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Clean Energy Canada | Can we talk about how we talk about climate leadership in Canada?
May 10, 2019

The great Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan coined an expression
that was not only prophetic, but probably truer than he could have
imagined. The medium is the message, McLuhan said.

Put another way, the medium—and these days, everything goes through social media whether or not it started there—embeds itself into the message, in how people read it, in how they might respond to it.

If you’ve ever been on Facebook or Twitter, and odds are you have,
you get this. In an era of unfiltered information—information once
culled and corrected by journalistic gatekeepers before it met the eyes
of the masses—Canadians can no longer believe much of what they read
online. And who has time for fact-checking?

Well, the Washington Post does, at least with regards to one person. As of last month, President Donald Trump had made nearly 10,000 false or misleading claims since assuming office (one of his most recent: that wind turbines cause cancer).

In short, the degree to which we’ve grown desensitized to bad information cannot be overstated.

So, what does any of this have to do with climate leadership? In a word, everything.

For this is the context into which putting a price on carbon
pollution enters the Canadian consciousness. Ask yourself how many
articles you’ve read about the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth
and Climate change (the name of Canada’s climate plan). Ask yourself if
you know what else the federal government is doing on climate, or where
other parties stand on the issue. Ask yourself what makes a good climate
plan.

But have you seen the pictures of Conservative politicians posing at
gas stations the night before the carbon tax took effect? Did you hear
Ontario Premier Doug Ford claim—citing research that said no such
thing—that the carbon tax would cause a recession?

And therein lies the problem. Even if you don’t believe Mr. Ford (and, as many Canadian economists made clear, you shouldn’t), there’s a good chance you still heard him.

A truth with few retweets can’t compete with a viral lie. Even when
that lie is being repeated by those who disagree with it. It keeps the
lie rolling, building, a snowball growing bigger. Such is the way of the
medium.

Canadians don’t have time to be experts on everything. Many only see
the rolling snowballs. And they remain largely oblivious to actual
climate change solutions, of which there are many.

Climate change has, of course, always had a communications problem.
While we’ve known of its existence for decades—as temperatures built in
the background—it was too abstract, too scientific, not the sort of
day-in, day-out problem that commands the attention of most Canadians.

But that, too, has changed. Canadians are feeling climate change like never before, literally. The last five years have each ranked among the five hottest ever recorded. According to recent polling from Abacus Data, 83 per cent of Canadians now say they are worried about climate change, most of them “very” or extremely” worried.

Canadians are not only feeling climate change, they now recognize they’re feeling it. We spoke to many of them this year at Clean Energy Canada, and over and over again they responded with personal stories, unusual things that shouldn’t happen so often, things like riding a motorcycle in Toronto in December, things, they said, that were different when they were kids.

And it’s not just in their heads. As the recent Canada’s Changing Climate Report revealed,
Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. Canadians
are feeling climate change because our climate has changed, more than
most places.

Now, here’s the part where we tell you this article was a bait and switch.

We’ve talked politics and carbon pricing because it gets clicks, and the truth is nothing without clicks.

But what we’re really here to say is this: despite our increasing
concern over climate change, Canada’s federal climate plan remains
largely unknown, while most other federal parties have yet to make clear
what they would do instead.

The other week, Clean Energy Canada did a quick search to see how many times the phrase “climate plan” had been mentioned in the Canadian news. We then ran the same test for “carbon tax.”

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that, so far in 2019, the
contentious “carbon tax” wins by a factor of eight. Let’s be clear about
what a carbon tax is: a single policy that most Canadians will barely
feel—and will likely even profit from thanks to income tax rebates.

A climate plan, on the other hand, is what we’re doing as a nation to combat global warming.

Canada, we need to change the channel.

For it’s only when we know what’s on the menu that we can fairly
compare it to the alternatives. It’s only when we know what should be in
an effective climate plan that we can ask political leaders to offer
it.

So let’s start there. With the solutions (beyond just putting a price
on carbon pollution) that are currently being implemented or
considered. As such, this is the first in a series of articles that will
dive into these rarely reported on efforts and what they mean for
Canada.

From our clean fuel standard (which will help accelerate the transition from gas and diesel to electricity and biofuels) to our phase out of coal power, Canada’s recent climate efforts have elevated the country from global pariah to international leader—one that’s developing policies other nations are looking to copy. That was the interpretation of Canadian professor Mark Jaccard when he attended the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In other words, how his global peers viewed Canada didn’t line up with how Canadians view themselves.

“Few climate-concerned Canadians know much about the slate of new
federal climate policies, except for the contentious carbon tax,”
Jaccard recently wrote for the Globe and Mail.
“And while global experts agree that the national carbon tax is
impressive, they are equally impressed with several other climate
policies.”

These are policies we need to have a national conversation
about—policies that are significant, world-leading even, and that are
being drowned out by, well, politics.

The real question is, will you be retweeting them?

This post was co-authored by Trevor Melanson and originally appeared in the National Observer.