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  • Jean Charest’s Grand Delusion

    Jean Charest’s Grand Delusion

    After a seven month campaign marred with controversy — including accusations of internal corruption and party infighting — the Conservative Party of Canada has elected Pierre Poilievre as its next leader. 

    Widely regarded as the favourite to take over from interim leader Candice Bergen, Poilievre received 68.15% of the vote on the first round, unsurprisingly trouncing his closest rival, Jean Charest, who received a paltry 16.06%. 

    The Conservative leadership race utilized a ranked ballot system that divided the country into 338 electoral districts, each of which was assigned a number of points (usually 100, unless a riding had fewer than 100 members) for a total of 33,737. 

    Poilievre garnered a total of 22,993 points, far surpassing the 50% vote threshold (16,869 points) needed to eliminate subsequent voting rounds and be declared the next Conservative leader.

    Prior to the results, Charest and his campaign maintained that they had a path to victory — though anyone familiar with contemporary conservative politics knew such words were highly unlikely and probably knowingly dishonest. 

    And if Charest, frequently dubbed a “Liberal” in disguise by Pierre and his supporters — despite his long track record of Conservative activism — actually believed he had a path to victory, it would amount to further proof that he had become out of touch with the party’s grassroots. 

    Not only did he grossly underestimate how pervasive misinformation in the Conservative Party had become, but he overestimated his own relevance in a party that has increasingly drifted to the anti-intellectual and populist right. That’s to say that from the beginning, Charest’s bid for leader of the Conservatives was destined to fail. 

    He’s simply too moderate, too pragmatic, and too decent for the vast majority of Conservative members nowadays, which see “crushing the Liberals” as the ultimate goal. He represents a different era of Conservative. So too, goes for Scott Atichison, who arguably ran the most sensible campaign out of everyone and yet only received a pathetic 1.06% of the vote.

    Rather than seeking concrete solutions to the major issues of today — like inflation, the cost of living, lagging vaccination rates, and climate change — the Conservative Party’s membership demonstrated a clear preference for empty slogans based on the loose concepts of “freedom” and “gatekeepers.” This is despite the fact that Canada is consistently scored as one of the freest countries in the world.

    Instead of confronting the illegality of the recent “trucker convoy” occupation in Ottawa — which saw tens of millions drained from nearby small businesses due to closures, local residents harassed, and honorary war memorials defecated on — the Conservative membership made clear these transgressions are acceptable. What ever happened to the party of patriots, law and order, and individual responsibility? 

    Seemingly, it’s been replaced by a party that places a greater emphasis on inflaming culture wars, dismissing academia, despising Justin Trudeau, cozying up to the far-right, and embracing conspiracy theories, including those targeting vaccines, the World Economic Forum, the World Health Organization, Canada’s Central Bank, climate change, and more.

    And the only two leadership candidates that attempted to quell the worrying rise of misinformation stemming from the Federal Conservatives — Charest and Atichison — were extremely unsuccessful in building momentum. 

    This highlights how Progressive Conservatives — Red Tories as they’re sometimes referred — have become marginalized within their own party and now represent a relatively niche group. After all, they’re typically more forward-thinking, bi-partisan, and solution-oriented, whereas today’s big-C Conservatives seem to lack a coherent ideology and fail to even address many of the realities facing Canada. 

    Rather, they seem content on muddying the truth, chipping away at Canada’s institutional integrity, and importing the polarization and misinformation that plagues the American political system.

    Hardly to the fault of Charest, the Conservative Party has missed a golden opportunity to elect a big-tent leader capable of offering Canadians a forward-looking alternative to the country’s governing Liberal Party, and now must contend with a much larger electorate that’s likely to be skeptical of its choice in Poilievre. 

    Pierre is by no means a write off — and in fact may prove challenging to beat for an increasingly worn Liberal government — but his work will no doubt be cut out for him as he seeks to make inroads with moderate Canadians ahead of the next federal election.

  • I Don’t Trust Doug Ford on Electric Vehicle Policy – and Neither Should You

    With less than 100 days until Ontario’s next provincial election, Doug Ford’s incumbent conservatives are now pitching themselves as champions of the electric vehicle (EV) industry. The government’s “Driving Prosperity” plan – which is at the heart of the province’s economic agenda – intends to make Ontario a juggernaut in EV and battery manufacturing. Additionally, investments have been made to equip Ontario’s ONroute locations with electric chargers – although interestingly, the money was put up by the federal Liberals – not the province.

    Supporting EV manufacturing in Ontario is undoubtedly a good policy choice, as the province is ripe with blue-collar talent and remains a hotspot for auto-related infrastructure. Logistically, it’s a sound decision. 

    My problem, however, lies in the  Conservative Party’s shrouded view that EVs are not a tool to address climate change, but rather a means to provide cover for their other, highly destructive environmental policies. While Doug Ford speaks of the climate benefits of supporting the EV industry, he does so out of a need to publicly acknowledge the issue of climate change – not out of concern for ecological degradation, of which his government has been more than happy to speed up.

    Doug Ford – the leader of a government that’s waged a nonstop war on Ontario’s greenbelt, climate agenda, and species diversity – understands that environmental voters do not hold the path to his reelection. Pushing unnecessary highways (GTA West Corridor and the Bradford Bypass) through ecologically sensitive wetlands, egregiously using MZOs to bypass environmental regulation, and attempting to open the greenbelt to development to benefit his party’s donors made sure of that. 

    Strategists at the consulting firm StrategyCorp suggest that the Progressive Conservative’s (PCs) EV pitch is aimed at locking down manufacturing voters in Windsor and Oakville. But by playing up the climate benefits of their EV agenda – despite its disingenuous nature–the PCs can shield themselves (to some extent) from criticism of their environmental policy. This is despite the fact that the government is nowhere close to meeting its climate goals and was condemned by Ontario’s auditor general for its war on endangered species. Since the defeat of Kathleen Wynne in 2018, no new endangered species have been added to the province’s protection list. Meanwhile, all sorts of environmental regulations have been gutted, paving the way for construction and real estate firms to do as they please. 

    According to Ontario Nature’s website, “those with a vested, short-term economic interest in sprawl development now have free rein to bulldoze, dig up and pave over the habitats of our most vulnerable plants and animals. 

    Changes to Ontario’s environmental policy have been so severely damaging that on two separate occasions, the federal government has reached out requesting amendments be made – as the policy was not in line with federal environmental statutes. At the time of writing, the PCs have not complied with these requests. 

    The final major giveaway that the Ford government’s pivot on EVs is nothing more than a reelection ploy is that they refuse to re-implement the incentives they scrapped in 2018. Supporting the supply but not the demand side of the electric vehicle equation is the height of hypocrisy – and evidence of the Conservatives’ true intentions.

    The Ontario Liberals are promising to implement an EV rebate of up to $8,000 for vehicles under $55,000. The Green Party has pledged $10,000 in rebates, and the New Democrats have promised unspecified amounts for non-luxury EVs.

  • The 3 top-performing solar stocks right now—and why they’re gaining so much momentum

    In 2020, clean energy demand proved resilient as renewables and storage recorded declining costs and rising capacity and usage factors. Other analysis indicate this trend will continue in 2020

    As solar photovoltaic technology continues to grow in popularity, with a progressive U.S administration and Canadian government focused on climate change, investors are turning to solar stocks for portfolio diversification and revenue growth. There is the ESG angle too, but that’s a different story.

    The attention and investor interest, increase funding required to inject more resources into R&D and capacity deployment. As a result, there are 3 hot stock options on the market right now—which is what we’ll be looking at in this article.

    1. First Solar: FSLR (NASDAQ)

    First Solar is an American manufacturer of solar panels that offers utility-scale PV power plants and supporting services, including finance, construction, and end-of-life panel recycling.

    The company utilizes proprietary thin-film technology to boost panel efficiency and, as such, has become a robust industry player. At the time of writing, First Solar’s stock is worth USD $83.49 (7/18/2021). The company’s products have entirely sold out in 2021 and are more than 70% sold out for 2022, demonstrating a level of market confidence seldom witnessed in the solar industry.

    One of the catalysts for First Solar’s strong market performance has been the continuation of Trump-era tariffs on imported solar by the Biden administration. This has provided domestic manufacturers in the United States a significant competitive edge over international players, specifically those producing cheap PV models in China.

    2. Generac: GNRC (NYSE)

    Generac (GNRC), a fortune 1000 American manufacturer of backup power generators and energy storage technologies, is another company that has seen great success as of late, with company stock doubling throughout 2021.

    While increasingly unstable electrical grids have boosted Generac’s market prospects, the most significant opportunity for the company lies in energy storage, a critical component towards making green energy — known for its intermittency — reliable enough to power the world’s economic activities. The company recently announced its entrance into the solar inverter marketplace. This could be a defining move for the company.

    Generac’s stock currently trades for USD $430.34 (7/18/2021), making it the most expensive opportunity on this list. That is not to say that this stock is not worth picking up; if you can afford it, that is. There is plenty of evidence suggesting that Generac hasn’t even come close to reaching its stock ceiling yet, such as its stellar management record.

    3. Enphase Energy: ENPH (NASDAQ)

    Enphase Energy, a home energy storage company with a focus on microinverters, is the final stock option we’ll take a look at today.

    Solar panels produce direct current (DC) electricity which needs to be converted into alternate current (AC) electricity through an inverter to be utilized by homeowners. This process can be accomplished in many ways, such as having one large inverter connected to an array of solar panels.

    Increasingly, however, solar professionals prefer microinverters, which enable each solar panel to become a self-contained electrical system. In addition, decentralizing solar inverters helps ensure reliability in electricity production, as technical problems that arise are contained within singular units. At the time of writing, Enphase is trading at USD $163.45 (7/18/2021), almost tripling since July of 2020.

    Moving forward, companies like Enphase Energy are primed to take advantage of this ongoing solar industry adaptation.

    There’s never been a better time to pick up stock in the solar industry, thanks to the public’s growing support of climate action and a series of industry breakthroughs in recent years. The resiliency and strength of solar stocks is evidence that green energy is quickly becoming mainstream, a feat worthy of celebration.

  • After years of waiting, Canada finally has a federally-funded solar incentive program

    The Leaders Summit on Climate, hosted by President Biden represented a critical step forward in the fight against climate change. The summit underscored the urgency of the climate crisis, along with the breadth of economic opportunities associated with decarbonization.

    Throughout the summit, countless nations committed to more aggressive carbon emission reduction targets, including Canada, which pledged reductions of between 40-45% of 2005 levels by 2030 (compared to a 30% reduction).

    Not long ago, I wrote about the need for a federally implemented solar incentive as a way of kickstarting Canada’s post-pandemic recovery and fighting climate change. Canada now appears to be moving forward with such a policy, according to the recent announcement regarding the creation of the Canada Greener Homes Program.

    This initiative offers homeowners grants of up to CAD $5,000 to be put towards energy-saving projects, including high-efficiency water heaters, smart thermostats, improved insulation, upgraded windows and doors, and photovoltaic solar panels.

    As of right now, there is no specification regarding whether ground-mounted solar panels are covered by the program, but more details are expected in the coming weeks. The amount of CAD $600 is earmarked to cover the cost of energy evaluations, a requirement for homeowners to access the grant funding.

    In total, the Canada’s federal government expects to award 700,000 in grants, at an overall cost of CAD $2.6 billion over seven years.

    Eligibility for the program is broad, including detached homes, townhouses, mobile homes, rowhouses, and residential units in mixed space zoning with no more than three floors and 600 metres squared. Additionally, buildings must be older than six months to qualify for the funding.

    Homeowners have to register online via the Greener Homes Grant Portal, after which they will be able to book an EnerGuide Evaluation. This evaluation involves measuring the property’s existing energy efficiency status and to determine the homeowner’s grant savings potential.

    The program now has over 30,000 applicants (at the time of writing this article), which is likely to cause mild delays, as the government is still training 2,000 new energy advisors to support its deployment.

    The program is exactly what’s needed to invigorate the cleantech economy throughout Canada.

    Prior to this federal announcement, solar incentives were only offered through provincial programs; subsequently, partisanship represented a significant barrier to growing Canada’s clean economy. With the removal of political obstacles, the solar industry will likely witness substantial market growth in the coming years, especially as the program will run for the next seven, ensuring a level of market stability not seen to date.

    “This program will be critical to the success of Canada’s broader national climate plan,” says Derick Lila, pvbuzz Founder and Managing Editor. “A reinvigorated commitment to climate action from the Canadian government is cause to celebrate for cleantech firms and enthusiasts, who’ll have an excellent chance to cash in on this opportunity.”

  • Automakers Choose Silicon as Key Li-ion Battery Material to Boost Electric Vehicle Performance

    Silicon represents 27.7% of the earth’s crust, making it the second most abundant substance after oxygen. This plentiful material is a hard metalloid, and in crystalline form, is characterized by a metallic lustre.

    Silicon metal‘s stable tetrahedral configuration makes it incredibly useful in a wide range of industries, such as aluminum, where it’s used to strengthen alloys, personal electronics, where it’s used as a semiconductor, and cosmetics, where it’s used in hair conditioners and face washes, among other things.

    In the past few years, electric automakers have pivoted towards silicon, a growing trend that sends the message that the transportation market is quickly favouring electrification. Li-ion batteries that are poised to power this market are also rising sharply in demand.

    The global EV battery market is expected to hit 1 trillion dollars in market value by 2030. With so much at stake, a technological race has sparked between battery manufacturers. The race involves developing pathways to find efficiencies, cut costs, and boost EV battery performance, and silicon well positioned to become the key material needed to achieve the high performance required from next-generation Li-ion batteries.

    The metalloid is far more energy-dense than graphite (9-10x to be exact!), meaning it holds more Lithium ions and is, therefore, more efficient as an energy storage material. Far less silicon is needed, relative to graphite, to achieve the same storage capacity. This reduces the overall cost of the battery supply chain in addition to negative environmental externalities, as fewer minerals are needed to supply the battery demand.

    The abundance of silicon makes it a highly economical choice for battery manufacturers looking for the next breakthrough, and several companies have already begun to compete for just that.

    General Motors (GM)

    GM, for example, has begun experimenting with a variety of battery chemistries and manufacturing processes to slash production costs. One of these experiments has been with silicon-rich lithium metal for their next-generation of Ultium batteries, which are projected to be finished in 2025.

    Ultium-branded-battery
    General Motors reveals its Ultium at the Design Dome on the GM Tech Center campus in Warren. This new battery technology includes silicon anodes and lithium metal anodes, which will improve vehicle range, affordability and reduced dependence on rare and costly metals  (The Detroit News).

    The company has repeatedly made it clear that they feel as though EV battery cost has replaced horsepower as the vital issue that will determine the winners and losers in the EV market.

    The company aims to reduce the manufacturing cost of their Li-ion batteries to “well under $100/kWh by 2025,” a dramatic drop from the current price of $150/kWh. GM estimates that these battery improvements will provide their vehicles with a range of between 805-965 kilometres on a single charge, drastically more than EVs on the market today.

    Part of GM’s commitment to silicon is borne out of the company’s desire to reduce dependence on precious metals, such as nickel and cobalt. Whereas silicon reserves are plentiful, many of the world’s accessible mineral deposits have already been depleted to some extent, translating into higher procurement costs.

    Porsche

    Porsche is another high-profile company that’s committed to using silicon in their future EV batteries, with the Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG, Oliver Blume, saying, “the battery cell is the combustion chamber of tomorrow.” Porsche’s next-generation batteries will initially be limited in production, used only for rare, high-performance vehicles and custom motorsport.

    The addition of silicon will enable fast-charging potential that hasn’t yet been seen on the market. Porsche has also committed to ensuring their production chain for high-performance batteries is entirely based in Europe, ensuring a high environmental standard is met.

    Though few specifics have been released regarding Porsche’s silicon anode batteries, the company is clearly betting heavily on their success.

    Porsche plans to install fast-charging stations equipped with branded lounge spaces and innovative self-service facilities along the busiest motorways in Europe. Each location will feature between six and 12 charging ports with a capacity of 350kW or greater and will join Porsche’s existing European charging network that stands at over 135,000.

    High-performance batteries with silicon anodes and Porsche fast-charging stations (Porsche)

    Tesla

    No conversation about EV battery innovation is complete without the mention of Tesla, and as per usual, the company is well ahead of its competitors when it comes to R&D. Silicon has already been used in Tesla vehicles for a few years.

    However, these solutions, such as silicon nanowires, are highly engineered and expensive. As a result, they can’t be scaled. Tesla’s new silicon anode method, dubbed “Tesla Silicon,” costs just $1.20/kWh — roughly 6-10x cheaper than current or other methods used to date. Tesla Silicon begins with raw metallurgical silicon, no engineering required.

    The battery is designed to account for the expansion of silicon, rather than constrain it. Tesla describes their silicon as featuring an “elastic binder and electrode design” in addition to an “elastic, ion-conducting, polymer coating.”

    These changes alone are projected to increase Tesla’s battery range by 20% and decrease costs by 5% per kWh. One of the most significant benefits of using raw metallurgical silicon is that manufacturing costs can be significantly reduced by forgoing early engineering processes. This also means the solution is easy to scale, as it doesn’t require any high upfront capital expenditures.

    As quickly as the vehicle market is moving towards electrification, the EV industry is evolving towards silicon anode batteries. The capacity limitations of graphite make the material ill-suited to underpin a global economic revolution, whereas silicon offers a cheap, abundant, powerful, and environmentally friendly alternative.

    Expect to see more automakers join the silicon bandwagon and announce plans for Li-ion battery innovation in the coming months.

  • The Role of Municipal Government in Fighting Climate Change

    Discussions of climate change mitigation strategies are often centered around provincial and federal initiatives. Municipalities are often excluded from the conversation altogether, which is unfortunate, as they play an important role in developing environmental public policy. If Canada is to achieve the aggressive, time-sensitive emission reductions needed to maintain a healthy biosphere, all levels of government must be included in strategizing decarbonization processes. Discussing the policy tools available to municipalities is also important as it will help Canadians identify the importance of local government. In doing so, Canada’s democracy can be strengthened through the mobilization of voters in municipal elections, which will be necessary to facilitate rapid change.

    Toronto City Hall: Photo by Filip Mroz

    Under the Canadian constitution, municipalities bear no direct power. Instead, they are given autonomy by the province to create bylaws, though provincial legislation can overrule them. Typically, provinces leave local affairs to municipal governments, meaning the ‘traditional’ jurisdiction of municipalities is generally respected and clashes seldom occur. Even though provinces grant a host of powers to municipal governments, their impact is often overlooked on headline-grabbing issues, such as climate change. The scale of this issue in particular has likely contributed to the disconnect of what voters think municipalities can do, and reality. The notion of “thinking globally, acting locally” has merit to it, yet the inability of individuals to recognize the importance of being a part of a collective still poses a challenge. The frequent repetition of the “act locally” line has also diminished its meaning, reducing it to little more than an eco-friendly platitude. Increasing awareness of municipal responsibilities related to environmental preservation is key to encouraging disillusioned voters, particularly young people, to participate in their local democratic process.

    One of the most effective ways municipalities are able to reduce emissions is through the use of energy efficiency standards. Updating building codes to require new residential, commercial, and industrial units to use less energy is a critical step towards reducing a city’s carbon footprint. These policies should also be introduced alongside retrofit incentive programs, which allow for older, more wasteful buildings to reduce their electricity consumption. Policies promoting energy efficiency are quite palpable, politically speaking, as they offer savings on electricity bills, in addition to decreasing negative environmental externalities.

    Municipalities also have a great deal of control in planning their land usage. Under Ontario’s Planning Act, cities are responsible for submitting land use planning regulations to the province for approval. Regulating how land within municipal boundaries is used provides a myriad of options for local politicians to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. Urban sprawl has spread like a plague throughout much of North America, and as a result, carbon sequestration is far lower than is necessary. This unregulated, poorly planned growth has led to the culling of much of the world’s forests. The protection and expansion of urban and suburban carbon sinks are well within the municipal mandate, and represent an extremely cost-effective climate strategy.

    For this reason, many countries, including China, Pakistan, Ireland, and Japan, have undergone massive reforestation campaigns. Weaving green space (both shielded from and welcomed to human activity) throughout cityscapes, and generally improving the biodiversity and density of vegetation cover in urban settings can help a municipality reduce the threat of climate change significantly. During floods and storms, vegetation helps prevent erosion and soaks up vast quantities of water. The “heat island effect” experienced in city cores throughout the summer can also be reduced through vegetation cover — this has the potential to save lives, especially as heat waves become more prevalent and Canada’s population ages. The World Health Organization (WHO) writes that “green spaces are [also] important to mental health, as they aid in the treatment of mental illness, reduce health inequalities, and improve well-being and longevity. Moving forward, it is critical that municipal planners consider how social, economic, and environmental factors interact with each other in urban environments.

    Transportation is another policy field where municipalities have an opportunity to reduce emissions. Unfortunately, cities have been designed to favour personal vehicle transportation, rather than public transportation, which represents a more equitable and environmentally friendly alternative. Further investments into transit combined with the reduction and eventual elimination of transit fees will encourage growth in collectivized transit usage. It is imperative that public transit is not used to balance the books of a municipal budget, as transit fees are disproportionately collected by low-income individuals. The funding for these projects therefore, will have to come from both municipalities and the provincial or federal government. There is simply not enough in municipal coffers to cover the necessary costs.

    Increasing the availability of bike lanes is also vital in promoting alternative transportation methods. Not only does biking promote active living and a low carbon lifestyle, but it’s also free! Currently, many cities have entire neighborhoods devoid of bike lanes, which is negligent on behalf of municipalities, and has led to countless preventable deaths. The introduction of no-car zones, which are usually oriented around physical marketplaces, should also be explored as a way of moving cities into the 21st century. These spaces increase local economic activity, improve air quality, and provide a temporary retreat from cognitive overload, often brought about by excessive noise pollution.

    It’s more important now than ever before that millennial and generation Z voters understand the functions and tasks of local government. Mobilizing environmentally conscious voters is needed in all levels of Canada’s democracy if climate change is to be successfully combatted. Change starts from the bottom up, and municipal governments are uniquely positioned to be facilitators in the transition to a carbon-neutral economy.

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  • Canada’s 2021 budget promises $40K interest-free loans for home retrofits such as rooftop solar

    Christina Alexandra Freeland is a Canadian politician serving as the tenth deputy prime minister of Canada since 2019 and as the minister of finance since 2020. (Canadian Press)

    Canada’s federal government unveiled its first budget in more than two years.

    The budget represents a strong effort to reduce Canada’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions. It adds an additional $101.4 billion dollars in new spending—much of which is geared towards economic stimulus to get Canada through the Covid-19 pandemic.

    The budget allots $17.6 billion to green projects, which Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says “will help reduce [domestic] greenhouse gas emissions by 36% by 2030″—as opposed to the original target of 30%.

    While PVbuzz still has to review the fine print of the budget, one thing is clear: the Liberals have demonstrated a renewed vigor towards addressing environmental issues.

    To achieve these emissions cuts, the government is committed to boosting cleantech growth by growing the market for energy-efficient retrofits, including the development of a Canadian supply chain for high-efficiency home renovation products. 5 billion dollars over 7 years will be spent on a Net Zero Accelerator program to invest in projects used by industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    Furthermore, companies manufacturing zero-emissions technologies, such as solar panels and electric buses will receive an extremely generous 50%, 10-year reduction on corporate and small business income tax rates.

    In order to help homeowners reduce their energy bills, the budget allocates $4.4 billion over 5 years for residential and commercial energy retrofits.

    The government says it’ll work with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to make available interest-free loans of up to $40,000 to households for green retrofits—such as high-efficiency doors or windows and rooftop solar panels (see page 177 of the 2021 budget).

    These loans would be available to homeowners and landlords who undertake retrofits identified through an authorized EnerGuide energy assessment.

    The government says this would help eligible participants make deeper, more costly retrofits that have the biggest impact in reducing a home’s environmental footprint and energy bills.

    This budget represents Canada’s strongest effort to date towards mitigating and adapting to climate change—with all levels of the economy including small, medium, and large-scale businesses, in addition to residential properties—being targeted with environmentally friendly support.

    There is no doubt that the combination of a generous cleantech tax cut and funding for residential and commercial retrofits is amazing news for Canada’s burgeoning green industry sector.

  • Environmentalists Need to Stop Talking About Overpopulation

    During the 50th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, overpopulation became a topic of interest — primarily because of world-renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall, who asserted that “most environmental problems wouldn’t exist” if the world’s population was at the level it was at 500 years ago. I have great respect for Dr. Goodall, but this perspective is simplistic in that it fails to account for the varying uses of non-renewable resources around the world. Problems commonly associated with overpopulation, namely food insecurity, water scarcity, and poverty, are already relevant in international development discussions. The solutions touted by those who believe overpopulation to be the root of the world’s problems are also eerily similar to global development goals: Overcoming gender inequality, improving equitable resource distribution, and improving education and family planning accessibility. Despite advocating for many of the same policies, overpopulation theorists fail to recognize the diversity of global consumption patterns and technology’s impact on production efficiency. Overpopulation theories are simplistic in thinking. They ignore that not every population’s impact on the environment is the same — pretending otherwise is unhelpful, as it shifts the burden of global environmental issues on developing nations that, ironically, exhibit far lower ecological footprints per capita than developed countries.

    Environmentalists must recognize the true driver of environmental problems: a global economic system that has produced radical concentrations of wealth, enabling a fraction of the world’s population to grossly over-consume. Privatization, deregulation, and resource colonization (pinnacles of neoliberal policy), all ushered in en masse in the 1980s, have significantly increased the speed of environmental destruction. Focusing environmental discourse on overpopulation ignores the root of environmental problems and is wasteful of the precious time the world has left to avoid a series of ecological catastrophes. 

    The world’s wealthiest 1% were responsible for the same amount of emissions as the poorest 50% (roughly 3.1 billion people) from 1990-2015. Over the same period, the wealthiest 10% were responsible for 52% of all global emissions. Overwhelmingly, most population growth in the 21st century will occur in developing countries. Population booms are common for industrializing nations — as living standards start to improve, death rates start to fall. On the other hand, birth rates remain steady for a while longer (until further development has taken place, namely education), leading to an explosion in population.

    Consequently, this often leads to deteriorating economic conditions in the short term, known as a ‘demographic trap.’ Developing governments are forced to spend most of their budgets (which are often constrained by foreign debt payments to begin with) on necessities such as housing, limiting the availability of government investments in education, healthcare, and other sectors. Additionally, population booms tend to cause short-term overexploitation of non-renewable resources, further damaging a nation’s long-term economic prospects. This phenomenon demonstrates that rapid population growth often comes with environmental deterioration. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that ambient environmental quality recovers as development progresses. On the other hand, overconsumption from the world’s wealthiest represents a long-term lifestyle trend. 

    Achieving decarbonization and sustainable economies should be a long-term goal for every nation, of course. However, overpopulation adheres to the logical fallacy of equivalency; not every individual has the same impact, demonstrated by the world’s varying per capita environmental footprints. Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Saudia Arabia, and Australia have some of the world’s highest per capita carbon footprints, far greater than any developing nation. Often, politicians from developed countries point the finger of blame at China and India for climate change. While both nations contribute a sizable chunk of global greenhouse emissions, their per capita carbon footprints are drastically smaller than developed countries. 

    Even as early as the 19th century, overpopulation theories were being explored. One such example is Thomas Robert Malthus’s “Malthusian disaster” theory, which predicted that population growth would outpace food production and the world’s finite resources, leading to mass death. Malthus’s theory came before globalization and technological proliferation, which disproved his theory by enabling production deficits and surpluses to be rectified through global trade. As such, this theory is no longer relevant to international discussions of famine. Contemporary discussions on food insecurity are based on the relationship between food production and distribution, rather than production. 

    Much like how discussions of famine have evolved to focus on equitable distribution, so too must environmental circles. The global population is expected to stabilize at around 11 billion people. Consider an earlier statistic: the world’s richest 1% from 1995-2015 contributed emissions totaling the world’s poorest 3.1 billion people (more than one quarter of the expected future global population). There are ample resources on this planet to sustain modest livelihoods for several billion people. Solving environmental problems is a matter of investing in technology to lower the marginal abatement cost of production, restoring and expanding protected conservation zones, reducing residual discharges, internalizing the externalities (i.e., air pollution) of resource production and development, incentivizing environmentally friendly market choices, and most of all, reigning in the power of corporations and elite members of society through progressive taxation and regulation.

    What I’m describing is an ideological shift away from neoliberalism. The past 40 years have demonstrated that, when given the opportunity, corporations and the privileged elite will happily trade the middle class’s well-being for opportunities to perpetuate their self-interest. Environmentalists must recognize that to convince the world of the need for greater environmental preservation; they must couple it with humanitarian goals. Overpopulation tends to drift into eco-fascist circles (who believe in radical population reductions to protect the earth), demonstrating the problematic underlying assumptions and associations with the idea. 

    Simply put, radical environmentalist factions are damaging their own authority by employing an eco-centric, fringe perspective rather than attempting to perpetuate the merging of sustainability into the mainstream. Many positive indicators suggest that global markets are increasingly giving the ‘thumbs up’ to green projects. Renewable energy and other sustainable stocks fared well in 2020, despite Covid-19 unleashing a devastating recession on the world. Corporate social responsibility is an increasingly hot button topic among executive circles — brought on by popular consumer demand. Environmentalists are finally starting to see the benefits of decades of work. No longer is environmentalism seen as a hippie, anti-development ideology, but rather one that encapsulates the direction the global economy is heading in. Advocates of overpopulation talking points, such as Jane Goodall, should take note of this, as they risk damaging the environmental movements’ momentum.

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  • What a Biden Presidency means for American Cleantech

    Saturday afternoon, on November 7th, 2020, Biden was declared President-Elect by major media outlets across the United States, putting an end to an election characterized by unprecedented levels of voter and industry anxiety. The candidacies and visions of Joseph Biden and Donald Trump could not be more juxtaposed, demonstrating the severe degree of polarization in the United States. At the time of writing, Biden’s electoral college lead stands at 290-214, with an excellent chance of winning Georgia to surpass 300 electoral votes. Biden’s popular vote lead hovers around 4.5 million, giving him more votes than any Presidential candidate in history, including his former boss, President Barrack Obama. Biden’s solid victory margin grants the Democratic Party a strong mandate. This is cause to celebrate for solar, wind, and other cleantech industries that have faced significant political opposition since Republicans gained control of the White House in 2016.  

    Democrats may now control the Executive Branch, but the Senate looks likely to remain in Republican hands. Flipping the senate would require Democrats to win both of the outstanding Georgia Senate races, an unlikely feat. With Mitch McConnell securing reelection in Kentucky, his return as Senate Majority Leader is inevitable. Republicans will likely block any signature accomplishments Biden tries to pass through the legislative branch, meaning executive orders will be a crucial tool for a Democratic administration to get things done.

    Trump has spent the past four years discrediting climate science, often falsely attributing extreme weather to season changes instead of anthropogenic climate change. Biden’s discourse is the opposite of Trumps’; he frequently recognized the severity of climate change during his candidacy. His platform also featured a slew of cleantech-boosting policies that made his Democratic Party the clear favorite among clean energy professionals.

    Biden has committed to ensuring the American economy reaches net 0 emissions and runs on 100% clean energy by 2050. To achieve this, the Democratic platform intends to increase fossil fuel production costs while decreasing solar, wind, and other clean energy costs, incentivizing the adaptation of private markets. Additionally, a Biden administration will foster international cooperation on climate change, beginning with reentering the United States in the Paris Climate Accord.

    To decrease the competitiveness of fossil fuels, Biden’s platform commits to modifying resource royalties to account for the costs of climate change, in addition to phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. To promote growth in renewable energy sources, Democrats have committed to “incentivizing the rapid deployment of clean energy innovations” by developing renewables on the country’s public lands, providing federal grants for cleantech innovation, and mandating reductions in climate change-causing pollution.

    Biden’s platform specifically mentions investments in battery innovation, something that’s key to the success of solar and wind energy. Improvements in battery technology could significantly reduce the logistical costs and uncertainty of intermittent energy sources, fostering a more rapid shift towards a carbon-neutral electrical grid. Additionally, the solar investment tax credit (ITC), while not explicitly mentioned in Biden’s platform, will likely see changes. The program currently provides a 26% tax credit for residential or commercial solar installations but is set to wind down over the next couple of years. Biden’s centrist roots and numerous commitments to using the private sector to foster climate action makes renewing and expanding the ITC a likely policy choice, especially as it’s garnered bipartisan support in the past. Regardless of whether or not Biden moves to modernize the ITC, solar energy will play a clear role in the electrical grids of the future that Democrats are envisioning.

    The investments a Biden administration will make in combatting climate change will boost the economic prospects for professionals working in solar, wind, and other rapidly growing cleantech industries. Trump’s administration sought to dismantle the American clean energy market, but at last, his four years of antagonism has come to an end. Biden’s commitment to reigning in irresponsible resource exploration and internalizing the public costs of fossil fuel production will create a more efficient American economy, enabling clean energy to flourish beyond what the market has seen up to this point. Biden has made clear that his administration will go beyond his Democratic predecessor’s environmental legacy, a tell-tale sign that an economic boom may be on the horizon for green energy and cleantech. While many of Biden’s campaign promises may not come to fruition, it’s clear that his administration will be a friend to clean energy, ushering in a new era ripe with economic potential. 

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  • Is Canada’s Carbon Tax Enough to Fight Climate Change?

    Is Canada’s Carbon Tax Enough to Fight Climate Change?

    As Canada’s 2019 Federal election looms closer, carbon pricing has shown itself to be a highly contested and divisive issue. Since the Federal Liberals announced their carbon pricing plan, it’s dominated the conversation surrounding climate change. The NDP and Greens back the Federal Liberal’s proposal, whereas the Conservatives do not, meaning the issue has fallen down a left/right, partisan split.

    Among experts, there’s a policy consensus that carbon pricing should play an integral role in moving the world towards decarbonization. Unfortunately, the political sphere is lagging behind, primarily due to Provincial and Federal Conservative resistance. Since 2018, the Canadian public has gradually moved toward embracing carbon pricing, with more than 50% of Canadian’s voicing support for the Federal Liberal’s plan.

    Due to the divisiveness of carbon pricing, there has been significantly less coverage paid to other focal points of reducing emissions. While carbon pricing represents an important aspect of a successful climate change plan, it must be accompanied by a host of other incentives, initiatives and investments. Without a comprehensive plan, Canada won’t be able to meet the Paris Climate Accord targets, let alone become a global leader on climate change.

    In April of 2019, the Liberal’s carbon price officially came into effect. The initial price is $20/ton of carbon, rising annually by $10/ton until the price is $50/ton by 2022. While the initial price of $20/ton is far too low to spur the kind of climate action needed to avoid a catastrophe, the annual price increase serves as a way of achieving a more impactful price, while offering markets the time to adjust to increased production costs. The carbon pricing leadership coalition estimates that for countries to meet their 2030 targets, a carbon price between $50-$100/ton must be established, barring other emission reduction policies. This estimate is also made on the assumption that global emissions will not rise any higher.

    Trudeau’s Liberals have been keen to claim that their carbon pricing plan will make Canada a global leader on climate change, but this is far from true. Canada currently leads the G7 nations in oil and gas subsidies, with an estimate of 3.3 billion dollars being given out in 2016 alone. This level of subsidizing works out to paying oil and gas producers roughly $19 per ton of carbon emitted. Unfortunately, finding more recent figures on oil and gas subsidies is particularly challenging, as Canada has refused to publish documentation of the true costs of their subsidies. Out of the G7 nations, Canada currently sits in 6th place regarding transparency. In 2017, the auditor general criticized Trudeau’s government for failing to provide information on inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. Subsidizing fossil fuels directly undermines carbon pricing, and has contributed to the slow progress Canada has made on developing more renewable energy.

    Canada has also continued to develop fossil fuel infrastructure, such as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX) or British Columbia’s liquified natural gas project (LNG). The impacts of massive subsidies combined with the continued development of fossil fuel infrastructure has left Canada’s climate policies significantly undermined, and the Paris Accord targets far from reach.

    Although Trudeau’s government likes to tout carbon pricing as the solution to climate change, it’s clear that without substantial changes in subsidies and government investments, Canada will continue to be an environmental laggard. The greatest shortcoming of carbon pricing and similar emission reduction strategies has been the inadequate prices and targets being set. If Canada wants to provide subsidies, and continue to develop fossil fuel projects, the carbon price must rise much higher than $50/ton by 2022. This is highly unlikely to occur however, as even the low price of $20/ton has caused major political backlash.

    The political struggle over carbon pricing comes at a crucial junction in history. Just last year, the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) reported that the world’s emission reduction targets aren’t ambitious enough. The Paris Climate Accord targets aim to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius; however, the report published by the IPCC suggests 1.5 degrees as the warming threshold. At the current level of progress being achieved, Canada will inevitably miss the targets designed to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Currently, Canada lacks the political will to raise the price of carbon to a sufficient degree. That being said, this problem is not unique to Canada. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that the vast majority of countries enacting carbon prices are doing so at levels too low to significantly curb climate change.

    While carbon pricing is an important step for long term decarbonization, there are plenty of strategies that work in tandem with carbon pricing to effectively reduce emissions. First and foremost, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and replacing them with renewable energy subsidies will provide industry incentives without undermining carbon pricing. This is an area Canada is particularly weak on, as Trudeau has continued his predecessor’s trend of providing minuscule funding for green industry. Carbon sinks, such as Canada’s boreal forest, are also critical in the fight against climate change. Per hectare, Canada’s boreal forest stores nearly twice as much carbon as tropical counterparts. Redeveloping carbon sinks through reforestation is cheap, efficient and a critical tool in mitigating the impacts of climate change.

    There are also certain social policies that can be implemented to help cut down emissions. Expanding public transit, lowering the cost, or making it free to use encourages reductions in transportation-related greenhouse gases (GHG), the second largest contributor in Canada. Increasing electric vehicle (EV) rebates and expanding charging stations are also successful ways of reducing GHG from the transportation sector. Creating more stringent energy efficiency standards in construction, and providing significant funding for retrofit programs can help reduce the amount of energy required for heating and cooling. Finally, it’s about time politicians address agricultural emissions. The production of meat is not only energy and water intensive, but also produces vast quantities of methane, which is far more dangerous to the climate than carbon dioxide. Promoting non-meat alternatives through subsidies or research and development funding could help expand consumer’s food choices.

    Carbon pricing is far from a blanket solution to climate change, but it offers an opportunity to use market-based tools to address the world’s most pressing issue. The ability of carbon pricing to be successful is largely dependent on the ambition of the carbon price set, and the implementation of other collaborative environmental initiatives. The 2019 Federal election will see climate change and carbon pricing be highly contested issues, but it’s important to keep the conversation surrounding climate change from being consumed by carbon pricing. Solving climate change will require a comprehensive plan that addresses social, economic and environmental combatant strategies, and carbon pricing is the mere tip of the iceberg when it comes to solutions.

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