Catastrophic Climate Change: We Caused It; We're Going to Have to Fix It.
Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.
- Albert Einstein
Some Big Wins to Aim For
The first step in this process is understanding that you CAN make a real difference. Industry
and the mainstream media have put a lot of money and effort into convincing you otherwise, because
that's to their benefit. There is a speck of truth in painting you as a 'co-conspirator' in the current
state of current catastrophic climate change: you are (were) buying what they're selling. (Yes, me too,
either directly or indirectly.) However, you can choose to change and get out of the fossil fuel
dependency. The oil industry cannot. Do you care enough to make a small effort to make a change
which will benefit you and your family? Will you change if it saves you money? Those options are
definitely on the table for you. Some examples are set out below.
Understand, Support and Benefit from a Feebate for GHG Emissions
Detractors tend to call this 'the carbon tax'. Why not? It's 2 pieces of disinformation in 3 words.
First, it's not a tax. A tax is when the government takes your money and spends it on something you
probably weren't prepared to pay for yourself (like a 20% increase in housing allowances for Ontario MPPs).
Something where you get no return. The GHG Feebate (in most incarnations) is designed to be 'revenue neutral',
for the government collecting the fees, which means it gives the same amount of money back to consumers - in
total - as was collected. So, how can it entice you to reduce your GHG emissions if you just get the money back?
Because, you can CHOOSE to buy less expensive options (with lower GHG
emissions embedded) to improve your standard of living than the thing which is now MORE EXPENSIVE because of
GHG fee. (Sorry for the all caps, but this sort of free-market behaviour seems difficult for Conservatives
to understand.) For example, if you heat your house and hot water with heating oil, and the price of the heating oil goes
up by 10% (say by year 3) due to the GHG fee (say from $3000 a year to $3300), you might choose to upgrade your weather-sealing,
add insulation, or add some solar heating capability to your house to reduce the amount of heating oil you use,
possibly by about $1000 a year. And if you're getting an annual GHG rebate of about $1000 a year (by year 3), added to
the savings (increasing each year with the fuel price), you can afford to have that work done one-time,
and pocket the rising annual rebate for the rest of your life.
Of course, if you would rather continue supporting foreign oil companies and let your neighbours take the
annual savings, that is entirely YOUR CHOICE.
Let's take another example. If you contribute to a government pension plan, is that a tax? No, because
you will get money back from the pension program at a later date. That's the definition of an investment, not a tax.
Similarly, the greenhouse gas emissions fee is an investment in maintaining a planet your descendants can live on
and you will be getting money back each year.
It reminds me of beer bottle and can deposit fees. When somebody buys a container of beer, they pay a
small amount of money to encourage the return of the bottle or can so it doesn't just become litter and
pollution (the 'polluter pays' principle). You get the rebate when you take the can or bottle back. One summer I worked doing grounds
maintenance at a recreation facility where many of the patrons smuggled in beer and dropped their empties
under the bleachers on show nights. Their choice was to give up the return rebate for their convenience.
It was my choice to show up early for work the next day, collect all the empties and put them in my car.
On my way home, I would return the empties. Generally, I made more money from returning the bottles and cans
than I made in a day of work. That's like a 20% pay bonus - each week - untaxed. That's how a feebate works.
If your neighbours don't want the money as a matter of their convenience, you can choose to collect their share.
Second, it's not about carbon. It's about greenhouse gases. Like methane, nitrogen oxides and carbon
dioxide. Carbon is not a greenhouse gas; it's not a gas at all. If your objective is confusion and
disinformation "carbon tax" is a win-win, because both terms are misleading, and pretending it's a tax instead of
a feebate program creates confusion.
The GHG Feebate is about the Polluter Pays principle. In short, if you make the mess, you clean it up, or pay
for someone else to clean it up. It's like being an adult, and taking responsibility for your actions.
For many of us, this is the one where we can make a big difference with a small number of changes. In short,
if you're burning gasoline or diesel fuel to move yourself around, time to downshift on your fossil fuel
consumption. Assuming you have a job you commute to most days of the week, could you work from home one
of those days each week or two? I know it can't work for everyone. But if you can do it, I don't think you'll
miss the traffic. In my experience, it really reduces the interruption factor, and allows me to get more
actual work done. It also forces me to plan my work more effectively, knowing meetings have to be on 'office'
days, and I need to get the information I'm going to work with before taking a 'work from home' day. Huge bonus
if I can set a 'work from home' day to accommodate some service call which would otherwise require me to take
a day or half-day off.
If you have a gas or diesel fueled vehicle, get rid of it. In the past, I would have suggested using
net-zero carbon biofuels, but after many years I have concluded it just won't be possible to find reliable commercial sources
for fuels like E85 (which could be used in 'flex-fuel' engines) or biodiesel blended fuels. Unless mandated
by government, the oil industry fueling stations simply don't offer these options. (Some jurisdictions have
E5 to E10 in regular gasoline, which acts as a fuel system cleaner and gasline anti-freeze, but doesn't make
a big dent in CO2, NOx and other vehicle emissions. I have seen a couple of independent fueling stations
offer B20 or E85 fuels, but they have not been able to maintain reliable sources of supply and have
gone out of business.
If you can live without your own car or truck, why carry the expense? In 2013, CAA said it costs on average about
$9,500 or more a year to own a light-duty vehicle.
For most of us, that's in after tax dollars. (You can try your specific case at
CAA's online calculator.)
Perhaps you could manage with occasional access to a car. If so, you could join a car-share organization
like Vrtucar, CommunAuto, ZipCar or others. Or you could establish an account with a car rental company, and
rent a car for a day when you need one. Or you could have an arrangement with a friend or family member to use
a vehicle they own on an occasional basis on some mutually beneficial basis. There are also ride-share services
like Lyft, or taxi companies. While taxi fares may seem expensive, if your need is occasional, they will be less
expensive than owning your own car.
If you think you need a car (e.g. no transit option where you live), or can justify the cost (e.g. it's critical
to how you make a living), then it's time to shift to a plug-in vehicle. It could be an e-bike, an electric motorcycle,
plug-in hybrid vehicle or go all-in on a battery-only electric vehicle (EV). Multiple jurisdictions have said they
will not permit the sale of gas-only or diesel-only vehicles by dates ranging from 2025 to 2030. So, if you have
one now to get rid of, might be a good idea to trade it in earlier than later, while it still has remaining value.
There are currently 2 catches to buying a plug-in vehicle. 1) The automakers don't want to sell you one, so
you are going to have to make additional effort to actually get one, and (gasp), you might have to wait for delivery
because they don't have any in the showroom or sitting in the inventory lot. That's because a bunch of smart
people are already buying them despite the obstacles. 2) The EV may have a higher sticker price due to the
cost of the advanced battery that comes in it. If so, and you don't have the cash, finance it. Preferably at
a reasonable interest rate, which probably won't be offered by the dealer. If you drive a typical amount, the
fuel cost savings will easily offset the monthly financing cost.
There are a few other reasons you may still be reluctant to get an electric car. Let's go through those.
Who will fix it if something goes wrong?
The dealer. Look for 8-year and longer warranties on the major
vehicle components and the entire drive train. They come standard on most plug-in models.
I drive more than 600 km most days, and I don't think an EV will work for me.
Wow, that's over 215,000 km
a year. If you are getting 10 litres/100 km and gasoline is $1.25 a litre, you're spending about
$27,000 a year on gas, so I imagine you are looking for some ways to lower that cost.
You should seriously look at buying a Tesla with the full Supercharger support package which
will save you pretty much that entire $27,000 a year. How's that for a way to cut your fuel costs?
Personally, I can't imagine spending more than 7 hours a day in my car unless it's how I make a living. That's about
15 times the distance the average light duty vehicle goes, and way more than a taxi travels in a year. So, you have
a couple of options.
1) Get a plug-in hybrid whick can do some travel in all-electric (zero-emissions) mode, and
then automatically switches to liquid fuel when the battery gets low.
2) Find the fast charging stations along your route and use them. These are becoming increasingly
common, and can refuel the electric vehicle in 20 minutes or less (long enough for a bio-break, pick up
a fresh beverage and possibly food, check your email and stretching your muscles).
However, if you drive a more typical distance most days, a battery EV will likely fill your range needs without
need for charging during the day (assuming starting with a full charge from overnight charging).
I heard driving an electric car causes more pollution than driving a gas car.
I have heard that, too.
However, it's simply wrong. It doesn't matter if coal is burned to make the electricity. The electric car is
so much more efficient than a gas car (or diesel - no matter how much VW cheated), that an electric car is always
less polluting than a fossil-fueller. This has been hashed over in study after study, but the truth can't get past the
mainstream media (which rely on automaker and oil industry advertising revenue) and into the collective consciousness. Here's
yet another such study put out recently by Bloomberg showing the same conclusion. Further, electric cars
eliminate air pollution where it does the most harm to humans - at ground level where we live. Those
emissions are easier to clean up at a single smoke stack than at a million tailpipes. Finally, while gas cars
emit more pollution as they get older, the electric grid is getting cleaner as renewables continue to displace
coal and natural gas in our electric generating mix - because renewables are less expensive per kWh over their lifetime
than new-build coal or natural gas generating stations.
I have been driving electric cars since 1978, so I can tell you a couple of other things you may not know
about them. They're peppy, thanks to the instantaneous torque the electric motor delivers at zero RPM.
Seriously, it will make you smile. The effect is so common it has a name: the EV Grin. Try it.
A quiet car is amazing! You have to not hear it to believe it. Many insurance companies offer discounts for
owners of electric and hybrid vehicles. You can live without making stops at gasoline stations (but you will
smile every time you go past one and see the price posted on the big signs). Our electric cars cost less than
2 cents a km (3 cents a mile) for the electricity cost (at conventional retail utility rates). If you live
where time-of-use or interval pricing is available, electricity goes on sale every night and weekend.
When the battery wears out, it will just go to landfill.
No, it won't. First, the battery
will likely either be repaired/refurbished or repurposed. Moving a vehicle is a demanding application for
a battery, so when it isn't good enough for that, it will get used for something else, like backup power
for buildings. So far, every EV maker takes back the batteries they replace. And the materials in the
battery have value, like lead-acid car batteries. Today, car batteries don't go to landfills, they go for
recycling because the materials have value. The recycling facilities for advanced EV batteries are being
built now, for the same reason - profit.
Myth Busted: Battery Recycling Is Already Feasible
When the battery in my EV dies, it will cost over $10,000 to replace.
Almost certainly not,
though the size of the battery will be key factor in determining final price to you.
The price of replacement packs (and so far not many have been required outside warranty replacement),
is falling. Within a decade, the industry forecasts the price of batteries will be much lower than
today - likely about 75% less. By comparison, consider how much it costs to replace an engine today
in a gasoline car.
So, a superior driving experience. A quiet vehicle. Lower operating, insurance and fuel costs.
Most new models have plenty of range for typical driving missions. Fast charging stations are becoming
increasingly common. And you can help save the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions,
toxic and carcinogenic air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, thermal pollution and noise pollution.
There may even be purchase incentives where you live.
If you drive a fossil-fueller now, this is probably the single biggest change you can make to
combat climate change. You can drop your emissions from over 4 tonnes of CO2 [the U.S. EPA says,
typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year"] (plus some NOx),
to zero (at the vehicle). That is per gasoline or diesel burning light vehicle, per year. For a vehicle
which lasts 20 years, that means about 100 tonnes of GHG emissions avoided - per car!
No matter where you live or how the electricity you use is produced, your overall
emissions WILL go down, almost certainly by at least 50%, and in those places which use no coal or other
fossil fuels to produce electricity, by 100%.
For most of us, this is the second largest component of our personal GHG emissions - heating, cooling,
otherwise maintain the comfort level in our homes, be they houses, apartments or whatever. Various forms
of energy may be used for these functions: electricity, heating oil, natural gas, propane, wood or other
biomass, sunlight, geothermal, etc. Each of these brings its own efficiency and GHG-emissions story.
One way to improve household comfort doesn't require a continuous input of energy. That's improving
the tightness of the building envelope and upgrading insulation. These measures will reduce your
explicit energy use for both heating and cooling. In my opinion, this is where we should all start -
reducing our actual energy consumption by reducing the amount of energy escaping from our homes. Energy
you are probably paying for with after-tax dollars. If your marginal income tax rate is 33%, then
saving $67 on your energy bill is worth about $100 of earned income. For most of us, such savings
are available, and at a lower cost than the available annual savings. Start with behavioural changes
(no out of pocket costs) like remembering to turn off lights and close doors and windows properly.
Get some inexpensive draft-stopper materials and reduce the drafts in your house. A draft is
where energy is leaving your house. When you choose to change window coverings, get some with
insulating properties which touch the interior window frame. If it's a sun-facing window and summer
heating is an issue for you, find a window covering with a reflective or light coloured lining to
reduce the heat gain when the coverings are drawn on hot, sunny days. So many other possibilities.
In general, reducing your energy use will reduce your costs and your GHG emissions.
Of the energy sources typically used to power houses, to my knowledge, only sunlight has the distinct
advantage of being free. All you need is a sun-facing window, and you can produce heat. More
sophisticated solar energy systems typically require some equipment installation cost, but after that,
the solar fuel is free. Not just free financially, but free of GHG emissions. Different energy
forms have different GHG emissions factors associated with them. Coal is high, heating oil is less, natural gas is still less,
electricity is usually even less, biomass is likely near zero and solar is zero. Look into the potential
for switching to a lower GHG-intensity energy source when appropriate (e.g. a furnace is approaching
end of life), or supplementing a fossil fuel with a solar energy heating system to reduce your
use of priced energy.
General Energy Use
When it comes to energy use, the type of energy and where it comes from make a difference. For example, if
you are looking to reduce your GHG emissions and you live in Quebec, reducing your electricity consumption won't
make much of a difference. Considerably less than 1% of Quebec electricity comes from burning hydrocarbon fuels;
almost all of the electricity in Quebec comes from hydro, wind and some solar and biomass. On the other hand,
if you live where a lot of your electricity comes from burning coal (e.g. Wyoming
see 2018 EIA report on CO2
emissions Table 9), then reducing your electricity consumption from the grid could make a significant difference.
Green the Grid
The less GHG emissions your local electrical grid creates to provide you with electricity, the better
for reducing climate change impacts. You may think you don't have any control over this, but in fact, you could have.
You could choose to create your own household grid and disconnect from the utility. In that case, you can
choose to go (net) zero GHGs in your energy sources (solar, wind, micro-hydro, micro-cogen, biofuels ...).
This isn't for everyone, but it is possible.
In some jurisdictions, you can install photovoltaic panels or wind turbines and supply zero-GHG electricity
to your local grid - usually off-setting your consumption to reduce your annual electricity bill.
You can engage with local utility decision-makers to encourage them to reduce their use of carbon-based
fossil-fuels in their primary energy mix for electricity generation, or install local storage so that
cleaner energy is banked when demand is low and used as supply when demand is high. There are a lot of
factors which go into such decisions, but in many places they don't include climate change impact costing,
health impacts, pollution damage, supply line risk (what if a natural gas pipeline goes out of service) ...
The lowest price input does not mean it is the lowest cost option for your community when related
consequences are taken into account. Are you in favour of saving 0.001% on your electricity bill if the
trade-off is a 5% increase in respiratory diseases in your neighbourhood? You can make your priorities known.
Also, with drops in the price of renewables - especially solar, wind and storage - in the past 2 years,
these may be the most cost-effective options in your area now. Make sure your decision-makers are making
financial decisions based on current prices, not 5-year-old data.
You can support organizations which are putting clean energy on the grid, like the
Ottawa Renewable Energy Coop (OREC).
You can also figure out the typical load profile for your local electricity supplier, and choose to use less
electricity when fossil fuels are being used and more when renewables are being used. In my area, natural gas
'peaker' plants are used to meet peak demand, while wind power is typically generating more electricity at
night. Which means you could choose to charge your electric cars, backup power batteries, tool batteries
and run heavy electrical loads (e.g. clothes dryer) when overall electrical demand is low. (For example,
this past Friday (April 12, 2019) at midnight, electricical demand in Ontario was so low that the wholesale price was
negative 3 cents a kWh, and generation from fossil fuels was at 'stand-by' level. Using
electricity in this situation is effectively zero-GHG energy.
Tell Your Elected Officials to Remove Fossil Fuel Subsidies
In 2009, the G20 nations - including Canada's Conservative government - agreed to eliminate fossil
fuel subsidies because they are drivers for climate change, but also because they distort economic (price)
signals and create an inefficient energy market. By 2019, the Canadian government has not yet identified
the subsidies it provides to the mostly foreign-owned oil and natural gas industry, nor has it eliminated
any single subsidy. That's 10 years after signing an international commitment, and as the effects of
climate change are becoming more evident every week. It's time our elected officials started serving
the needs of citizens rather than multi-national corporations.
Yes, plastic pollution is a driver for climate change. Dark plastic in the environment increases solar heat
gain, which increases temperature at the planet surface. As plastics degrade, they release greenhouse gases,
notably methane (56 times more potent than carbon dioxide) and ethlyene.
Production of methane and ethylene from plastic in the environment, Sarah-Jeanne Royer, Sara Ferrón,
Samuel T. Wilson, David M. Karl August 2018 ]
For a deeper treatment of the plastic pollution issue, visit
Algae blooms are growing in size, geopgraphic distribution and duration. One factor in this is the
rising average global temperature. However, algae is not just thriving on planetary warming, it is also
contributing to climate change in a vicious circle (or positive feedback loop). Algae grows as seasonal
temperatures rise, and then die off when sunlight diminishes and colder weather returns. While the blooms
are forming, they reduce the amount of light getting into the water, which reduces growth of the
aquatic weeds which provide habitat for many kinds of fish. And while they consume carbon dioxide from
the air during their growth, they are also associated with reducing oxygen levels in the water.
But, the biggest damage comes when the algae blooms die off. The vegetative mass sinks, and decomposes
under water - an anaerobic zone. That means, instead of just giving back the carbon dioxide it has
consumed (which would happen in an aerobic environment like a compost pile), the decomposing algae
produces methane - a greenhouse gas 56 times more potent than carbon dioxide. If our objective is
to reduce the impact of greehouse gas emisisons to maintain a survivable planet, replacing carbon dioxide
with methane is not a good substitution. We need to reduce algae bloom formation (by reducing nutrient
supplies and cooling the water), and when they do appear, we need to remove the blooms from the water
so they can decompose in air or put the biomass to other beneficial use.
The Albedo Effect refers to the differing rates at which different objects heat up when exposed to
sunlight. Snow reflects a lot of light energy, so it is slow to absorb energy from the sun. Black metal
objects are quite efficient at turning sunlight into heat energy. Making more heat makes more climate
change. Reflecting more light back into the sky reduces climate change. What does that have to do with you?
You can make decisions about things you own so they reflect more sunlight and reduce warming at the
Earth's surface. For example, when you need to have your roof redone, have it done in a light colour
instead of black. If your car spends a lot of time in the sun, for your next vehicle select a more
reflective colour (say white or light silver) instead of black, which will also reduce the summertime
solar cooking effect for occupants. Use lighter colour paving stones for driveways and walkways.
Put white awnings over windows and sun-facing decks. A lighter-coloured world will be a little cooler.
Dark Snow is a specific case of the Albedo Effect. Even the mainstream media is now occasionally
reporting on glacier melt. Turns out one of the accelerators for the melt is soot which is ejected
into the atmosphere (coal-fired power plants, diesel engines, forest fires, incinerators, cargo ships,
etc.) and lands randomly downwind. That includes on glaciers and snowfields. Being black or dark
grey, soot turns more sunlight into heat than the surrounding snow and ice, which accelerates the
heating and melting. If we can reduce the amount of soot we put in the atmosphere, we can start to
reduce this impact.
Don't Give in to Despair
The 'gloom-and-doomers' might want to make you give up. In my view, although I think we're in for
a rough ride for the next 30-50 years, I believe we have the smarts and ability to fix the mess we
have made. If I did not, I would not have spent my time putting this site together for you.
Drawdown (2017) says we're not doomed, and includes
a wide range of actions we can take to avert the worst that
catastrophic climate change could bring our way. There are other sources for things you can do to make
a positive difference going forward. However, the key is that you have to act, and not leave the heavy
lifting to others.
Your planet. Your future. Your call.
If you're looking for some less intense and more personal things to do to reduce your GHG emissions contribution,
check out the calendar with a tip per day. It's cool to start slow and small.
It's not cool to not start.