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A Scientist Breaks Down Cap and Trade and the IPCC Climate Report

After retiring from teaching Chemistry and Environmental Science at Redeemer University College, Dr. Henry Brouwer is now the Eastern Canada Regional Climate Witness Project Coordinator of the Christian Reformed Church. In the wake of a flurry of historic climate change news in Canada, Dr. Brouwer agreed to share his expertise with Do Justice.

1. Why has climate change become such a polarizing issue?

Already in 1861, British physicist John Tyndall first showed that certain gases, collectively called greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide, or CO2) are capable of absorbing thermal radiation emitted by the earth. In 1896, Svante Arrhenius calculated that the earth’s temperature would increase by about 6 degrees Celsius if CO2 levels were to double.

But following the agreement at the Earth Summit in 1992 to limit carbon emissions, the fossil fuel industry began an extremely effective campaign, primarily in the US, to create doubt about the science of climate change. 'Fake news' has stalled serious international action ever since, even though individual countries, states/provinces, and cities have implemented numerous projects to reduce carbon emissions.

2. What is cap and trade and why are people talking about it?

A carbon tax involves the addition of a tax per tonne of carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide) emitted; the increased fuel cost is expected to lower demand. But in a cap and trade system, the government auctions off carbon emission permits to major users of fossil fuels, with a decreasing number of permits auctioned each year until the carbon emission reduction target is reached. Companies requiring more permits can buy extra permits from other, more efficient companies at market value.

Cap and trade, although more complicated than a carbon tax, employs market forces to reduce overall carbon emissions, while a carbon tax simply increases the cost of fuel but may not achieve the reduction goal desired by the government. The Ontario cap and trade program was linked with those in Quebec and California, creating a much greater market for carbon permits.

3. How was the revenue generated by the Ontario cap and trade program used?

A fund was established to help citizens and businesses in Ontario become more energy efficient. For example, the Save on Energy program in Ontario provided grants to develop alternate sources of energy and to lower energy demand by homeowners, businesses and institutions (e.g. grants for electric vehicles, better windows, high efficiency furnaces, geothermal heating and cooling, and lighting, to name a few). This approach not only reduced carbon emissions but also operating costs--a win-win situation!

4. Why did the newly elected Ontario government cancel cap and trade? What did they propose instead?

The Conservative parties, both provincial and federal, oppose any form of carbon tax. With cancellation of the Ontario cap and trade program in July 2018, many grants for improving efficiency were canceled, including hundreds of sustainable energy projects (wind, solar, hydro). .

Even the Financial Accountability Office (FAO) of Ontario recently predicted that the budget will worsen by three billion dollars over the next three years with the cancellation of this program. Unfortunately, the current government has not yet released its plans to address climate change, other than to challenge the federal carbon tax in the courts!

5. Prime Minister Trudeau announced on Oct. 23 the imposition of a carbon tax on provinces not complying with their goal of reducing carbon emissions. How will it work?

Effective April 1, 2019, a carbon tax of $20/tonne, increasing to $50/tonne by 2022, will be imposed in the hopes of decreasing demand. The money collected is to be refunded to the citizens to compensate them for the increase in fuel costs.

6. Will this revenue-neutral carbon tax achieve the reductions needed?

I don't think so. Since the proceeds of the tax will be refunded to citizens, there will be no extra revenues for programs for the transition away from fossil fuels. How will the government finance much-needed public transportation systems or develop sustainable infrastructure projects, at a time when they are already heavily in debt? We cannot expect private industry alone to propose and finance the transition to sustainable energy sources.

7. The IPCC (the climate arm of the United Nations) recently predicted dire consequences if the earth's temperature increases more than 1.5 Celsius degrees, predicted to occur by 2040. Why?

The earth's temperature is already about 1oC higher than pre-industrial times. Many impacts of a warming earth are occurring much sooner than predicted, such as intensification of storms, severe drought and flooding, melting of the Arctic ice, and rapid melting of glaciers, to name a few. The concentration of carbon dioxide, presently 45% above pre-industrial times, will be about 60% higher by 2040 at current emission rates; this will only intensify the effects of climate change and create more severe problems for our children's generation.

8. Is preventing worsening effects of climate change hopeless?

NO! But the longer we fail to reduce carbon emissions, the greater the effects (and costs) of climate change and the more difficult to make the necessary changes. We need long-term planning to provide a road-map of where we have to be and how we will get there.

God’s creation has an amazing ability to restore itself, but only if humans stop releasing substances that cause the problems. Take the acid rain problem in the 1960's: once the emission of sulfur dioxide (the cause) was reduced using a cap and trade approach, the areas affected (e.g acidification of rivers and lakes) slowly improved.

9. What can we do as individuals, church communities, and a denomination?

The simple answer is – WE MUST REDUCE USE OF FOSSIL FUELS! Caring for God’s creation at a time when humanity's impact is beyond question is no longer optional. Here are a few ways you can become part of the solution:

  • Education – Churches can organize study groups to better understand the many issues surrounding climate change.
  • Creation Care Group – Discuss ideas to use energy more efficiently, both at home and in your church facility. This group could investigate solar or wind energy for its members or the church. It could also use the church grounds for a community garden or plant more trees to absorb carbon dioxide.
  • Worship – As a denomination, we confess that God is revealed both in creation and in the Bible (Belgic Confession Article 2). Yet we seldom hear about the revelation of God in creation! The idols of capitalism and materialism responsible for much of the abuse of creation must be exposed as part of creation stewardship.
  • Advocacy – Government action at all levels is needed to transition from fossil fuels. Encourage members to contact their politicians to request and show support for carbon reduction initiatives. Vote for individuals and parties who have an agenda that works toward sustainability.
  • Transportation – Air travel is one of the most energy-intensive forms of travel. As individuals, consider taking local vacations. Rather than traveling to another country for a mission trip, engage in local community projects. Encourage walking and cycling (and the infrastructure necessary to do this safely).

We are called to be faithful in all things. How can you use your insights and gifts to make this world a better place for your children?

* Recommended viewing: Royal Dutch Shell’s 28 minute documentary “Climate of Concern” (1991)

[Photo by Ion Sirbu on Unsplash]

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