In the fight against climate change, we pay now or our children pay later

If you have an eight-year-old child right now, she will be 30 in 2040. What kind of a world will she live in as an adult? According to the international community, one that will see the catastrophic results of our short-sightedness, our greed, and political cowardice — unless we do something now.

Incentives to shift behaviour, like carbon taxes, needed now to prevent a catastrophic future

A child stands at the top of a hill in a poor neighbourhood in Lima, Peru in May 2008, just before a meeting there of heads of state to discuss climate change. Unless we act now, says Matt Henderson, our children will face a grim future by 2030. (Esteban Felix/The Associated Press)

If you have an eight-year-old child right now, she will be 30 in 2040. What kind of a world will she live in as an adult?

According to the international community, we are on a path of a two-to-five degree rise in temperature by the end of the century. By 2040, we will have to live with catastrophic results of our short sightedness, our greed and political cowardice.

That's the world your eight-year-old will live in unless we do something now. 

Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change met in South Korea to discuss the future of our planet as we try to keep the Earth below a rise in temperature of 1.5 C.

An Indian fisherman pushes his bicycle over dried mud on the banks of the Yamuna river in this 2015 file photo. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that without immediate action the planet is heading for a climate crisis. (Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images)

A UN body created by the United Nations Environment Programme in 1988, the IPCC is made up of thousands of scientists from across the globe, and provides a report every few years on the scientific data related to climate change.

The latest report provides us with a dire warning that we need to act now. This is our window.

There is no doubt that climate change is the direct result of human activity. There is no doubt that human activity has been so disruptive that it has caused a new geological era: the Anthropocene. For the first time ever, it is not earthquakes, meteors, or shifting tectonic plates which have caused substantive changes to the planet. It is us.

And our activity, ironically, has called into question whether or not our species will even survive if we continue to emit carbon in the manner in which we do now, and continue to surpass planetary boundaries for human existence. 

Evidence that carbon taxes work

And as we see in Canada, some political leaders are not prepared to make the decisions needed to not only mitigate climate change, but also help our children adapt to it.

According to the IPCC, we need to change how we operate as a species, and fast.

"Pathways limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius … would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems," the panel's report says.

"These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options."

And yet some provinces in Canada have backed out of carbon pricing, the federal government continues to invest in fossil fuels, and investments in alternative forms of energy are an afterthought.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister cancelled a planned carbon tax, joining a number of provinces opposed to the federal government's climate plan. There is evidence, though, that carbon taxes are effective, says Matt Henderson. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

The resistance to placing a price on carbon comes even in light of the hard evidence which indicates that these incentives actually do work.

Paul Romer, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, has argued for the use of incentives, or carbon taxes, for years.

"If you just commit to a tax on the usage of fuels that directly or indirectly release greenhouse gases, and then you make that tax increase steadily in the future ... people will see that there's a big profit to be made from figuring out ways to supply energy where they can do it without incurring the tax," he said in a CBC interview.

And we know placing a tax on carbon actually works. British Columbia, the first jurisdiction to employ a carbon tax in North America, has seen a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since the tax was instituted in 2008.

In Australia, where the coal lobby reigns supreme, GHG emissions have risen dramatically since a carbon tax was quashed in 2014.

And so if we know anything about incentives, the distribution of resources, and trade-offs, we know that someone will have to pay a tax.

Road map to a carbon-neutral world

As Manitobans and Canadians, we have an opportunity and a choice. We can succumb to a populist agenda and view a carbon tax as the long reach of government. This will mean in the short term that we are not on the hook now for dramatically affecting the future of our children.

It will also mean that our children will pay this tax. They will pay with their chance to live on a stable planet, instead living on one whose ability to sustain human life will be severely compromised.

A child inflates a balloon that reads 'Future is Renewable' during a Sept. 8, 2018, protest in Brussels demanding leaders honour their commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. 'Placing a price on carbon is not a debate,' says Matt Henderson. 'It is an essential step toward a better future for our kids.' (Francisco Seco/The Associated Press)

Or we can pay now. We can create the incentives needed to shift our behaviour and allow us to take the dramatic action that the IPCC has suggested.

And fortunately in Canada, we are able to exercise this choice not only in our daily lives, but at the ballot box. We can dictate the road map to a carbon-neutral world, one which halves carbon emissions by 2030, halves them again by 2040, and halves them again in 2050.

The Global Climate Action Summit report, created by some of the most prominent climate change scientists on the planet, outlines a plan — one which involves not only the removal of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, but also placing a price on carbon. 

Placing a price on carbon is not a debate. It is an essential step toward a better future for our kids.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Matt Henderson, who has a master's degree in education, is the assistant superintendent, curriculum and programs, of the Seven Oaks School Division. He is the former principal of the Maples Met School in Winnipeg and a winner of the Governor General's History Award for Excellence in Teaching. He ran for the New Democratic Party in the 2015 federal election.


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