, thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, we’ll hear from the other side of the debate on the economic impact of climate change.

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. According to NASA, 97 per cent of climate scientists believe humans are causing global warming and climate change. Glaciers are melting into the sea. Sea levels are rising and many nations are spending millions of dollars to reinforce coastlines and relocate residents affected by rising water. So, what are the costs of climate change?

Joining me now from Vancouver is Kai Chan. He’s a professor at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia. Thanks for joining us, Kai.

Kai Chan: Thanks for having me on the show.

Mercedes Stephenson: Now we just heard from Joe Oliver, former federal finance minister. He argues that there are a lot of benefits that Canada could see as a result of climate change. He’s not arguing over whether or not it could happen. He’s saying, look, it’s not all bad if it is happening. How do you respond to those arguments? Do you believe that climate change would be a good thing for Canada?

Kai Chan: There are going to be some benefits for Canada for sure, but the way that Joe Oliver has presented it is really misleading. And so, you know, one of the arguments is that the economy is going to be net neutral unless climate change goes to a really high level. Now, that’s really misleading because that’s measured through GDP. And GDP as a measure of economic output rises when we have extreme events that cause catastrophic damage that we then have to repair, right? So those construction activities actually contribute a lot to the economy the way that the GDP measures it, right? It doesn’t properly characterize the losses that we experience as individuals and as communities.

Mercedes Stephenson: Now he cites that Moody’s report as having more arable land that could be farmed more, more areas that could be drilled, what are some of the specific costs that Canada would incur if climate change continues at the same rate?

Kai Chan: So for every benefit there is a similar kind of cost, right? And so it’s true that there is more arable land, but as precipitation patterns change, we’re going to see less precipitation in some of those important growing areas, much longer droughts, more risk of forest fires, greater risk of floods and then in particular, up north, in northern communities, we’re going to see a melting of permafrost that is going to cause a ton of damage to the infrastructure there, because that infrastructure is based on the permafrost as the permafrost melts. So that’s basically frozen ground underneath, then the buildings really buckle, buildings and bridges and roads buckle and just kind of sink into the ground. So there are going to be lots costs that are associated with climate change and there are going to be a few benefits. One major question is whether those who are bearing the costs are really being compensated for that. And I don’t expect that the benefits are actually going to outweigh the costs when you take a whole perspective to it.

Mercedes Stephenson: Some say look, the science is clear. There is consensus. There is climate change happening and it is as a result of human activity. Others say no, if you look at it, it’s not as clear as people think. Look, we just had a cold summer. It can’t always be warming if I’m experiencing something that tells me differently. What does the science say about where we’re at in terms of climate change and what’s causing it?

Kai Chan: So the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is really clear. And this is the most authoritative body on climate change. They say it’s virtually certain that climate change is happening and that it’s due to human causes. So, there’s really no more room for doubt about that. Absolutely, there are natural causes that also contribute to climate change, but they seem to be smaller contributors than human caused ones, including the rise in greenhouse gases. Global climate change, although it’s going to warm the planet on average, is going to have regionally variable results. So when we look at the average global temperatures, it is clear that those are rising, but that manifests in weird weather, right? And so some scientists are calling it ‘global weirding’ in order to account for that fact that in some places we are going to see some cooling, actually, at least during some seasons. But we’re also going to see a lot of other strange things like increased floods and fires, etc.

Mercedes Stephenson: And speaking of those floods and fires, one of the things we talked to Mr. Oliver about was the link between climate change and extreme weather events, which can be very expensive for governments, for individuals, for insurance agencies. And he was saying that that IPCC report doesn’t clearly make the link between climate change and extreme weather events. What do we know about the science that suggests whether or not there is a link and how much do we really know about that?

Kai Chan: Yeah, I mean it’s really clear from my read of the IPCC that they established that there is a very clear link between forest fires, between floods and other kinds of extreme events, especially droughts, of course. He might be thinking more of tornadoes and hurricanes. There it is less clear weather climate change is contributing to an increased incidence, so an increase in number of those extreme events. But it’s pretty clear that it is contributing to a greater magnitude of those extreme events. So going back, though, to the ones where it’s more clear. More flooding for sure, when you’ve got a warmer atmosphere, that warmer atmosphere can hold more water and it releases it in more extreme events, right, stronger rainfall. It’s not the only cause in terms of contributing to flooding. We also have land use patterns and the clearing of wetlands. Too much concrete, basically, in cities. Fires, also very clearly contributed to climate change through the increase in droughts which dries out the fuel load and then also makes the temperature in many cases, warmer. So you’ve got a long dry summer, it sets up basically a tinder box in some forests. So those connections are made very clearly in the IPCC report. I’m not sure what Joe Oliver is talking about when he refutes that.

Mercedes Stephenson: Kai, there are those who say, look, people are being alarmist. What do you think the consequences are if we continue at the current rate, both in terms of climate change and in terms of the level of action that the Canadian government is taking for Canadians living right here at home.

Kai Chan: So there’s two ways of seeing this. I mean, one is to recognize that our most important role, in terms of contributing to this problem and receiving impacts from global climate change, is basically our perception on the world stage and how that is reflected in foreign policy as we receive it as well as export it. Canadians have this reputation. When you go abroad, for the most part, people think of Canada as a sane place, as a good contributor to the world. That reputation has already been eroded somewhat due to our policy on climate change, the fact that for many years in international climate negotiations, Canada won the ‘Fossil of the Year’ award, meaning that it had the most out-dated policies, the most regressive and the most dangerous in terms of contributing to an undermining of the world order, right? So, already we’re seeing Canada is kind of role as a responsible agent in the world being eroded. We’ve already seen a lot of dangerous fires like the one in Fort Murray from a few years ago, and floods, including in Calgary, in Toronto and elsewhere—in Ottawa, over this last year. So, these kinds of events are surely going to continue. They’re going to become more and more normal as climate change picks up pace, which it will do just because of the inertia in the system. So it’s time to get serious about turning that around and slowing climate change down.

Mercedes Stephenson: Kai, thank you so much for joining us.

Coming up, an environmental report card, we’ll take a look at each of the main parties environment platforms as we get ready for the election campaign.

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. The environment and climate change are expected to be two key issues in the upcoming federal election.

In a recent poll by Abacus Data, 42 per cent of Canadians said they believe climate change is now an emergency. So, we figured it was time for a report card on each of the party’s platforms as Canadians head to the polls.

Joining me now from Barrie, Ontario is Michael Bernstein, Executive Director of Canadians for Clean Prosperity. Welcome to the show, Michael.

Michael Bernstein: Thanks for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: Let’s start with the four main national political parties for the election coming. The government, of course, has had the most time to show us what their climate plan looks like. What do you make of the Liberals and their performance to this point?

Michael Bernstein: Well, they’ve taken a few steps in the right direction. They’re using the best tool we have to fight climate change, which is a carbon tax and rebate program. A program that we know can be effective to reduce our carbon pollution and at the same time puts money right back in the pockets of Canadians. So that’s an important step. I would like to see them go further. As you probably know, their plan today does not meet the Paris climate targets that have been internationally agreed to. And they’ve said they’re going to announce a bolder plan in September, so we’ll have to see what that holds.

Mercedes Stephenson: Turning to the Conservatives, they had said that they would eliminate the carbon tax and replace it by taxing heavy emitters instead. Do you think that that’s a good plan and it would be enough to help us reach our greenhouse gas targets in the Paris Agreement?

Michael Bernstein: Unfortunately, the Conservative plan is not a credible plan. Under their plan, we’re going to actually see emissions grow from the status quo situation we have today. And at the same time, as you say, they’re taking away the best tool we have in our toolkit: the Carbon Tax and Rebate program, and replacing it with much pricier government regulations. So I hope they’ll reconsider because I don’t believe their plan is really a credible plan to address what we know we need to address, which is the urgent situation of climate change.

Mercedes Stephenson: Continuing with our report card theme here, turning to the NDP. How would you rate their environmental proposals for the coming election?

Michael Bernstein: The NDP has the right ambition. So they have said they are going to try to meet the international targets that are needed to help us avoid the worst impacts of climate. So that’s really important. And also on the positive side, they are also going to be keeping in place that Carbon Tax and Rebate program that I talked about. They’re layering on top of that plan, some additional regulations. For example, they want to retrofit every building in Canada by 2050 and I think they have the right idea, the right ambition with that. But what I’d like to see is a program that’s lower cost that leverages the private sector, which would really be more about increasing, gradually, that carbon tax and rebate policy rather than these kinds of government regulations.

Mercedes Stephenson: Looking at the Green Party who just given the name, one would assume has the most robust potential climate plan. How would you rate what they’re proposing to Canadian voters?

Michael Bernstein: Well that’s right. They do have the most robust plan. They have a very ambitious target to reduce carbon pollution all across the economy by 60 per cent in the next 11 years, by 2030. So their ambition is absolutely the highest. They do want to keep in place that carbon price, that Carbon Tax and Rebate program, which we know is needed. And then they layer on additional regulations that go above and beyond what you see from the NDP. And again, that’s the right ambition. They have the right idea. They want us to reduce our pollution, which is something we know Canadians support. But I would like to see them use a more market-based, a more private sector approach rather than the government regulation approach.

Mercedes Stephenson: How do parties find that balance? Because polls show that a lot of Canadians want to see something done to combat climate change, but sometimes when it comes to paying for it, they’re not as big of fans in terms of turning money out of their pockets. How do parties balance that to propose something that allows for both prosperity and the environment to benefit?

Michael Bernstein: Well that’s exactly our goal. I mean, that’s why we’re called Clean Prosperity, is we’re trying to say we can protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time. The best tool to do that is what I spoke about earlier, is the carbon tax and rebate because this puts a price on carbon pollution, it gives everybody across the economy incentive to reduce their emissions because we’re making that pollution more expensive, but then importantly, it sends all the money back to families and businesses. So families can afford it, businesses can afford to make changes, and then those people who invest in reducing their pollution are actually going to be rewarded for it.

Mercedes Stephenson: Michael, why is it the political parties, including parties like the Liberals, haven’t wanted to make the kinds of commitments they would need to get us to the Paris targets? And I think of things like the carbon tax, where experts have said we’re not near the level it would have to be at to actually have us meet those international commitments?

Michael Bernstein: That’s right. I would like to see the parties, including the Liberal Party, commit to a gradually rising carbon tax. This is something that can rise gradually over time, year after year. And I think this really is about getting Canadians used to the fact that there are ways that we can change. We can change gradually. They’re not only going to allow us to reduce our pollution, but they’re going to be affordable and they’re going to actually support economic growth

Mercedes Stephenson: Turning just briefly towards extreme weather, which has been something that has caught more and more attention of Canadians in past years. There are those who say the government needs to do more in terms of regulations to try to protect Canadians from how this is developing. What do you think the government should be doing in terms of protecting people against floods, fires, and all the extreme weather patterns that there’s been concern about in recent years?

Michael Bernstein: So we can do a number of things. We can look into zoning laws to make sure people aren’t building in places where we know flooding will occur. We can be regulating how people build new homes to make sure that they have the equipment they need to deal with potential flooding. And adaptation is really important. It’s something we do need to do, but I would say, I think it’s really a side show to the much more important challenge, which is reducing our carbon pollution.

Mercedes Stephenson: Michael, thank you so much for your time.

Michael Bernstein: Pleasure to be with you.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s our show for today. Thanks again for watching, and please be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. And of course, you can go to our website, too: thewestblock.ca.

I’m Mercedes Stephenson, for The West Block. Enjoy the rest of your long weekend.

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