Good afternoon, and welcome to Globe Climate, a newsletter about climate change, environment and resources in Canada.
For the Globe’s science reporter Ivan Semeniuk, the journey is just beginning.
The successful landing of the Perseverance rover marks the start of an epic quest for life on Mars – one that scientists hope will answer the question of whether a planet that once had all the ingredients to sustain life actually saw life emerge.
In the first images from the rover, some of the rocks are clearly riddled with small holes which geologists call “vugs.” The objective now is to learn the history of those rocks. That will serve as a starting point for the rover’s larger mission of discovering if the location hosted life.
Now, let’s catch you up on other news.
Noteworthy reporting this week:
- Canada’s largest cities made little or no progress in preparing for flooding over the past five years, according to a new report, even as increasing numbers of homeowners discover their homes are effectively uninsurable for Canada’s costliest natural hazard.
- A dramatic shift in cultural norms and a growing list of intergenerational risks, such as climate change and income inequality, demand the attention of corporate directors – yet Canadian boards are trapped in the past, according to a substantive new paper.
- The largest U.S. oil refiners released tons of air pollutants into the skies over Texas this week, according to figures provided to the state, as one environmental crisis triggered another.
A deeper dive
In Texas, lessons for the Canadian grid
Ryan MacDonald is a senior editor at The Globe heading the climate, environment and resources team.
Like the wildfires in California, the collapse of the power grid in Texas is serving as a wake-up call for the risks associated with a changing climate. For Canada, there are lessons in preparing for future volatility – and some compromise around the elimination of fossil-fuel usage.
As Adam Radwanski writes, Hydro-Québec is already experimenting with a back-up plan. Participating homes in the “dual energy” program use electrical heating most of the time, but automatically switch to a secondary source at peak times.
There are broader questions to consider, as well.
To address climate change, advocates often describe the “electrify everything” scenario – that is, replace technologies like the combustion engine in your car and gas heating and cooling in your house or office with electric engines and heat pumps. And do it all with a supply of electrical power that is GHG-free.
But what does that growing demand for clean electricity mean for supply in a country like Canada?
We are certainly in a much better place than the United States. Currently, Canada gets more than 80 per cent of its electricity from non-GHG emitting sources such as hydroelectricity – and, yes, nuclear power is included. The U.S. by comparison is launching a massive effort under the Biden administration to remake its electricity grid. Canada sees export opportunities for states seeking to get off coal.
It is unclear what kind of rise in demand would result from electric vehicles and retrofitting buildings here. But it’s clear Canadian provinces will need to get better at working together to provide clean electricity.
Our provincial electricity grids are largely designed north-to-south, with an aim to export power to the United States. Ottawa wants to start a conversation about a smarter grid, one in which clean-power provinces share their electricity with dirty-power provinces. It’s not off to a great start.
The important thing is that Canada is starting to consider what a smart, integrated grid could look like. At The Globe, we’re beginning to ask the questions about electricity demand and capacity as we look to 2050. We welcome your thoughts and ideas.
It will take leadership and co-operation to get it done. This is a different kind of power dynamic.
What else you missed
- Carbon tax: The federal government owes Canadian families in three provinces more than $200-million after underestimating how much it would raise during the first year of the program.
- One of North America’s top experts on pollution from coal mines is warning Albertans about the dangers of expanding the industry in the province’s Rocky Mountains. “Expansion of coal-mining up the Alberta Rockies chain will absolutely produce an environmental disaster for fish and wildlife health in what are now pristine, high-quality watersheds,” Dennis Lemly wrote in an e-mail to The Canadian Press.
- Rare winter weather: Storms have left millions of Texans without heat and water in freezing temperatures. Snowfall also blanketed the Acropolis, halting COVID-19 vaccinations in Athens.
- The United States officially returned to the Paris global climate accord on Friday, and President Joe Biden and other U.S. leaders declared the country could not afford to sideline the growing climate crisis again.
- The World Bank is working with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on ways to factor climate change into the negotiations about reducing the debt burdens of some poor countries, World Bank President David Malpass
Opinion and analysis
Cleaning up our air will help clean up our lungs
Michael J. Stephen: “During COVID-19 we saw how the Earth can heal itself as pictures circulated of dolphins frolicking in the Venice canals in the absence of human activity. With a worldwide effort, Canada could stay safe both from toxic air and also lethal changes in the environment.”
Where are the directors in a world in crisis?
Peter Dey and Sarah Kaplan: “Increasingly investors will turn away from companies that do not take a bold stance on environmental, social and governance issues. BlackRock’s announcement this year requiring companies it invests in to make climate disclosures has caused nearly two dozen Canadian companies to promise action on climate change.”
Related: Canada’s corporate boards are trapped in the past and must be revamped for ESG era, governance experts say.
The rise of ESG investing has caught even top investors by surprise
However, many expect the trend to continue. But the surprise is raising questions about whether there’s an Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) bubble forming. Think back to similar previous tech and cannabis rushes that deflated quicker than they ran up.
“In Canada, several investors, from pension funds to private equity players, made investments in renewable energy and set up funds to seek new target for investment,” writes Jeffrey Jones.
- More from Jeffrey Jones: B.C’s investment fund commits $5-billion to green bonds and plans to reduce its carbon exposure in stock-market holdings.
- Analysis: When is a favourable time to invest in energy?
- David Berman: Cameco shares have doubled in the last year. But can nuclear really succeed as a green energy source?
Each week The Globe will profile a young person making a difference in Canada. This week we’re highlighting the work of Suha Khan doing NGO work.
My name is Suha Khan, I am a 19-year-old environmental science student and climate activist. I am currently a second-year environment and resource management major at the University of Guelph, however, my passion for leading a sustainable lifestyle and concern for the ever-present climate crisis dates long before my postsecondary career.
By volunteering and working with a local NGO, I have raised awareness and supported authentic climate education. I was empowered to educate youth by developing a summer camp focusing on environmental stewardship. Additionally, I helped design, develop and lead the Generation Green Un-conference, where students were provided with the skills and tools they needed to feel confident in enacting their own carbon mitigation projects.
A vital step needed to combat the climate crisis is to make environmental education accessible and inclusive. Although this may seem like a baby step, education today is the stepping stone for inspired and determined generations to come, ready to take back their world.
Do you know an engaged young person? Someone who represents the real engines pursuing change in the country? Email us at GlobeClimate@globeandmail.com to tell us about them.
Photo of the week
Guides and Explainers
- We’ve rounded up our reporters’ content to help you learn about sustainable ways to live life at home, travel, invest, and generally to learn about our species at risk.
- If you like to read, here are books to help the environmentalist in you grow, as well as a downloadable e-book of Micro skills - Little Steps to Big Change.
Catch up on Globe Climate
- Books for a better planet
- Canada’s resource reckoning is coming
- Investing in the future never looked so green
- Biden’s fast pace shifts the pressure to Ottawa