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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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  • Making the Case for a Canada-Wide Solar Incentive

    In just a few short months, the coronavirus pandemic has profoundly destabilized the world’s economies and brought on a devastating recession sure to have lasting impacts. Governments around the world have scrambled to unload a tsunami of government expenditure and social programs to avoid economic collapse. Where countries choose to direct this expenditure will have serious structural and economic implications moving forward, heightening the pressure on incumbent governments to make the right decisions.

    Canada’s left-leaning Liberal Party has been applauded for its response to Covid-19, which has prioritized public health over reopening the economy. As a direct result, Canada has experienced less economic turmoil than other nations and has successfully “flattened” the country’s curve. In contrast, the United States disregarded expert opinion, sought to prioritize the economy over public health, and has subsequently failed on both counts.

    The Liberal’s post-pandemic recovery plan has been far from perfect, though. Investment in cleantech is not even close to on par with fossil fuels, creating a rift between Liberal platform policy and actual government policy. This is despite the pandemic providing an excellent opportunity to rapidly decarbonize, thanks to low-interest rates and the public’s willingness to allow governments to spend seemingly endless amounts of money. For ideas on how to stimulate cleantech, Trudeau’s Liberals should look south at the American solar investment tax credit (ITC).

    The ITC is a federal policy mechanism that encourages the production of solar energy in the United States. It offers a rebate for solar installations that can be applied dollar for dollar towards an individual’s income tax. Currently, the rebate is 26% of the cost of a solar module. Since the ITC’s enactment in 2006, the American solar industry has grown by more than 10,000%. Continued renewal of the ITC has provided stability for cleantech innovators and investors, producing jobs and helping to lower electricity costs by driving market competition. The ITC is an excellent example of a public policy success story, with solar energy now making up 2.5% of energy production across the United States. This is well above Canada, which garners 0.5% of its electricity from solar power. A key strength of the American ITC is that it’s a federally administered program, allowing any homeowner to take advantage of it. This has permitted solar production to bypass partisan and ideological concerns that would harm the industry’s growth.

    Unfortunately, in Canada, solar production incentives have not been able to bypass the country’s political arena with the same success. This is because there exists no federal framework promoting renewables. Clean energy incentives are up to the discretion of each province, which has provided relatively little stability for the industry and made the production of solar energy far more partisan than it should be. Ontario is an excellent example of this. Before the 2018 provincial election (which saw Doug Ford’s Conservatives win), the Liberal government of Ontario, under the leadership of Kathleen Wynne, aggressively pushed solar incentives. Wynne’s government developed the Micro-FIT program, which subsidized solar production on residential properties above market rates. Unfortunately, the design of the program made it easy to abuse. The program will cost billions of dollars because of long-term contracts, while only providing roughly 0.3% of Ontario’s electricity generation. After the Liberal defeat in 2018, all solar and green energy incentives were torn up, severely damaging Ontario’s clean energy market. While the Micro-FIT program ultimately failed, it demonstrated how incentives are capable of electrifying the solar market. This principle should be applied on the federal level to boost the demand for cleantech in every province, regardless of political culture.

    Trudeau’s Liberal Party may not be as green as they’ve lead on, but legislating a Pan-Canada solar rebate framework would significantly improve their track record on environmental initiatives. Internal disagreements between Finance Minister Morneau and Prime Minister Trudeau about the scope of funding for green projects have recently come to light. It highlights the growing focus within the Liberal Party to address climate change and other environmental challenges. Trudeau has argued in favor of more spending for green projects, whereas Morneau has opposed such measures, deeming them too costly. On this issue, Trudeau’s intuition is serving him well.

    Adopting a Canada wide solar rebate would make for an incredibly efficient investment into the government’s post-pandemic recovery, as it would accomplish a myriad of social, economic, and environmental goals. First and foremost, a federal solar rebate would boost the demand for cleantech, producing thousands of much-needed jobs. A federal solar rebate would also increase the share of renewable energy in Canada’s electrical grid. Supporting the development of net-zero homes is another benefit that a solar rebate would produce. Net-zero homes are those that are so energy efficient, they only use as much electricity as is produced from on-site renewables. This policy would help Canada progress towards achieving its goals under the Paris Climate Accord, in which it’s agreed to reduce emissions by 30% of 1990 levels by 2030. Trudeau’s Liberals have repeatedly said that they’re on track to meet this goal; however, this claim is misleading. Finally, a national solar rebate would improve community health, wellness, and help promote energy independence.

    Designing and administering such a comprehensive policy would be highly complex. As such, it would be in the best interest of Canada’s government to deliver this kind of rebate through a new independent government agency. The independent agency would ideally be responsible for administering the program, certifying and monitoring companies performing solar installations, developing regulations for the solar industry, and ensuring compliance. Existing organizations, such as the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) in Ontario, are already plagued by internal complexities and bureaucracy, making them less suitable for handling such a policy.

    The coronavirus pandemic has provided an excellent opportunity for world leaders to make great strides in fighting climate change. A federal solar rebate program would make for a worthy investment, as it would provide thousands of jobs and give homeowners a way to reduce their bills, improve their health, and fight climate change. Trudeau’s Liberals should not pass this opportunity up.

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  • Analyzing the Root Causes of Food Insecurity in Niger and Malawi

    Despite massive improvements in technology and economic productivity in the 21st century, many nations today remain incapable of addressing their citizens’ basic needs. Food insecurity in Niger and Malawi represents a complicated, interdependent phenomenon that can be explained by analyzing the anthropogenic and natural influences on each country’s domestic food supply. The comparable situations in Niger and Malawi reveal that, while natural factors can certainly hinder food production, famine and food insecurity are primarily socially constructed and tied closely to economic development. Rapid population growth and inequality, anthropogenic climate change, and political instability are the primary culprits responsible for food insecurity across Niger, Malawi, and many other developing nations. 

    Niger’s population is around 22 million and boasts the world’s highest annual population growth at 3.8% (Razafimandimby & Swaroop, 2020). This translates into roughly seven children per woman. The widespread prevalence of child marriage, sexual abuse, and consequently, early childbearing, all of which are rooted in Niger’s entrenched patriarchal society, have contributed significantly to the nation’s booming population (Razafimandimby & Swaroop, 2020). Nigerien social services are chronically underfunded because of poor taxation infrastructure and have struggled to meet the demand for a growing population. This problem will only grow more pervasive; by 2050, Niger’s population is estimated to reach an astounding 50 million people (Potts, Gidi, Campbell, & Zureick, 2011). 

    Child marriage is seen culturally as a way of enhancing social status and offering potential economic opportunity, but this is not the case. Women forced into early marriages experience restricted educational and economic opportunities, often being placed in a traditional role with duties in line with motherhood. The roots of Niger’s gender inequality run deep: The UN’s Education Index places Niger dead last, primarily due to widespread female illiteracy (Giovetti, 2019). Households led by women are more vulnerable to food insecurity than their male counterparts, primarily due to an educational and hierarchical imbalance (Zakari, Ying & Song, 2014). Education disparities have also had severe ramifications for the nation’s development. Niger is ranked 187th (out of 188 countries) on the UN’s Human Development Index (Action Against Hunger, n.d.). Nigerien men are 65% more likely to be literate than women (Giovetti, 2019); the consequence of this is an economy lacking in social capital and productive inputs. Restricting women’s economic opportunities carries an immense societal burden and adversely contributes to Niger’s development, which is explicitly linked to food security, famine, and poverty. Higher education among Nigerien women is directly linked to lower stunting levels and greater nutrition (Giovetti, 2019). This demonstrates the significance of gender inequality as a barrier along the path to food security. Roughly 20% of Niger’s population cannot meet their food needs, with women being disproportionately impacted (World Food Program, n.d).

    Chronic underutilization of social capital and high population growth has made it extremely challenging for Niger to finance the investments in food security, infrastructure, healthcare, and education that a booming population demands. This phenomenon is referred to as a ‘demographic trap,’ in which rapid population growth stunts economic development and poverty alleviation by spreading government services too thinly across a region (Razafimandimby & Swaroop, 2020). 

    Like Niger, Malawi is experiencing a demographic trap, low education rates, inequality, and an inadequate social safety net, all of which hamper the nation’s development and contribute to food insecurity. Malawi’s population sits just below 20 million, with an annual growth rate of 2.7% (Malawi Population, 2020). Both countries feature overwhelmingly rural populations that rely almost solely on agriculture for their economic prospects. For Niger, millet and sorghum are the staple commodities; for Malawi, maize is most important (Kamwendo, 2019). 

    Population growth in Niger and Malawi has caused average farm sizes to dwindle, resulting in more intensive agricultural practices in an attempt to recover lost yields. Unfortunately, intensive farming has had the opposite effect, degrading soil quality, and further reducing yield sizes. As much as 40% of Malawi’s agricultural land now has soil too acidic for quality yields (Kamwendo, 2019). Families in both Niger and Malawi, desperate to make up the lost money from low farm yields, have turned to deforestation for extra income, which hastens soil erosion and acidification, further damaging agricultural yields and making the land more prone to flooding and other natural disasters. 

    Climate change is another barrier to achieving food security and development in Niger and Malawi. Neither of these countries are industrialized, meaning their contributions to anthropogenic climate change are relatively insignificant. Nevertheless, their geography makes them more susceptible to the impacts of climate change. Both countries are characterized by warm to hot temperatures, degraded soils, water shortages, and frequently disrupted agriculture-based economies, all of which are exacerbated by a warming climate. 

    Niger is located in the Sahel region in Africa, home to 50 million people dependent on agriculture in an area the UN suspects is as much as 80% degraded from climate change (Giovetti, 2019). This region had little arable land to begin with, highlighting the importance of conserving what little remains. Roughly three-quarters of Niger is located in the Sahara Desert, where erratic rainfall and climate-induced droughts commonly pose trouble for farmers. The impact of droughts is further compounded by Niger’s severe shortage of irrigation infrastructure, leaving farmers’ livelihoods at the mercy of increasingly unpredictable weather (Giovetti, 2019). 

    Malawi’s farmers overwhelmingly rely on maize production, which depends on a single rainy season throughout the year. Much like Niger and other developing nations, Malawi lacks irrigation infrastructure, despite having freshwater resources. The dire impacts of climate change on Malawi’s agriculture have been demonstrated multiple times in the past 20 years. In 2001, a drought triggered a severe food crisis, resulting in 30% of Malawi’s population needing food assistance (Kamwendo, 2019). In 2015, droughts followed by flooding once again significantly cut the country’s maize production, causing more than one-third of Malawi’s population to require food assistance (Kamwendo, 2019). Climate change also threatens the reliability of the Malawi electrical grid. In 2015, droughts crippled the nation’s hydroelectric stations, which provide 90% of the nation’s electricity needs (Kamwendo, 2019). This resulted in widespread blackouts and further irrigation complications. The increasing prevalence of climate change-related disasters means that Malawi will likely continue to experience unstable electricity generation in the near future. This will have severe developmental consequences for the nation.

    Additionally, in just the last decade, almost 60% of Malawi’s second-largest body of water, Lake Chilwa, dried up, displacing the livelihoods of over 7000 fishermen (Mcbrams, 2018). Climate change reduces yields from all sorts of productive economic activities, in this case limiting a country’s domestic food supply, increasing food costs, and leading to greater food insecurity among a population sensitive to price changes. Purchasing power per capita is quite low in both Niger and Malawi, meaning that even small increases in food costs can lead to sizeable increases in food insecurity. Niger and Malawi are also landlocked and lack transportation infrastructure, which disadvantages the countries logistically when responding to climate-related food shortages, whether due to drought, locust swarms, or cattle disease. Climate change is creating scarcity in Niger and Malawi, a recipe for conflict when combined with a growing population and widespread inequality (Giovetti, 2019). Both of these nations have experienced rising tensions among farmers as a result of increasingly scarce conditions. 

    Niger, Malawi, and countless other underdeveloped countries have a shared experience of European colonization and, subsequently, decolonization and political instability. The imposition of colonial political systems led many countries to develop institutions that lacked public legitimacy. Malawi and Niger were affected by the Scramble for Africa, which saw European powers divide the continent into colonies at the start of the 20th century (The Scramble for Africa, n.d.). Niger received independence from France in 1960 (Niger’s Independence Day, n.d.), and Malawi received independence from Britain in 1963 (Malawi, 2019). 

    Niger’s decolonization corresponded with the beginning of its massive population boom and an immediate struggle for democracy. Unfortunately, from decolonization until 1991, Niger was controlled by a single party military rule, depressing economic growth (Giovetti, 2019). Since 1991, Niger has experienced multiple coups, switching between democratic and authoritarian governments (Giovetti, 2019). Niger’s unstable political environment has severely impacted the nation’s development and, by extension, food security. 

    Private investors and foreign governments looking to make partnerships (of nearly any kind) tend to seek out nations with stable and reliable governments, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, or New Zealand. Political instability breeds uncertainty, significantly reducing the attractiveness of a nation from an investment perspective. Niger’s authoritarianism has degraded the nation’s global relations, which is particularly important for land-locked countries relying on single commodity economies. Additionally, authoritarianism has opened up Niger’s institutions to corruption, cronyism, and fiscal mismanagement, which in turn perpetuates political instability and poor investing conditions. 

    Malawi also experiences political instability as a leftover relic of colonization. Bingu Wa Mutharika, the former President of Malawi who served from 2004-2012, was democratically elected but grew autocratic over time, enabled by Malawi’s weak public institutions. Bingu Wa’s presidency was initially regarded as a success, thanks to his government’s rollout of small farm subsidies, which produced food surpluses (Tafirenyika, 2013). The subsidies successfully lowered poverty rates across Malawi but failed to improve the nation’s gender disparity and ultimately proved fiscally unsustainable (Karamba & Winters, 2015). After his re-election in 2009, Mutharika’s Presidency quickly became more controversial. The farm subsidies that had once produced food surpluses began choking Malawi’s budget (comprising 16% at their peak), requiring their immediate scaling back (Tafirenyika, 2013). Mutharika’s second term was also marred by spending controversies, cronyism, and nepotism. In 2009, he purchased a private jet for $13.26 million, which caused swift domestic and international backlash (Tafirenyika, 2013). The international community (which comprises a significant part of Malawi’s government funding) froze all financial aid to Malawi following Mutharika’s blatant fiscal mismanagement, resulting in a hard currency shortage and subsequently, a national fuel shortage (Tafirenyika, 2013). In 2011, Mutharika began expelling party members who viewed him as becoming arrogant and autocratic, and began promoting his brother, Peter Mutharika, as his successor (Tafirenyika, 2013). 

    Bingu Wa’s shift towards autocracy worried the international community, causing a mass exodus of donors from Malawi’s government budget. Malawi’s political instability meant that, for the most part, the nation was reliant on international aid rather than foreign direct investment. As international aid dried up, so did the anti-poverty social programs introduced by Bingu Wa Mutharika (Tafirenyika, 2013). Former colonies often struggle with weak public institutions prone to manipulation, corruption, and abuse from authoritarians looking to advance their own interests. Authoritarian leaders often legislate poor public policy and undermine a nation’s investment atmosphere, both of which damage domestic development prospects and contribute to food insecurity and poverty (Merelli, 2019). 

    By analyzing the impacts of rapid population growth and inequality, climate change, and political instability on food security in Niger and Malawi, a clear link can be drawn between developmental factors and food security, demonstrating the socially constructivist nature of famine. Rapid population growth dilutes social services’ effectiveness, anthropogenic climate change weakens the economic prospects of agriculture-based economies, and political instability leads to more frequent corruption and a business atmosphere antithetical to private lenders’ interests. These factors have been crucial in stunting Niger and Malawi’s economic development, consequently creating greater levels of food insecurity. This is not to say that natural factors do not impact development and food insecurity; rather, their contribution to the problem is simply overshadowed by society’s ‘ social, economic, and political contributions.

    References

    Giovetti, O. (2019, November 20). Fighting hunger in Niger: 3 causes of hunger, 3 causes for hope. Retrieved November 2, 2020, from https://www.concernusa.org/story/hunger-in-niger-causes-hope/#:~:text=On Concern and Welthungerhilfe’s 2019,, healthy, and creative lives

    Grade 8 – Term 3: The Scramble for Africa: Late 19th century. (n.d.). Retrieved November 2, 2020, from https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/grade-8-term-3-scramble-africa-late-19th-century

    History of Malawi. (2020, August 26). Retrieved November 2, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Malawi

    Karamba, R. W., & Winters, P. C. (2015). Gender and agricultural productivity: Implications of the Farm Input Subsidy Program in Malawi. Agricultural Economics, 46(3), 357-374. doi:10.1111/agec.12169

    Malawi. (2019, April 18). Retrieved November 2, 2019, from https://www.sahistory.org.za/place/malawi

    Malawi Population (LIVE). (n.d.). Retrieved November 2, 2020, from https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/malawi-population/

    Mcbrams, J. (2018, November 27). Receding Malawi lake lays bare cost of climate change. Retrieved November 2, 2020, from https://phys.org/news/2018-11-receding-malawi-lake-climate.html#:~:text=Chilwa, the country’s second largest,during a drought in 1991.&text=Environmental scientist professor Sosten Chiotha,is now 60 percent dry

    Merelli, A. (2019, August 19). 150 years of data proves it: Strongmen are bad for the economy. Retrieved November 7, 2020, from https://qz.com/1688397/data-proves-it-authoritarian-leaders-are-bad-for-the-economy/

    Niger: Hunger Relief in Africa. (2020, September 02). Retrieved November 2, 2020, from https://www.actionagainsthunger.org/countries/africa/niger

    Niger’s Independence Day. (1960, August 03). Retrieved November 2, 2020, from https://www.sahistory.org.za/dated-event/nigers-independence-day

    Niger. (n.d.). Retrieved November 2, 2020, from https://www.wfp.org/countries/niger#:~:text=Niger is a land-locked,region facing a food deficit.&text=More than 1.5 million people,shortages during the lean season

    Potts, M., Gidi, V., Campbell, M., & Zureick, S. (2011). Niger: Too Little, Too Late. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 37(2), 95-101. Retrieved November 7, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41229000

    Razafimandimby, L., & Swaroop, V. (2020, January 24). Can Niger escape the demographic trap? Retrieved November 2, 2020, from https://blogs.worldbank.org/africacan/can-niger-escape-demographic-trap

    Zakari, S., Ying, L., & Song, B. (2014). Factors Influencing Household Food Security in West Africa: The Case of Southern Niger. Sustainability, 6(3), 1191-1202. doi:10.3390/su6031191

  • Carbon Emissions: Domestic and Global Policy Considerations

    Climate change is the world’s most pressing contemporary issue due to its far-reaching impacts on the world’s social, economic, and environmental realities. Solving climate change will require global economic decarbonization, a monumental task requiring every nation to undergo massive structural changes. That being said, just under half of the global contribution to climate change comes from just three countries: China, the United States, and India. This paper compares Canada’s carbon emission policies with those of the above nations, identifying common policy areas that need improvement and the level of urgency each nation has demonstrated. The analysis reveals that none of the selected nations have implemented policies to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, with fossil fuel subsidies, fossil fuel infrastructure development, and inadequate investments in renewable energy representing the three most significant barriers to economic decarbonization.

    As seen in Figure 1.0, Canada has one of the highest per-capita carbon footprints, despite contributing just 1.6% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (Dion, 2019).

    Several factors explain the nation’s disproportionate contribution to global emissions; the harsh climate, distance between major economic sectors, a resource-rich economy, and sustained economic and population growth. Despite these unique challenges, Canada has committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. In 2016, the country’s climate framework: The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate, was unveiled (Dion, 2019).

    The Pan-Canadian Framework has several major components and outlines numerous policies to meet international obligations under the Paris Climate Accord. Canada’s commitment is a GHG reduction of 30% of 1990 levels by 2030, which equates to reducing emissions to 517 megatonnes (Dion, 2019). Carbon pricing represents the most crucial aspect of this framework. Provinces can choose to develop their own carbon taxation systems, as long as they meet federal guidelines, or adopt the federal ‘backstop’ policy. The backstop policy is a carbon price of $30/tonne in 2020, although this will rise $10 per year until 2022 (Dion, 2019). Carbon pricing is an integral part of any climate change strategy, as it offers a continual, easily applied, and market-based incentive for producers to reduce emissions. Gradually increasing a carbon tax over several years helps to spur abatement technology innovation, as firms recognize the need to cut emissions to create future savings and stay competitive. 

    In addition to carbon pricing, the Pan-Canadian Framework includes measures to accelerate the phasing out of coal power plants, new standards for biofuels, strict regulation of short-term climate pollutants (i.e., methane or hydrofluorocarbons), funding to improve carbon sequestration in forests and agriculture, modest investments in clean technology and urban transit, and funding for zero-emission passenger and utility vehicles (Dion, 2019). Canada’s carbon emission policies aim to do three things: internalize the social costs of fossil fuels, improve the economic feasibility of renewable energy and clean technology, and foster innovation capable of becoming an invaluable Canadian resource in the 21st century. 

    Despite a slew of policies designed to increase the pace of economic decarbonization, Canada remains challenged to meet its commitments outlined in the Paris Climate Accord. By its own governments’ estimates, the Pan-Canadian Framework will fail to reduce emissions to the 2030 target level by a margin of 66 megatonnes (Dion, 2019). Simultaneous to pursuing incremental steps towards decarbonization, Canada has remained quietly supportive of its fossil fuel sector. Domestic coal production has quickly declined, but fracked natural gas, which has a carbon footprint similar to coal, has boomed in recent years (Roberts, 2019). Additionally, and despite pledging to eliminate them in 2015, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has maintained billions in public subsidies for the oil and gas industry, directly undermining the nation’s carbon pricing scheme. Climate Action Tracker, a non-profit dedicated to the compilation and analysis of global climate change policies, ranked Canada’s Pan-Canadian Framework as “inadequate,” citing the plans implementation delays, lack of planning beyond the year 2030, and the nation’s continued fossil fuel development (“Canada,” 2020).

    The United States has experienced particularly volatile GHG policies over the past decade. Eight years of leadership from Barrack Obama sought to improve the United State’s relationship with the environment and foster global cooperation on climate change; however, most Obama-era environmental regulations were quickly repealed or watered down after the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Additionally, the United States left the Paris Climate Accord. Donald Trump’s administration spent its tenure (2016-2020) dismantling climate policies and rolling back clean air and water, wildlife, and chemical regulations. The heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior were extremely close to the fossil fuel industry; subsequently, these agencies were sabotaged from the inside and were unable to perform their duties to protect the environment.

    In just four years, massive damage was done to the ecosystems that support the foundation of life in the United States. More than 50% of the nation’s wetlands had their protections removed (Popovich, Albeck-ripka, & Pierre-louis, 2020), significantly increasing their destruction rate and reducing domestic carbon sequestration. Public lands and national parks also suffered. Trump’s Interior Department limited wildlife protections to enable more oil and gas drilling opportunities (Popovich, Albeck-ripka, & Pierre-louis, 2020). Air pollution increased during Trump’s tenure due to the weakening of carbon dioxide limits from powerplants and vehicles (Popovich, Albeck-ripka, & Pierre-louis, 2020). Water pollution also increased as a result of the EPA weakening restrictions on agricultural and industrial runoff. Under Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s first appointment to head up the EPA, regional enforcement officers were restricted from collecting water pollution tests without EPA headquarter approval (Konisky & Woods, 2018). The United States has failed on every environmental policy front in the past four years. As such, renewable energy and clean technology, electric vehicles, and other sustainable innovations indicative of an evolving economy have not quite yet proliferated across the nation. Currently, less than one-fifth of American electricity generation is renewable (“U.S Renewable Energy Factsheet,” 2020). 

    The past four years have proven difficult on the American and global environment, but Joseph Biden’s decisive 2020 election victory has ended Trump’s four years of antagonism towards renewable energy and common-sense environmental regulation. Climate change represented a signature issue of the Democratic platform, with Biden calling for the United States to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and become carbon neutral by 2050 by investing over two trillion dollars to stimulate the nation’s clean energy industry (Gabbatiss, 2020).

    Like the United States, India’s most recent ruling party occupies the right-wing of the political spectrum. Unlike the United States, the nation’s leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has acknowledged the severity of the climate crisis and has sought to reduce his nations’ carbon footprint. India has pledged a 30-35% reduction in emissions intensity by 2030, compared to 2005 levels, and is the third-largest contributor to climate change after the United States and China (Timperley, 2019). Emissions intensity compares a nation’s GHG emissions to gross domestic product (GDP), giving an indicator of the nation’s progress towards economic decarbonization. Cattle farming, rice paddies, and coal electricity production are major contributors to India’s carbon footprint. Massive population growth has increased electricity demand, forcing the country to rely on cheap coal power. This has caused the nation’s emissions to rise threefold since the 1970s (Timperley, 2019). Despite this, the nation has taken steps to invest in renewable technology, particularly solar energy. As much as 40% of India’s electricity is projected to come from renewables by 2030 (Timperley, 2019).

    India’s government understands that coal powerplants have hampered its ability to reduce GHG emissions and it has taken a proactive leadership role on the global stage to advocate for the equitable distribution of clean energy technology. The nation argues that the transfer of technology from developed to developing nations is required if decarbonization is to be achieved in mere decades (Timperley, 2019). Climate Action Tracker narrowly scored India’s climate policies as ‘compatible’ with the Paris Climate Accord, citing the nation’s commitment to private incentives and state investment for renewable energy (“India,” 2020).  

    As seen in Figure 2.0, China is the single largest contributor to anthropogenic climate change, representing more than one-quarter of global emissions. 

    China consumes roughly half of the world’s coal supply (“China,” 2020), devastating local environments and the nation’s public health. Despite its reputation of being an environmental ‘laggard,’ the nation has made sizeable improvements in developing clean technology. China is now the world’s largest producer of renewable energy, electric vehicles, solar panels, and battery technology (Dudley, 2019). Additionally, the nation has filed more clean industry patents than any other country in the world. China’s coal industry represents the greatest threat to the nations’ climate targets; however, some researchers believe the nation’s coal demand has peaked (Tang, Jin, McLellan, Wang, & Li, 2018). 

    The Chinese government has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2060 and launched a national carbon market (i.e., cap and trade system) in 2017 to facilitate this transition (“Why China is at the center of our climate strategy,” n.d.). When introduced, China’s carbon market covered 1700 mostly state-owned firms in its power sector, comprising one-third of the country’s emissions — 3.5 billion metric tonnes (“Why China is at the center of our climate strategy,” n.d.). The carbon market will gradually scale up (starting in 2021) to cover the nation’s power, petrochemical, iron and steel, aviation, and paper production industries, although no exact timeline has been published. When fully implemented, China’s carbon market will exceed world totals under all national carbon pricing systems and would raise the total percentage of emissions covered by carbon pricing to 21% (“Why China is at the center of our climate strategy,” n.d.). 

    While China has made considerable investments into renewable energy in recent years, there has also been simultaneous development of additional fossil fuel infrastructure, notably coal power plants. This has stalled the nation’s progress in addressing climate change and public health concerns. Climate Action Tracker designates the country’s climate policies as ‘highly insufficient,’ the lowest rating of any of the nations discussed in this paper (“China,” 2020).  

    Analyzing and contrasting Canadian, Chinese, Indian, and American greenhouse gas policies illustrates an emerging pattern: each of the nations has recognized the severity of the climate crisis and taken incremental steps towards mitigating it, but continued support for the fossil fuel sector, specifically in the form of public subsidies, has directly undermined progress made towards economic decarbonization. Additionally, the scale of investments in renewable energy and the scope of private incentives offered by these nations are inadequate to spur rapid economic transformation. Neither Canada, China, the United States, nor India has developed policy frameworks capable of avoiding the worst impacts of anthropogenic climate change. If the world is to avoid the unprecedented consequences of global warming, all nations, but especially those with high carbon footprints (whether total or per capita), need to rapidly increase their investment rate in renewable energy, carbon sequestration, and green industry.  

    References

    Canada. (2020). Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/canada/

    China. (2020). Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/china/

    Dion, S. (2019, November 01). Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Canada. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.international.gc.ca/country_news-pays_nouvelles/2018-03-23-germany-allemagne.aspx?lang=eng

    Dudley, D. (2019, January 11). China Is Set To Become The World’s Renewable Energy Superpower, According To New Report. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/dominicdudley/2019/01/11/china-renewable-energy-superpower/?sh=65c553c0745a

    Gabbatiss, J. (2020, November 11). US election: Climate experts react to Joe Biden’s victory. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.carbonbrief.org/us-election-climate-experts-react-to-joe-bidens-victory

    Ge, M., Friedrich, J., & Damassa, T. (2019, December 12). 6 Graphs Explain the World’s Top 10 Emitters. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.wri.org/blog/2014/11/6-graphs-explain-world-s-top-10-emitters

    Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data. (2020, September 10). Retrieved November 17, 2020, from https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data

    India. (2020). Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/india/

    Konisky, D. M., & Woods, N. D. (2018). Environmental Federalism and the Trump Presidency: A Preliminary Assessment. Publius: The Journal of Federalism, 48(3), 345-371. doi:10.1093/publius/pjy009

    Popovich, N., Albeck-ripka, L., & Pierre-louis, K. (2020, October 16). The Trump Administration Is Reversing More Than 100 Environmental Rules. Here’s the Full List. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks-list.html

    Roberts, D. (2019, August 15). Fracking may be a bigger climate problem than we thought. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/8/15/20805136/climate-change-fracking-methane-emissions

    Sunstein, C. R. (2007). The Complex Climate Change Incentives of China and the United States. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.1089143

    Tang, X., Jin, Y., McLellan, B. C., Wang, J., & Li, S. (2018). China’s coal consumption declining—Impermanent or permanent? Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 129, 307-313. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2016.07.018

    U.S. Renewable Energy Factsheet. (2020, September). Retrieved November 15, 2020, from http://css.umich.edu/factsheets/us-renewable-energy-factsheet

    Why China is at the center of our climate strategy. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.edf.org/climate/why-china-center-our-climate-strategy

  • Environmental Implications of British Columbia’s Natural Gas Industry

    As the world grapples with accelerated climate change, consumer expectations have quickly shifted towards embracing sustainability, causing major market disruptions for nearly every industry. This is encouraging, as it shows that sustainability has finally entered mainstream discourse. The growing consumer emphasis on environmental preservation has catalyzed numerous positive changes, but it has also provided opportunities for governments and corporations to greenwash, which is the act of deceptively branding oneself as ‘eco-friendly.’ British Columbia’s natural gas sector, aided by the province’s government, has attempted in recent years to brand gas energy as a solution to climate change. This paper explores their claim, analyzing the impacts of natural gas development on British Columbia’s biodiversity and ambient air and water quality. In doing so, it becomes evident that the environmental impact of British Columbia’s natural gas industry is deceptive, representing a much greater threat to the health of the province’s people and natural ecosystems than the industry leads on.

    British Columbia’s natural gas was first discovered by a rail company in Haney more than 100 years ago (The facts about where B.Cs energy comes from, 2014). Large-scale gas production has occurred since the 1950s when the province began expanding its pipeline infrastructure and building gas wells (The facts about where B.Cs energy comes from, 2014). Recent changes in technology and consumer preferences have decreased the demand for coal and diesel energy while having the opposite effect on renewable and gas energy. The primary beneficiary of this market change has been natural gas, which now represents 30% of British Columbia’s electricity mix (Natural Gas Facts, 2020). Canada is the 4th largest global producer of natural gas and the 6th largest exporter, with revenue totaling 4.9 billion in 2019 (Natural Gas Facts, 2020). 

    Natural gas primarily consists of methane, formed from organic matter over millions of years. There are two general classifications of gas, differentiated by the equipment needed for extraction. Conventional gas, trapped in porous rock, relies on ‘traditional’ drilling methods (Rivard, Lavoie, Lefebvre, Sejourne, Lamontagne, & Duchesne, 2014). Conversely, unconventional gas is less accessible, requiring more advanced processes (Rivard, et al., 2014), such as hydraulic fracturing. British Columbia’s natural gas is primarily found in sedimentary rock in the northeast of the province and requires enhanced extraction processes to access (Rivard, et al., 2014). Post-extraction, natural gas is refined and transported through pipelines. Alternatively, the gas can be cooled to reduce its volume, then shipped by boat or rail as liquified natural gas, or ‘LNG.’

    The industry rationale behind touting natural gas as a solution to climate change is clear: It delays the inevitable phasing out of the energy source, protecting the gas industry’s profits. The public relations campaign to convince Canadians that gas is clean has been boosted by one key fact: Natural gas burns much cleaner than other fossil fuels. In an era of increased consumer eco-mindedness, this offers an excellent optical opportunity, one which the gas industry quickly took advantage of.

    Burning unconventional gas may be relatively ‘clean’ when compared to fossil fuel alternatives; however, the extraction process, most commonly hydraulic fracturing (which British Columbia relies on), has devastating consequences for the climate. Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,’ refers to a process of injecting high-pressure water, sand, and chemicals into the earth to release natural gas. The vast majority of British Columbia’s natural gas is exported to the United States (Natural Gas Facts, 2020). Fracking represents the fastest growing gas extraction method, as many countries, including Canada, have largely depleted conventional gas deposits (Larkin, Gracie, Dusseault, & Krewski, 2018). The process of fracking leaks large quantities of methane into the atmosphere. This poses a significant health threat, as methane contributes to climate change and degrades ambient air quality (Environmental Defense Fund, n.d.). British Columbia’s natural gas production represents a global pollutant, meaning that both residents of the province and global citizens will incur the industry’s negative externalities. The potency of methane on the earth’s greenhouse effect is 84x that of carbon dioxide (Environmental Defense Fund, n.d.), which is why natural gas proponents tout the sources’ operational greenhouse gases instead of cumulative emissions. This is strategic, as solely analyzing downstream emissions fails to paint a complete picture of the energy source’s impacts.

    When factoring in upstream and downstream emissions, including infrastructure development, extraction, distribution, and refining, fracked gas has a carbon footprint that rivals coal or diesel fuels (Wigley, 2011). Fracking produces far more methane leakage than traditional gas extraction techniques, counteracting the benefits of ‘burning cleanly’ (DeRochie, 2018). Unless methane leakage rates can be kept below 2% (the industry standard is nowhere near this today), fracked natural gas offers little in the way of solutions to climate change (DeRochie, 2018). 

    British Columbia’s fracking degrades surface and groundwater quality and negatively impacts its quantity of freshwater resources. Chemicals used in fracking injection fluid only represent 2% of total fluid volume; however, this amasses to over 40,000 liters of chemicals per fracking well (Benusic, 2014). This is a lethal concentration and helps provide perspective to the scale of the potential consequences from leakage. Unfortunately, leakage from gas wells in British Columbia is quite common, with one-fifth of all wells reporting at least one leakage instance (Wisen, Chesnaux, Wendling, Werring, Barbecot, & Baudron, 2019).

    Investments from the province into a new LNG facility in Kitimat will guarantee industry growth, increasing the likelihood of cross-contamination in British Columbia’s water supply (Nikiforuk, 2019). The scope of the danger is relatively unknown, as little data is available on the impact of fracking on water, specifically in British Columbia. There are only seven groundwater observation wells throughout the entire province, responsible for monitoring the impacts of thousands of gas wells (Nikiforuk, 2019). There is not nearly enough oversight on British Columbia’s natural gas industry, which hampers scientific understanding of fracking’s long-term implications and makes it more difficult to detect when potential risks arise. An analysis of 353 different chemicals commonly used in fracking fluid found that three quarters could be linked to respiratory, gastrointestinal, dermatological, or ocular effects (Benusic, 2014). Additionally, one quarter were noted to be possible carcinogens (Benusic, 2014). 

    British Columbia’s natural gas industry lacks accountability for its impact on the provinces’ water quality and water quantity. Natural gas wells are not required to disclose industrial water usage in the province, despite it being well documented that fracking is highly water-intensive (Kuwayama, Olmstead, & Krupnick, 2015). Newer technology required to extract unconventional gas requires up to 28x the amount of water used 15 years ago (Magill, 2015); combined with the industry’s rapidly growing scale, this poses serious threats to the security of British Columbia’s water supply. 

    British Columbia is home to some of Canada’s greatest biodiversity pockets, which are inherently valuable as ecosystems and can assist human development (i.e., medicines). Natural gas is typically transported using pipelines, rail transit, or ocean tanker traffic, all of which face their own environmental and logistical challenges. British Columbia has around 40,000 kilometers worth of existing gas pipeline, with this number likely increasing in the foreseeable future (Connecting Natural Gas Pipelines, 2019). Pipeline development can have devastating impacts on regional biodiversity, causing habitat destruction as well as fragmentation. Additionally, these pipelines are subject to leaking, posing further challenges for affected ecosystems. British Columbia remains locked in a political struggle regarding the Coastal Gaslink pipeline, which would transport fracked gas from the northeast of the province, south to the Kitimat facility, where it would be cooled and shipped to Asian markets as LNG. The vast majority of British Columbia’s gas exports are sent to the United States; the opportunity to access new Asian markets offers short-term economic potential (Natural Gas Facts, 2020), but at severe environmental costs.

    If an LNG spill occurs in the ocean, the gas will evaporate, leaving no residuals behind and causing no impact on aquatic life (Dodge, 2014). However, shipping LNG still produces environmental impacts. Tanker traffic is extremely disruptive to local ecosystems, primarily due to noise and the possibility of fatal accidents (LNG tanker traffic puts residents at risk, n.d). At the time of writing, there remain no federal regulations for LNG tankers in Canadian waters (LNG tanker traffic puts residents at risk, n.d.). Further development of British Columbia’s LNG exports will lead to additional and potentially catastrophic damage to British Columbia’s coastal waters, which are home to many endangered wildlife species and are critical to the health of the province’s population and economy. Whether transported by pipeline or as LNG, fracked natural gas represents a significant threat to the health of British Columbia’s environment, economy, and population. The three are thoroughly intertwined and, therefore, must all be addressed to produce successful public policy. LNG exports may provide British Columbia with short term capital, but this capital means little unless a healthy population can utilize it. There is a chronic shortage of regulatory oversight for British Columbia’s fossil fuel industry, particularly the LNG industry. The absence of tanker regulations and water quality monitoring stations represent the most immediate threats. In the long term, the climate ramifications of the province’s LNG projects may prove to be the costliest. Despite what members of the ruling New Democratic government may claim, British Columbia’s climate plan has no way of accounting for further increases in LNG emissions. As seen below in Figure 1.0, LNG emissions represent a sizeable portion of the provinces ‘carbon allowance.’ That is, for British Columbia to meet its climate goals while maintaining LNG development, much greater offsets would be needed in every other category of climate pollution.

    By analyzing and comparing the environmental impacts and industry discourse of British Columbia’s natural gas sector, this paper effectively discredits the gas industry’s claim of offering sustainable solutions for the global economy. The carbon footprint of natural gas, when factoring in all related emissions, is damning. Residuals from unconventional extraction processes threaten surface and groundwater and rely on infrastructure that destroys, disrupts, and fragments British Columbia’s biodiversity.

    It is clear that the natural gas industry, along with British Columbia’s government, is engaging in greenwashing to pursue short-term profits, despite the repercussions to the province’s long-term health economic and environmental health.

    References

    Benusic, M. A. (2014). FRACKING IN BC: A PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERN. BC Medical Journal, 55(5), 238-239. Retrieved November 11, 2020, from https://bcmj.org/cohp/fracking-bc-public-health-concern.

    Connecting Natural Gas Pipelines. (2019, July 19). Retrieved November 11, 2020, from https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/natural-gas-oil/lng/connecting-natural-gas-pipelines

    DeRochie, P. (2019, June 25). What’s behind B.C.’s new LNG mega-project? $6.6 billion in public handouts. Retrieved November 11, 2020, from https://environmentaldefence.ca/2018/10/26/whats-behind-bcs-new-lng-mega-project-6-6-billion-public-handouts/

    Dodge, E. (2014, December 22). How Dangerous is LNG? Retrieved November 11, 2020, from https://breakingenergy.com/2014/12/22/how-dangerous-is-lng/#:~:text=When LNG spills on the,but otherwise LNG dissipates completely

    Kurjata, A. (2018, March 26). Impact of fracking on water, air and land in B.C. to be reviewed by scientific panel | CBC News. Retrieved November 11, 2020, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/impact-of-fracking-on-water-air-and-land-in-b-c-to-be-reviewed-by-scientific-panel-1.4577926#:~:text=Fracking involves injecting high pressure,where the activity takes place.

    Kuwayama, Y., Olmstead, S., & Krupnick, A. (2015). Water Quality and Quantity Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing. SpringerLink, 17-24. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s40518-014-0023-4

    Larkin, P., Gracie, R., Dusseault, M., & Krewski, D. (2018). Ensuring health and environmental protection in hydraulic fracturing: A focus on British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. Science Direct, 5(4), 581-595. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exis.2018.07.006

    LNG tanker traffic puts residents at risk. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2020, from https://www.myseatosky.org/safety

    Magill, B. (2015, July 01). Water Use Rises as Fracking Expands. Retrieved November 11, 2020, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/water-use-rises-as-fracking-expands/

    Nikiforuk, A. (2019, April 01). 8 major gaps in B.C.’s knowledge about fracking. Retrieved November 11, 2020, from https://thenarwhal.ca/8-major-gaps-in-b-c-s-knowledge-about-fracking/

    Rivard, C., Lavoie, D., Lefebvre, R., Sejourne, S., Lamontagne, C., & Duchesne, M. (2014). An overview of Canadian shale gas production and environmental concerns. International Journal of Coal Geology, 126, 64-76. doi:ttps://doi.org/10.1016/j.coal.2013.12.004

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    Wigley, T.M.L. Coal to gas: the influence of methane leakage. Climatic Change 108601 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-011-0217-3

  • Canada’s 2019 Election is a Win for Green Energy

    In less than 100 days, Canadian voters will head to the polls to determine the country’s next 4-year mandate. Likely, this means choosing between Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, or Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives. For many businesses, the familiar feeling of election uncertainty looms in the air. Industries which are supported primarily along partisan lines, such as renewable energy, know that a changing mandate often forecasts trouble. Frequent policy changes tend to create uncertainty in markets, which can stunt industry growth. Since climate change, and as an extension, solar energy, have become partisan issues, a change in government could mean sudden destruction of industry supports. To varying degrees, Canadian left-wing parties are supportive of incentives to increase solar production and reduce emissions. In contrast, the right-wing parties generally favor reducing or eliminating the supports for green energy. With this contentious split in policy, it’s not hard to understand why green business owners and investors become wary during election time.

    Yet for green energy, this election season is different, as it’s already marked an ideological win for green energy. Public opinion has swayed substantially in the direction of the left-wing approach to climate. That is, the public wants to see climate change and other environmental issues addressed. According to an abacus poll conducted on July 15, climate change has broken the top 3 issues list for Canadian voters. This is in line with other polls, which have consistently shown that climate change and the environment have quickly become central issues for Canadian voters. This is likely due to the ever-increasing visibility of the issue. Heatwaves, flooding and erratic seasonal weather seem to be the new norm and saturate the news media. High profile individuals, such as Greta Thunberg, have also fought to increase the awareness of the importance of mitigating climate change. Largely, Thunberg’s efforts have been successful, as her protest “Fridays for Future” has become a global phenomenon, with students all across Canada taking part. For the first time, millennials will also make up the largest voting bloc in the Canadian election. Millennials overwhelmingly favor decisive climate action, yet are prone to election apathy. Regardless, this demographic change has contributed to the transformation of Canada’s political landscape.

    As the Canadian electorate makes clear the environment is not an issue that can be ignored any longer, the federal parties are taking notice. The Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Greens have all released their environmental platforms. While there are significant differences among each of the plans, it’s clear that all of the parties understand the importance voters are placing on the environment. It’s a sad reality that political parties are responding to a changing electorate rather than a changing climate, but regardless, this is good news.

    Under the leadership of Andrew Scheer, the Conservative party has altered its messaging regarding the environment. The Conservatives have long been the party of fossil fuels, but in the current political climate, the party has worked to appear as a middle-ground option. The Conservative environmental plan, dubbed “A Real Plan to Protect Our Environment,” puts a heavy emphasis on innovation and technology. It establishes several key initiatives, such as a green home tax credit, a green patent credit, a green technology and innovation fund, and a green hub for innovators. Unfortunately, while the Conservative party’s rhetoric has become greener, the party’s policy still leaves much to be desired. The core initiatives of the plan may support green business innovation, but they don’t ensure a concrete reduction in carbon emissions. The entire plan is devoid of any estimates or targets. Euphemisms are also riddled throughout, such as the line “carbon emissions are a global problem.” This is nothing more than an excuse to rid a country of domestic responsibility, and tends to be coupled with support for exporting fracked natural gas. Recent studies have shown that fracking is much more dangerous to the climate than previously thought, with some scientists even claiming the carbon footprint rivals that of coal. The Conservative plan also fails to mention anything regarding single-use plastics, which are contributing to the collapse of global biodiversity.

    While “A Real Plan to Protect Our Environment” is nowhere near sufficient to adequately mitigate climate change, the shift in party messaging shows the Conservatives understand the changing electorate. One danger of having mismatched rhetoric and policy is that if the Conservatives win the election, it will be nearly impossible for Andrew Scheer to walk the appeasement tightrope between Western Canada and environmentally conscious voters.

    On the other end of the environmental policy spectrum lies the Green Party, which has enjoyed a modest bump in support in the last couple of years. The Greens have released an ambitious and comprehensive plan that addresses several aspects of climate change. The plan, titled “Mission Possible,” outlines several key objectives. Among them is a bi-partisan war cabinet to tackle the partisanship which has stalled climate action. “Mission Possible” would double the Liberals 2030 goal of reducing emissions by 30% of 2005 levels, to 60%. The plan would eliminate all fossil fuel subsidies, ensure all vehicle production is electric by 2030, place a nationwide ban on fracking and promote the redevelopment of Canada’s forests, among other things.

    The growing political influence of Elizabeth May’s Green Party has begun to apply significant pressure to the other federal parties. Jagmeet Singh and the Federal NDP recently faced questions over their support of fracking, as the party had expressed support for the liquified natural gas (LNG) plant in British Columbia. The Greens have been eating away at NDP support across the country, with some high profile NDP members, such as former MP Sven Robinson, criticizing the NDP’s lack of environmental ambition. One week after losing a byelection to the Green’s Paul Manly, the Federal NDP released a statement saying “the future of Canada does not include fracking.” This rapid shift in policy demonstrates the pressure an ever-growing Green Party can apply in Canada’s political arena. The NDP and Liberals are now fighting for environmental credibility, with Prime Minister Trudeau announcing a ban on single-use plastics as a part of the Liberal reelection platform.

    The 2019 federal election may have yet to be decided, though it’s already marked an important victory for green energy. Canadian voters are increasingly in favour of decarbonizing, as the public’s frustration with irresponsible fossil fuel development grows. As global environmental crises continue to accelerate in severity, the popularity of green energy will only rise. Renewable energy providers should celebrate, as their business opportunities are practically guaranteed exponential growth. On the other hand, fossil fuel companies should be terrified. Public sentiment has turned, and the era of fossil fuels is rapidly closing.

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  • Bureaucratic and Ideological Control Processes at Ryerson University

    Universities are highly complex and interdependent systems, incorporating tens of thousands of students in addition to faculty, administrative staff, and alumni. Coordinating such a system requires enacting forms of organizational control to achieve institutional objectives. Most higher learning institutions, including Ryerson University, adhere to two central themes of control based on structure, hierarchy, rules, and creating a culture that perpetuates the institution’s values. As a student at Ryerson University, I recognize that bureaucratic and ideological control processes regulate my behavior and organize my university experience.

    Bureaucratic control refers to a system of organization that employs a hierarchy of authority in addition to rules, policies, formal documentation, merit systems, and other behavioral control mechanisms.

    Universities are one of the clearest examples of bureaucracy in action. As a professional communication student, I ‘report’ assignments to my various professors and adhere to their class structure. In turn, these professors report to their faculty (Faculty of Communication and Design), which reports to the broader university. The hierarchical aspect of Ryerson dictates the communication processes that occur between the institution’s stakeholders. Ryerson’s communication generally occurs in a top-down manner, with little opportunity for the students, which make up the bottom of the hierarchy, to engage with the institution’s key figures.

    Ryerson’s bureaucracy provides structure, coordination, and logistical support for its student body, but it also offers challenges. The slow-paced nature of bureaucracy is often in contention with the time-sensitive schedule of a university student.

    Organizations and institutions have increasingly offered expanded services, resulting in bureaucratic sprawl (Tahir, 2020). A Stats Canada analysis found that for every dollar spent on instruction in universities, roughly 20 cents is directed to cover administrative costs. In 1994, this ratio was 12 cents per dollar (Smith, 2010). Additional income for Canadian universities increasingly goes to expanding bureaucratic processes, not maintaining the institution’s quality. This is occurring even as post-secondary students face a debt crisis, in large part because of tuition increases deemed necessary for ‘quality maintenance.’ Ryerson’s bloated bureaucracy wastes money that otherwise could have been spent on teaching and reducing tuition costs. As a student who has occasionally struggled to meet my tuition, I find this particularly vexing.

    Whereas bureaucratic control refers to a system of organization characterized by behavioral control mechanisms (i.e., bureaucracy), ideological control focuses on the organizational members’ sense of self (Mumby & Kuhn, 2019, ch. 1). Ideological control focuses on cultivating a set of feelings among the membership that will emotionally connect them to the organization and each other.

    Like other academic institutions, Ryerson attempts to cultivate numerous shared feelings among its student body and faculty. Community, inclusion, diversity, and self-improvement are all values perpetuated through Ryerson’s stakeholder communication. Self-improvement is the most salient example; the institution’s ‘anchor’ is that it offers a more practical, hands-on university experience that provides students a competitive advantage over their peers. This messaging is evidenced by Ryerson’s website, where the first line of the ‘about’ page reads: “Ryerson University is at the intersection of mind and action” (Ryerson University, 2020).

    In today’s post-Fordist organization, emphasizing self-improvement as an organizational cornerstone is a particularly effective way of enacting ideological control. Increasingly, individuals tie their intrinsic value to their economic worth. This is a result of the blurring of work and personal boundaries, a cornerstone of the post-Fordist era of organization (Mumby & Kuhn, 2019, ch. 6). A university education offers significant opportunities for self-improvement, which boosts individual intrinsic value and institutional loyalty.

    Ryerson’s culture (i.e., its values and traditions) reflects the institution’s relatively successful enactment of ideological control over the student body and faculty. This is not necessarily bad; I love attending Ryerson because of the values the institution has chosen to perpetuate (i.e., diversity, inclusion, hands-on academia etc.). The student body and faculty have broadly accepted these values, creating a relatively harmonious campus setting. That being said, ideological control never guarantees a certain set of predictable behaviors. For example, Ryerson highly emphasizes inclusivity and diversity; the student body generally accepts these values, with one broad exception: diversity of opinion. Numerous times throughout my three years at Ryerson, I have witnessed individuals with more conservative-leaning attitudes be subjected to exclusion. This demonstrates that although ideological control can undoubtedly impact a population, there can be no accounting for human agency at times.

    Bureaucratic and ideological control processes structure my life as a student at Ryerson University. This structure dictates how I operate my day to day, both in an organizational sense and a cultural sense, and provides me the opportunity to make sense of my rapidly changing world. Bureaucratic and ideological control processes are neither benign nor malevolent inherently; rather, it’s the application of the methods that determines such a thing. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at Ryerson so far, with my only complaints being occasional student censorship and the overbearing nature of the institution’s bureaucratic control.