In B.C., Alberta and beyond, forest fires are getting larger and way more difficult to handle. Get used to it.
On May 30, the morning that Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney planned a news conference to take credit for repealing the provincial carbon tax he inherited from the NDP, Edmontonians woke up to discover their city covered in a thick yellow blanket of foul-smelling smoke.
By the end of the day, Environment Canada had issued air-quality alerts for most of the province. In Edmonton, the air measured 10-plus on a scale of one to 10, meaning it posed a “very high” health risk.
Kenney cancelled his carbon tax news conference to be briefed on the out-of-control wildfires turning tens of thousands of hectares of spruce, pine and aspen into ash. The most dangerous fire, and the source of much of the smoke, was the Chuckegg Creek fire—a 100,000-hectare monster threatening the town of High Level, 400 km west of Fort McMurray.
When Kenney next talked to reporters, after a speech in Calgary the following day, he confidently brushed aside questions about the irony of cancelling a carbon tax announcement because of fires that scientists link to climate change.
“The carbon tax didn’t stop forest fires in British Columbia or in Alberta,” Kenney said. “We’ve always had forest fires here. We always will. There’s complex factors here, one of which is, there’s huge patches of very old boreal forests where there have not been fires for, in some cases, 80 or 90 years. So all of the forestry experts will tell you these forests have been overdue for a major forest fire.”
The forestry experts will also tell you that forest fires—in Australia, California, British Columbia and Alberta—are bigger, hotter and more dangerous than fires in the past because of climate change, and we had better get used to them. This is the new reality, and there is reason to worry it will get worse and worse.
Carbon pricing has been implemented by more than 50 jurisdictions worldwide, and currently covers more than 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions according to the most recent World Bank report on the subject. The jurisdictions pricing carbon include both developed and developing countries. South Africa approved a carbon tax earlier this year. The most recent addition to this growing global club is Canada, which implemented a federal carbon tax in April this year. The Canadian carbon tax illustrates how carbon taxes can be designed to become popular. The tax revenues will be returned to Canadian citizens at a flat rate per capita, ensuring it benefits the poor the most. Germany is currently considering its own carbon tax, to complement an emissions trading scheme covering carbon emissions from large emitters across Europe. In the corporate world, more than 600 companies price carbon internally, reducing their carbon footprint at the minimum cost and preparing for a world with stringent climate policy. Internal carbon pricing has also been implemented by universities, such as Yale.
Actual developments stand in stark contrast to the claims from commentators, including in very influential outlets, that pricing carbon is politically “impossible”. These commentators seem to base their reasoning on the French protests around the Yellow Vest movement. The link is appropriate, as the Yellow Vest movement emerged as a reaction to a gas tax, with very frequent and important tax hikes. However, the Yellow Vest movement should be used as a reminder of the consequences of poor policy design, not as proof of the “impossibility” of pricing carbon.
Polls show that sometime after British Columbia implemented a revenue-neutral carbon tax in 2008, and after it survived calls to repeal it, most voters started supporting it. A stylized fact in environmental policy is that incentive taxes tend to be more popular after implementation than before. Beforehand, people tend to overestimate drawbacks and underestimate benefits. With a garbage tax, for instance, they do not expect people to change behaviour and recycle more. When they see the tax working – and the revenues going back to them in case of revenue-neutral reforms – they change their beliefs. For this reason, trial periods have been implemented, for instance in the case of congestion charges.
For the first time in years, climate change is shaping up to be a major issue in the federal election campaign this fall.
And when it comes specifically to the question of whether the carbon tax is the best way to address the challenge, the four main parties will all be offering competing visions to Canadians ranging from plans that focus on having government set the rules or leaving more power in the hands of the private sector and getting rid of the price on pollution all together.
What the plans from the four main federal parties — Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Greens — all have in common is a recognition that Canadians facing extreme flooding, droughts and fires are demanding the federal government they elect has a plan to deal with the challenges.
High school students in Canada may not be getting the full story about climate change, according to a new study by researchers from the University of British Columbia and Lund University in Sweden.
The study analysed high school science textbooks and curricula in all 13 provinces and territories and interviewed people responsible for curriculum design in six provinces.
It found in general, Canadian curricula covers the facts that climate change is happening and that it’s caused by humans, but not the strength of the scientific consensus behind climate change, its impacts or solutions.
“That’s important because if students don’t understand that there are solutions or that experts agree this is a problem that’s caused by humans, they’re unlikely to be motivated to help solve the problem,” said Seth Wynes, a UBC doctoral candidate and the lead author of the study.
“We know that part of the role of science education in Canada as laid out in various provincial documents is to prepare students to be environmental citizens,” he added.
The study rated the curricula on six core areas: basic knowledge of the physical climate, rising global temperatures, the human-caused nature of climate change, its negative consequences and the possibility of avoiding the most severe effects of climate change through implementing solutions that reduce emissions from fossil fuels.