This past Monday, April 28th, our WSIC audience benefitted from Gord Miller, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, and Debbie de Lange, Business Strategy Advisor and professor at Ryerson University provide an outlook on Ontario’s Green Economy, why it’s important, and where it is headed.
Mr. Milller began the evening by addressing the key dominant environmental factors we should be aware of today, and which will affect us going forwards:
(i) Burning of fossil fuels and climate change. Weather events in Toronto have become more severe recently and will likely continue with greater frequency due to global warming. There are currently more fossil fuel reserves on the balance sheets of big oil and gas companies than what can be burned in the atmosphere without causing global warming to exceed 2°C and make life unsustainable. This excess reserve is called “unburnable carbon.” Big fossil fuel offenders, such as transportation, will have to be constrained in the near future;
(ii) Electricity sources. Electricity is shifting from nuclear power plants to wind energy, as more cost efficient and effective sources are being explored;
(iii) Change in biodiversity. In addition to the emotional connections we share with a lot of species (such as the monarch butterfly, which used to be so prevalent and is now an endangered species), a change in biodiversity also reflects the health of our surrounding environment; and
(iv) Water shortages. As Canadians, we are lucky to have so much clean water, but we must not take this for granted, given that other countries less fortunate may try to divert some of our water to assist with their own short supplies.
From an economic perspective, much like hockey, we need to be going to where the puck is going, not where it is right now. If Ontario is to benefit from the Green economy, it needs to anticipate where to go next.
Dr. De Lange provided a more international perspective on current environmental problems. The UN Millennium Development Goals, one of which is to ensure environmental sustainability, represents the basis upon which all other goals can be achieved. Without a healthy planet, it is impossible to realize any other objectives. As Canadians citizens, we need to think on more of an international level and not necessarily rely only on media coverage of the environment; the media’s view does not always represent the full picture and may be subject to political swaying power.
Looking at where the puck is going, Dr. De Lange pointed out that Canada’s oil sector could fall prey to Dutch Disease. So much of our expertise is concentrated into a single sector, when the oil runs out, we will have no young people trained in other economic areas to compete. The focus solely on oil produces a skills shortage in other areas.
Commissioner Miller was clear that there should indeed be a price on carbon. His view was that a price in some capacity would be inevitable in the future, so why not start now? Dr. De Lange further emphasized that carbon tax would be a relatively simple process to implement, as opposed to other alternatives such as carbon trading, which requires a sophisticated legal framework and trading system to function.
Pressed about public policy changes, Commissioner Miller conceded that Ontario had work to do before energy storage solutions would be viable in Ontario. Green energy often means selling our electricity to other regions at a loss because the turbines are spinning. To level out our own supply and demand, energy storage is an absolutely must if we renewable (and unpredictable) energy generating technologies are to be added to the grid. At the moment, any entrepreneur wishing to store energy must buy the electricity at retail and sell it back to the grid at wholesale. Changes are expected to be made but the timeline remains elusive.
Both our speakers agreed that combatting climate change is in large part a matter of political will. The government ultimately has leverage to communicate certain messages that it wants to be heard, and stifle other voices that go against its view. Dr. De Lange voiced concern about NGOs who advocated on environmental responsibility often saw their funding cut and lost charitable status. In a healthy democracy, NGOs should not be fearful of criticizing government policy.
The best way that Canadians can ensure their voice is heard is by educating themselves through various outlets that extend beyond television and domestic broadcasting: social media, international papers, journals and examples from other governments can all give good indications of our global environment, and what we can do on a national level. Once we are educated, Ontarians should vote to best communicate their views and beliefs, and ensure that the right person is elected who shares the same values as its constituents.
By better informing ourselves with facts and by gaining a more global perspective, we will have the right tools to make better environmental and economic decisions in the years ahead.