Monday, January 30, 2017

Car Free in Sudbury, Day 4: 5 Minutes Late or 55 Minutes Early

5 minutes late or 55 minutes early.  That was our conundrum on Sunday morning (Day 3) of our Car Free “Pilot Project”.  Initially, we were happy to discover that the Sunday 502 bus – an amalgam of the 501Regent-University and the 819 Copper-Four Corners – would take us to all of the destinations that we needed to get to on Sunday.  First, Church service at St. Mark’s on Walford, followed by Sarah’s work at the South End Food Basics, and then on to home for me and the kids.  However, our initial enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by the realization that we would need to take the 9:15 AM bus in order to get to church before service began – or risk walking into church 5 minutes late – an unacceptable option, even if it would have allowed us to sleep in a little longer on Sunday morning.

Anyway, it was off to church on the 502 bus, which left the downtown Transit Terminal at 9:15, and arrived at the Riverside stop near our home shortly after.  This year, the City of Greater Sudbury appears to be making a real effort to remove the snow banks at bus stops.  We were pleased to discover that the entire bank had been removed between the sidewalk and the street (in the area called “the boulevard” here in Greater Sudbury – a.k.a. “that asphalt strip between the sidewalk and the curb”).  It made waiting for the bus a pleasant experience for everyone, as the unplowed banks provided an opportunity for some playtime.
Alice, Sarah, Brian & Veronica - waiting for the 502 bus.

But, looking across the street to the south side of Riverside, I fear that when we are going to be waiting for the bus going the other way, into the downtown, our experience might be quite different.  There isn’t any sidewalk on the south side of Riverside, and the bus stop in this location is almost right on the street.  There is a little shovelled out area for standing, but I’m not optimistic about keeping three, shall we say “active” children corralled there for more than a few minutes.  Someone (the home owner behind the stop?) seems to have built a little bench to make one’s stay at the bus stop a little more pleasant (what a great idea – and the impromptu street furniture here really adds to the streetscape, as well as the feeling of living in a neighbourhood where people care for and look out for one another).

Alice on a snowbank.
(if you would like to share your own Greater Sudbury winter sidewalk experiences, please consider doing so at the Walk Safe SudburyFacebook Group site. They're collecting information there to help inform our municipal council about what the City's priorities should be to help achieve better winter pedestrian outcomes next year, when the budget for sidewalk clearing is expected to increase)

The bus came right on time, and I used the Family Pass, which would prove to save us a couple of bucks on transit.  The bus was pretty full, so the 5 of us were forced to sit in different parts of the bus – Sarah in one seat by herself, me in another across the aisle from the 3 kids in backwards/forwards seats at the back of the bus.  Everything went well (although there was some discussion among the kids over whose turn it was to “pull the string” when it was time to get the bus to stop).  But suddenly, the bus took a corner rather quickly, and Brian, who had been looking around behind him at the sign posted in the back of the bus showing a wide turn and a bus running into a car (this kind of “vehicular interaction” being appealing to Brian, I think, given the way that he plays with his own dinky cars), was tossed from his seat.  Luckily, the quick witted woman whom he was sitting beside managed to grab a hold of him.  After profusely thanking her, Brian sat with me for the rest of the uneventful trip to Church.

And so we arrived at the Walford Road stop at around 9:35.  55 minutes early.  From this stop, it was just a very short walk to the Church, which was good, because it was rather cold yesterday morning – especially with the wind, which we discovered to be blowing quite vigorously through D.J. Hancock Memorial Park on the northwest corner of Walford and Ramsey Lake roads.  We quickly made our way to the Church.

Only to discover that all of the doors were locked.

What were we thinking?  Apparently, we weren’t thinking.  I think that Sarah and I were just so impressed with ourselves that this would be one day – perhaps the very first day – that we weren’t feeling rushed to get to Church on time, that it just never occurred to us that arriving so early might mean a bit of a wait outside!
The Family (Look! There's my shadow!) outside of church.

So we waited for about 15 minutes, out of the wind at least – although it was cold.  We were all dressed for the cold, luckily, so it wasn’t that bad.  But it was still very nice to head inside when a gentleman with the keys showed up!

After taking off hats, mitts, boots, snow pants, etc., and hanging them up, we were then faced with about 40 minutes of not really knowing what to do.  Sarah went to set up for Sunday School, and I was left with kids in the basement, making a mental note to myself that next week I need to bring a game along with me to fill in the time before service.

St. Mark’s is located pretty close to Grandma’s house, so after Church, we walked there, and had a nice visit while waiting for the next bus to take Sarah to work.  It turns out that it would be just a short bus ride for Sarah from her mom’s place.  And the kids and I could stay there until the bus returns and heads north to the downtown.  Except for one thing: we broke out the Family Pass to pay for the day, and that means we’ve got to ride the bus as a family.  When one needs to get on, we all do.  So rather than spend a little more time with grandma, we hustled the kids out to the bus heading towards the Four Corners so that Sarah could get to work on time (actually, about 25 minutes early).

After Sarah’s departure at the Food Basics stop on Regent Street, the kids and I had a lengthy trip back home from the four corners.  Usually, getting home from the Four Corners in the car would take us about 5 to 7 minutes.  The meandering route of the 502 bus – without a prolonged stop at the Transit Terminal – meant that we continued to ride the bus for an additional 50 minutes.  But we got to see quite a bit of the City – something which the kids seemed interested in, at least – this time (let’s see how long that lasts).  The 502 headed to Health Sciences North, our hospital, and from there out to the University (which seemed to be the only popular destination / origin for riders on the bus, save the Transit Terminal).  Then it was back to the hospital, south on Paris to Walford, past the church and back past Grandma’s house.  The bus meandered through the old Memorial Hopsital parking area for some reason, and then wound its way to Paris Street through Boland and a few other low density streets where no one got on or off.  From Paris we headed into the downtown and stopped for about 10 minutes at the Transit Terminal.  Upon departing the terminal, it was just 4 stops to Riverside – I probably could have beat the bus home on foot if it were just me, but it would have been a different story with the kids, so we rode.

(as an aside: is Greater Sudbury selling naming rights for these stops?  If not, perhaps they should be – every time a business name is called out over the automated system, that creates an awareness of the existence of the business – we call that “advertising”, and I suspect it’s something that the City is doing for certain businesses without any financial winfall.  I suspect that this may be occurring because transit riders are familiar with prominent businesses in the area of certain stops – so in that respect it’s a service to bus riders.  It just seems – I don’t know – a little unusual that the City picks and chooses which businesses it’s going to highlight at certain bus stops, especially if there is no financial compensation from those businesses.  Perhaps I’ll look into whether the City is getting any money from businesses like Food Basics in the near future) 

What was clear to me from Day 3 was that while the bus might take us the destinations that we want, it does so on its own schedule - and that’s not always convenient, or, I suspect, workable in some situations.  We sort of kind of made it work yesterday, but to be honest, I don’t know what might have happened to us if it had been colder outside.   We need to be better prepared for the waiting – thinking ahead about where we might be able to spend some time (how far is the Tim Horton’s on Regent from St. Marks? Can I the kids make that walk without too much complaining, and will my coffee stay warm when it’s minus 20?), and bringing along items of distraction for the kids – games, paper, crayons, craft materials – to fill in the gaps.

We made it through Day 3, and Day 4 has been uneventful.  I’ve got a call in to my insurance broker to find out what it might cost me to have the insurance on the van removed.  The van isn’t going anywhere any time soon – which is actually kind of good news, because we were a little concerned that it might be slipping down our sloped driveway and onto the street in front of our house.  A friend of Sarah’s came along on the weekend with two concrete cinder blocks which he placed behind our rear tires, which will prevent any roll back, real or imagined.  It doesn’t look all that great – and I want to assure any neighbours of ours who are reading this blog that it’s purely intended to be a temporary measure, until we can figure out a way to push the van further up the (icy) driveway.

So far, it’s been ‘so far, so good’ - which is good.  I wonder what this week will bring us?

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Car Free in Sudbury - Day 2

I received the phone call just as I arrived at work.

"Honey, the car won't start," my wife tells me.

"Oh?"

"Ya, I turn the key and the dials all go haywire and the lights start blinking on and off, but the engine isn't doing anything, and there's this really bad noise...."

"Oh...."

This isn't the first time this has happened.  A few years ago, we purchased a 2005 Chevy Grand Caravan against the advice of my mechanic, Mike.  Mike told me that Grand Caravans from that year tend to have electrical problems.  Two years in, we've got a busted radio, a window on the driver's side that rolls down but won't roll up again, and a number of emergency lights on the dashboard that are either on all the time, or blink on and off whenever they feel like it (which can be a little unsettling when you're behind the wheel).  Just before Christmas, we were getting ready to go to volunteer at the Salvation Army Kettle at the LCBO in New Sudbury when the van refused to start.  Two out of three of our kids, my wife and I had no choice but to take the bus - which was actually kind of fun, especially since I was dressed up as Santa Claus - but it the cost was probably pretty close to what we might have paid for a cab.

Anyway, the van isn't going anywhere at the moment. I don't know what's wrong with it (although I suspect it might just be the battery), but to get it looked at, we're going to have to get it towed to the shop.  If I had a clue about cars, maybe I could figure it out - but I don't have a clue about cars, and I don't seem to know anybody who does.  As an aside, one of the interesting things about being a long-term member of the Green Party is that one tends to develop friendships with like-minded people - and since so many Greens don't drive, or like me, try to minimize their driving, most don't have the first clue about the mechanics of the internal combustion engine (maybe because we secretly think it's the Devil's Work - just joking. Or am I?).

When I returned home from work last night, of course I had to try it out myself.  Turns out my wife gave a really accurate description of what's going on, although a simple, "It's f*%#ed" probably would have sufficed.

"It's time we talk about this," says Sarah, my wife.  "We've put a lot of money into this van - are we going to keep doing that?"

"Of course we are.  This might only end up being like $300 bucks or less, plus a tow."

"You know, maybe it's time..."

"Time for what?" I ask, as it hits me.  She's talking about going carless.  It's something that we had discussed - fantasized about really, the way a hungry person might think of apple pie and ice cream when you know you're having broccoli with tofu for dinner.  But there's fantasy and then there's reality.

We've got three kids. Veronica, our oldest, is 6 years old.  Alice will be turning 5 next week.  Brian will be turning 4 the week after.  Veronica and Alice go to St. Denis school in the City's South End.  Brian stays at home with Sarah right now.  Sarah works part time at Food Basics in the South End, usually on weekends.  I work downtown, across the street from the bus depot.  Since I moved to Sudbury more than 15 years ago now, I've never taken the car to work - always transit - or lately, on foot - although sometimes on my bike, although given how close I work to where I live, I find taking even taking the bike to be a little bit of overkill.

After living in the Valley for a few years, we purchased a house on Riverside Drive, between Douglas and Broadway - so closer to the underpass and downtown than to Regent Street.  My family refers to our home as "Riverside Manor", perhaps out of irony, I'm not sure.  Anyway, it's in a great location.  It usually takes me less than 10 minutes to walk to work, although I've made a habit of stopping in at the Old Rock on Durham in the morning to get by Bubba refilled with their excellent dark roast coffee (they roast the beans at their other location on Minto).  For me, being without a car is easy - as long as I'm just going to and from work.

But Sarah's day has typically been a little more hectic.  Recently, her circumstances have changed, and she hasn't been driving as much.  We've noticed a real reduction in the amount of gasoline we're using in the vehicle.  Previously, we were putting in about $350 a month.

Veronica and Alice are bussed to school in the morning - their bus stop is just down the road from our house.  In the afternoon, the bus drops them off at our front door.  On Saturdays, along with Brian, they both attend dance and gymnastics programs at the YMCA downtown.  That's just a short walk from our house, through the underpass beneath the rail yard and up again into the downtown.  Some days, the walk proceeds normally.  Other days, little legs get tired quickly, and what would normally be a 5 or 7 minute walk turns into a zombie march.  Anyway, I'm at the Y right now - so we made here again this morning, on time.  I always insist that we be on time.

But besides the school bus for the kids, walking to and from work for me, and walking to the Y, for just about everything else, the van was meeting all of our transportation needs.  Ok, sometimes we'll walk downtown for whatever (usually to attend one of the many festivals that go on in Sudbury's downtown during the summer) or to go to the Farmer's Market at the Elgin Street train station where the trains don't stop any more (ok, there's the Budd Car - but that's it).

Can we really get by without a car?  I mean, I realize that having the van was an expense.  It runs about $450 a month, I estimate, between gas and insurance - and that's if nothing breaks down (which would be a rare month, lately) or when at my own peril I ignore the little sticker in the top left corner of the windshield that tells me when I should be changing the oil.  And then there are extra travel costs, should we decide to go out of town.  So sure, car ownership is an expensive way to get around.

But in Greater Sudbury, what are the alternatives?  Sure, there's the school bus, and walking, and maybe biking (I took my bike down to Stack Brewery on Kelly Lake Road this past summer, just to see if I could do it and survive.  I refilled my two growlers, slung by back pack over my shoulders, and took the Trans Canada Trail from Kelly Lake Road all the way back to Riverside Drive, just a few feet from Riverside Manor).  But what about for everything else?

Well, how much "everything else" is there?  Especially in the winter.  Besides Sarah going to and from work, there's Sparks on Tuesday night, where Sarah and her good friend, the other Spark Leader, car pool out to Chelmsford.  There's groceries (although there is a grocery store fairly close to our home, we tend to shop at the Food Basics where Sarah works, because it's a really good store, and we like the prices.  And the customer service is fantastic! At least that's been my experience).  And church on Sundays.  And Science North and Dynamic Earth for the kids whenever we can find the time (we've got a Family Membership and I have to tell you, it's one of the most worthwhile things I've ever purchased.  The kids just can't get enough of Science North, and I am always finding something new, ever time I go - I love it too.  I am so lucky to live in a City that cherishes science to the degree that Greater Sudbury does).

"Sarah, you really want to go car free?" I asked.  "You think we can do this?"

"I think we can.  Do you want to try?"

My first reaction - like most people's, I think - something that I take a degree of comfort in - is to resist any and all change.  This despite having a background in urban planning and having learned about how change happens regardless of what we want, and about how we can best manage and shape change to suit our needs better.  But when push comes to shove, it's easy to ignore what the text books tell you.  Do I really want to try going without a car?  "No, Sarah, I think this is a bad idea." I say.

Wrong answer.  She's been thinking about this all day, whereas it was something frankly that hadn't occurred to me. Car broken. Get fixed. Wait til it break down again. Get fixed again. Spend money. Use Visa.

"You know, we can save money here - and that's something we've been talking about trying to do a little better."  She then proceeded to lay it all out for me.  That's why I know we would save about four hundred and fifty bucks a month from just eliminating the regular use of the car.  Turns out, the real savings might be closer to around $700 a month, when additional travel and vehicle repair are added in.

But leave it to me to put a negative spin on something as good and exciting as 'saving money'.

"But how much will it cost to save that kind of money?"

For one thing, we're going to need to take the bus a little more often.  And that's a problem.  Greater Sudbury's transit system has two major issues with it: it's expensive, and it's inconvenient.  Those issues aren't unique to Greater Sudbury transit, mind you - but that's no comfort.  Anyway, at least it's generally reliable, and the bus drivers are courteous.  And if buses would stop burning to the ground, I'll add "pretty safe" to the list (see: "Sudbury bus catches fire," the Sudbury Star, January 27, 2017).

One of our problems is we won't be taking the bus enough to justify a monthly pass ($84 a month for a 31 day pass - you can activate it at any time throughout the month, which is cool).  So we'll be relying on the use of 5 and 10 ride passes (10 rides is $24.50, so $2.45 a ride - a much better deal than the $3.10 paid at the fare box).  For Veronica, a 10 ride pass will cost $18.50 - so a buck eighty five a ride.  And since Alice has her 5th birthday next week, she'll also have to start paying the same fare (in Greater Sudbury, kids under 5 ride for free, so we won't need to start paying for Brian until next year). By using 10 ride passes, a one-way trip for the family to whatever destination that we can access by bus will cost $8.60.  There and back again = $17.20 (see: "Greater Sudbury Transit - Fares," for a complete list of transit fare prices).

Whoa. $17.20.  Seems...kinda high for a single trip.  Greater Sudbury has a daily family pass - unlimited rides for a family of 5 like ours, for $15 bucks.  I went to the Transit Terminal yesterday and bought one.  This might be a help - but the fact is, most of our "other" travel by car was spread out throughout the week.  If we want to make this work and save money, it looks to me like we're going to have to change the way that we do things - somewhat.

Tomorrow will be the first test: Getting to and from church.  Luckily, our church is on a transit route.  Unluckily, church service is on a Sunday - which makes sense from the church's perspective, but it means that we'll be using transit on a day that transit services are reduced.  I'll offer up for sacrifice on the alter of Greater Sudbury transit that family pass I purchased yesterday, so we'll still save some money at the fare box.  But we'll have to arrive at church 45 minutes early (the May family early for church? Unheard of!), and may need to leave church before service ends, which is a little embarrassing.

"We're going to try this," Sarah told me yesterday.

"But only as a pilot project - just for one month," I respond.

"We'll see how well we've done, how much money we've saved."

"We'll see how much it cost us in terms of time and money."

But I'd already given the game away.  The moment the words "pilot project" were out of my mouth, I thought of my friend Matt Alexander, he of Sudbury Moves.  Matt likes to tweet about 'pilot projects', because he knows a little secret.  Once you start a pilot project, it's hard to stop it.  Sure, they run for whatever the length of the pilot is, but by the end of that time period, people have made their adjustments.  Their complaints and reasons for resistance - their very natural resistance to change - has been worn down or has just evaporated.  The pilot project has become the new normal.  And that's why Matt loves pilot projects for things like new bike lanes.

Of course, Matt is going to be my inspiration throughout this one month pilot project (Car free?  In Sudbury?  In FEBRUARY?  Craziness!).  After all, Matt and his spouse lived in Greater Sudbury for a number of years without a car.  And while close to the downtown, they weren't as close as my family lives.  They made it work.  They've since moved to Toronto, where Matt has a new job - a job that, ironically, where he needs to have daily access to a car - despite living on top of a subway line!  Sure, Matt didn't have 3 slow-moving little people with little legs who cost additional bus fare - but if Matt did it, why can't I?

So, here we are.  We're going Car Free.  In Sudbury.  It's my hope to continue to write about my experiences throughout the month, while exploring the City and how it treats people who - like me, now I guess - are getting around without a car.  Since I already walk a fair bit, I've been storing up my observations on what really works here - and what doesn't.  This new car-free experience will give me a reason to share them.

I look forward to you joining me and my family on this car free journey.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Remembering When We Had the Wisdom and Courage to Take On Climate Change

“Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment, whose ultimate consequences are second only to global nuclear war.”
       
     - From the “Consensus Statement from the ‘Our Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security’ Conference, Toronto, 1988 (see: When Canada led the way: a short history of climate change,” Elizabeth May, Policy Options, October 1, 2006)

I was 13 years old in the mid-1980s when I first started writing about climate change – although at that time, it was mostly called ‘global warming’.  As a young teen, science programs on television, like David Suzuki’s “Planet for the Taking”, and articles in popular science magazines like OMNI, really resonated with me.  My grade 8 science fair project was on the “Greenhouse Effect” – a topic of public popularity, but hardly cutting edge science in the mid-1980s, given that Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius had first written about the heat trapping properties of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere back in 1896 (see: Svante Arrhenius,” Wikipedia).

It was interesting to trace the coastline of a Florida-free North America inundated by rising oceans, and to colour Greenland “green” on the map to highlight the ice that would one day not be there.  But I gave little thought to what those science project maps would mean in the real world: billions of people displaced from their homes, and my own children and grandchildren inhabiting a world that I would be unable to recognize. It’s not because climate change was an abstract concept that I thought little about the consequences. It was mainly because I believed that the international community would never allow such a catastrophe to befall humanity.

You see, back in the 1980s, we knew we could tackle climate change.  We had reasons for environmental optimism.  Canada and the United States worked together to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions, leading to the Acid Rain Treaty signed by U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1991 (see: U.S. – Canada Air Quality Agreement,” Wikipedia).  And the Montreal Protocol to close the hole in the ozone layer was agreed to by the international community in 1987 (see: The Montreal Protocol,” Wikipedia).  Back then, Canada was a world leader in the advocacy of science-based international responsibility.

In 1988, the Prime Ministers of two cold, oil-producing nations – Canada’s Brian Mulroney and Norway’s Gro Harlem Brundtland, called for the creation of a “law of the air” - a binding international treaty to stabilize the planet’s atmosphere (see: Norway and Canada Call for Pact to Protect Atmosphere,” the New York Times, June 27, 1988).  In 1990, at the second World Climate Conference, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher championed the idea of sustainable development in the context of a warming planet, saying, “The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.” (see: The 'Iron Lady's' strong stance on climate change,” Douglas Fischer, the Daily Climate, April 8, 2013)

But all of that was before a public opinion campaign was waged by the oil industry to undermine the science of climate change.  This secretly funded campaign left many Canadians confused and doubtful about the global scientific consensus (see: ”Dark Money’ Funds Climate Change Denial Effort,” Scientific American, December 23, 2013).  In America, it ultimately led to the election of Donald Trump, who claims climate change is a “Chinese hoax” (see: Yes, Donald Trump did call climate change a Chinese hoax,” Politifact, June 3, 2016). It’s also led to 20 years of lost time – time that we could have used to slowly wean our economy off of fossil fuels.

Emissions have continued to sky-rocket. Only lately have our governments decided that they needed to be seen to be taking action on climate change. Small prices have been put on carbon pollution in British Columbia, Quebec, and recently in Ontario and Alberta.  Prime Minister Trudeau has said that there will be a minimum $10 per tonne price on carbon in place throughout the nation by 2018.  Actions have been timid in part because elected officials lack the courage to face an electorate that includes a large number of people who either don’t believe in the reality of climate change, or don’t understand its causes.
Some environmentalists have been eager to pat our governments on the back for taking small actions to reduce emissions.  But these initiatives will be more than offset by the continued public subsidies given away to profitable fossil fuel corporations, and the building of pipelines needed to expand production in the tar sands.  Environment Canada projects emissions to rise, despite the feel-good government rhetoric (see: Environment ministers face rising carbon emissions numbers,” CBC, January 29, 2016).

The International Energy Agency (IEA) isn’t buying it either.  Every year, the IEA produces a report on global energy use and expected trends.  2016’s report, released a little less than a year after the Paris climate treaty was negotiated, includes a number of scenarios for the future use of fossil fuels (see: Scenarios and Projections,” IEA.org). The IEA’s “450” scenario, named after the number of parts per million of carbon dioxide that would be in the atmosphere if warming were to be held at just 2 degrees Celsius as called for in Paris, would see the demand for oil peak in 2020, and steadily decline.  But the IEA didn’t select the 450 scenario as the most likely direction for the planet.  It instead opting for what it calls the “New Policies” scenario, based on the actual commitments made by the international community to limit warming.  Together, these commitments would see the world warm by about 3 degrees Celsius (see: World on track for 3C of warming under current global climate pledges, warns UN,” the Guardian, November 3, 2016).  That’s better than the 4 to 5 degrees of warming the planet would see if did no more than we are doing today, but the IEA’s most likely scenario wouldn’t see oil demand peaking until 2040 (see: Peak Oil? Not until 2040 says the International Energy Agency,” World Economic Forum, November 18, 2016).

A rise in annual average temperature between 2 and 3 degrees doesn’t sound like much – especially in the midst of a Sudbury winter.  But the 2 degrees Celsius barrier was originally chosen by the international community because the best available science at the time suggested that if warming were limited to that amount, we would likely just miss triggering the feedback loops that lead to runaway warming (see: Runaway Climate Change,” Wikipedia).  A tremendous amount of carbon is stored in the North’s permafrost.  It’s already melting, and the warmer it gets, the more greenhouse gases will be released by melting permafrost.  That’s a feedback loop.

It’s for this reason that 2 degrees Celsius has been called the climate’s “magic number”.  But a growing number of climate scientists are saying that 2 degrees Celsius might still lead to an unacceptable level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (see: Will We Miss Our Last Chance To Save The World From Climate Change?” RollingStone, December 22, 2016).  That’s why the Paris climate agreement has an aspirational warming limit of 1.5 degrees C – a limit initially proposed to the international community by Canada.  But it’s one that pipeline-approving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has no desire to hold Canada to.

It is only within this framework that a climate action plan that sees the tar sands double its production could be considered a success story for the planet.  And yet, that’s exactly what many so-called ‘progressives’ are saying about Alberta’s plan.  It is true that Alberta’s plan to reduce carbon pollution is probably the most aggressive plan of any Canadian province.  However, it is far from the plan that we need now to limit warming after 20 lost years of inaction.

Rather than defending extremely weak plans, progressives ought to be calling for workable solutions – and shaming the governments of Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia and Canada for their weak efforts, just as they did Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.  With only a few years left to avoid the risk of feedback loop-triggering tipping points in the climate system, the weak and contradictory actions of Liberals and New Democrats are in no way a replacement for the complete inaction of Conservatives.

Earlier this week, Hollywood celebrity Jane Fonda was in Alberta, where she urged Canada to do more.  Predictably, Alberta Premier and bitumen pipeline champion Rachel Notley, referred told the media that Fonda was “ill informed” and “did not know what she was talking about” (see: Jane Fonda 'dining out on celebrity' but starved for facts, Alberta premier says,” CBC, January 11, 2017).  But Fonda was right to point out that we shouldn’t let ourselves become suckers to good looking liberals who talk a good game on the climate, but who are committed to continuing to run the “globally pervasive experiment” we were warned about in 1988.  What’s clear is that those who call themselves ‘liberals’ and champion projects that will see carbon emissions grow are the new enemies of the planet.

My 13 year old self would never have imagined that in 2017 we would be facing a systems crisis caused by climate change, thanks in part to a science disinformation campaign, and to political leaders who substitute weak and contradictory actions for doing the right thing out of fear over an electoral backlash.  In my childish naivete, it would not have occurred to me that humanity would lack the wisdom to unplug the apparatus used to conduct an experiment whose ultimate consequences would lead to the destruction of the planet.


(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

A significantly edited version of this post appeared in the Sudbury Star as "Wisdom, courage needed in climate change fight," online, Saturday, January 14, 2017, and in print, Monday, January 16, 2017.