Good afternoon, and welcome to Globe Climate, a newsletter about climate change, environment and resources in Canada.
If you enjoy the outdoors at night, this is for you. Mars is making its closest approach to Earth for 15 years and the next several nights will be prime time for catching a glimpse of the brilliant, ruddy orb.
Even better, the current opposition, which happens tonight, is the best that earthlings will see until 2035. This is due to the elliptical shape of the planet’s orbit, which will render the next several close passes rather less close than this one.
Read more about this and check it out here.
Now, let’s catch you up on other news.
Noteworthy reporting this week:
- Climate change threatens Canada’s dams - but who’s keeping track? There are more than 14,000 dams across the country, but not all provinces have legislation or record-keeping to monitor their maintenance or assess the risks they pose. They are at risk of failing even during moderate rainfall, let alone the massive deluges that are becoming increasingly commonplace.
- Human activity has nearly doubled annual emissions of nitrous oxide, a contributor to global warming, an international research team has found. As a result, the atmospheric concentration of the greenhouse gas is now 20 per cent higher than it was during preindustrial times.
- Now that electric vehicles will be made in Canada, will government force them to be sold here? Adam Radwanski’s latest column looks to the economic and environmental future of the auto industry and a zero-emissions vehicles mandate.
A deeper dive
It’s a plastic world after all
Sierra Bein is a Globe editor on the programming team (but you know her as the person who writes this newsletter). For this week’s deeper dive, she talks about Ottawa’s plastic ban and how COVID-19 has increased plastic use, and waste.
I recently spoke to Tony Walker, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University’s School for Resource and Environmental Studies. He’s been involved in some pretty interesting research regarding plastic and COVID-19.
Specifically, we got a chance to talk about how precautionary COVID-19 measures have been challenging the environment. Single-use plastics for things such as our takeout containers, the PPE we’re using, and other waste has became a lot more commonplace, and much of it isn’t being disposed of properly.
Masks, for example, belong in the garbage. But there’s been a lot of confusion about whether they are considered recyclable or not. Mr. Walker suggests we should be trying to use reusable masks, especially since we don’t have widespread use of something like a biodegradable plastic.
“But we haven’t had the sufficient time to develop those plastic alternatives and in which case, we’re already in the midst of a pandemic. So we went back to our old ways,” he said.
This past week, Ottawa announced that it intends to ban six single-use plastic items by the end of next year. Plastic straws, cutlery, grocery bags, stir sticks, six-pack rings and certain types of takeout containers could be restricted in Canada by 2021.
“I think Canada is very proactive. Yes, we still have a problem. But at least we acknowledge we have a problem and we’re aiming to do something about that,” said Mr. Walker.
But as we learn more about plastic, and resulting microplastics, like the nearly 16 million tons hidden beneath the ocean’s surface, we’re starting to understand what the repercussions are. That includes how they affect us, like the microplastics that we eat and breathe, and the impacts they have on our health.
“And hopefully," continued Mr. Walker, "We don’t have a pandemic again, but if we do, I think we’ll not be reliant on single use plastics in the future.”
Also read our editorial: Banning plastic straws and stir sticks is a good move, but it’s also the easy part
What else you missed
Wireless industry says deployment of 5G will help Canada meet climate goals: A cell tower in a 5G network uses about 8 per cent to 15 per cent as much electricity as a 4G cell site, according to the report.
Alberta to expand geothermal as part of diversification push: The UCP government will table legislation it hopes will spur investment in geothermal energy, resuscitating jobs in the oil- and gas-well drilling and servicing sectors that have evaporated with the fall in crude prices and demand.
Without other policies, carbon tax must rise substantially to meet climate goals: Ahead of Ottawa’s release of its plan to meet and exceed Canada’s 2030 emissions targets, the PBO’s report set a baseline for the potential costs to consumers, industries and the economy of meeting the targets.
Opinion and analysis
Climate-related disclosure should start with governance
Laura Zizzo: “There are now many blueprints for action on climate disclosure and steps to achieve climate change preparedness, but it has to start with the collective willingness and courage from directors and managers to look beyond quarterly results and existing annual compensation targets, and toward a sustainable, climate-resilient future where leadership accountability must include climate competence.”
Ottawa’s quixotic jolt to our electric-battery industry is riskier than it’s letting on
Andrew Coyne: “Subsidy doesn’t remove these risks; it simply transfers them from the private sector to the public.”
Why Canadians drive the worst gas-guzzling cars on the planet, and what to do about it
Editorial board: “Like so much in politics this year, the future hinges on Nov. 3. Ottawa is taking a quiet wait-and-see approach.”
Here’s what readers had to say
‘The climate crisis … will make the pandemic look like the good old days if left unchecked.’ Readers respond to The Globe’s commitment to climate change coverage
Re The Climate Issue (Sept. 26): I applaud The Globe for committing to expanded coverage of the climate crisis. I hope you will resist the temptation to sell the fantasy that we can solve it while living a modified version of our current existence. Economic incentives can achieve great things, but only if they are sufficiently bold.
For example, we should go beyond encouraging Canadians to drive electric vehicles. While I would be pleased to see people switch to cars powered by renewably sourced electricity, they remain a spatially inefficient form of transportation. We have demonstrably effective solutions that actively discourage private automobiles and encourage cycling, walking and the use of public transit. These solutions may not be popular, but they should be discussed if we want to put a significant dent in our carbon emissions.
I look forward to more climate coverage.
Jody Zink Quebec City
Each week The Globe will profile a young person making a difference in Canada. This week we’re highlighting the work of Cooper Price leading strikes and taking the government to court.
My name is Cooper Price. I am a 16-year-old student and climate activist living in Toronto.
I was one of four young activists to be featured in CitizenKid: Earth Comes First, a YTV documentary that aired on World Environment Day. Since then, I have become a co-ordinator of Fridays For Future Toronto, led by activist Alienor Rougeot, and Climate Strike Canada, the network of hundreds of youth strikers across the country. With these groups, I led a national banner drop on Aug. 12 to demand that our elected officials open their eyes to the climate crisis.
Now, I am taking the Ontario government to court over Bill 197. Joining several Environmental NGOs and another activist, I am fighting against environmental deregulation in our province and ensuring that leaders hear the youth perspective.
Climate change is the crisis of our generation. Use your voice, your power, and your privilege to fight for a just transition to a greener future. Find a network of activists in your community, such as Fridays For Future Toronto, and join the movement. We need you.
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
- Special edition part 2: Down to business
- Special edition part 1: Fire and ice
- Is it time for Big Oil to kill itself slowly?
- A disastrous reminder of climate change