by Dave Beverly-Foster

We in Grey-Bruce-Owen Sound aren't part of the 10% of people who live in low-lying coastal zones, or in one of the 2/3 of major global cities that will experience flooding from sea level rise. But we do know the hardships of drought and other erratic weather when it comes to farming. We know that we must do what we can to slow, mitigate, or reverse climate change. And to do this we must limit our greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change is a big scary thing that can be hard to even think about, let alone act on. But this week, we made progress. The Ontario Liberals have announced a carbon trading system known as cap-and-trade. This system puts a hard limit on the amount of greenhouse gasses that Ontario industry can release into the atmosphere, giving us a tool with which to control our climate change impact.
This tool is basically the creation of a new market. Each business will be given a quota of greenhouse gas emissions they can spew into the atmosphere. Once allocated, businesses have control over these quotas. If they find ways to live within their carbon means, they can trade these quotas on a carbon market, effectively incentivizing lower carbon emissions. In this way the whole Ontario economy lives within our atmospheric limits but businesses can still find ways to grow.
There are a few economic tools we could use to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. BC has a carbon tax that has effectively curbed GHG emissions, however the lack of a hard limit means that businesses can pollute the atmosphere as much as they're willing to pay for. Command-and-control regulation is basically the cap without the trade, which generates an unwieldy amount of bureaucracy and could seriously stifle the economy. And the so-called 'free market' solution has so far failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a failing with ramifications for many generations to come. Ultimately, the cap-and-trade system is a market-based solution that allows businesses autonomy in how they reduce their GHG emissions, but a system which still puts a necessary hard limit on GHG emissions.
Cap-and-trade is a system that recognizes the hard limits of the Earth's atmosphere, the limits of its ability to cope with humanity's ecologically extreme activities. And it is also a system that recognizes our current economy's need for growth.
The official provincial announcement came a day before a meeting of the premiers in Quebec City to talk about provincial responses to climate change. In the context of a federal failure to adequately address climate change, it has fallen on the provinces to guide us to live within our atmospheric means. BC has their tax, and Quebec is in the midst of implementing cap-and-trade. Ontario is taking a big step forward with its planned implementation of cap-and-trade, one that we can be proud of.
But it is a first step. There are still many questions around Ontario's cap-and-trade plan. Talks are just now beginning around how to structure and begin cap-and-trade. We will have to decide how quickly we want to ratchet-down our GHG emissions. Cap-and-trade is a tool to limit our emissions, but we still have to decide where to set that limit, and how quickly we want to achieve it. This announcement is a good first step, but only a first step.
The Earth is a sphere surrounded by a thin layer of air which has given the breath of life to you, and everyone you've ever known and loved, and everyone who came before you. And over the last little while we've poured some pretty nasty things into that air with some pretty dire consequences. It's only in the last couple decades we've begun to understand what effects this has had, and what exactly we're doing to cause them. But we're now beginning to see the Earth for what it is: a big, complex world in which our actions can have far-reaching consequences. And a world with limits.
Climate change is a perfect example of this. GHGs are invisible, but the effects they have are not. Waters are rising and the weather's getting crazy. There are droughts and floods and heat waves and cold snaps like never before. And all because we've poured too much invisible gas into the air.
But it's not invisible any more. We now know that the Earth and its atmosphere have limits. We now know that we have to live within those limits, or face severe consequences. And Ontarians can now say that we recognize this, and that we're taking steps to ensure that we live within one of those limits.

GHG emissions limits are a necessary step, and cap-and-trade is a good pair of boots. This provincial announcement gives me great hope. It represents our willingness to accept the limits of nature and our ability to learn to live within them.


CopyRight ©2015, ©2016, ©2017 of Hub Content
is held by content creators