By Cecile Wilson
This year marks 53 years we have celebrated Earth Day. The theme for 2023 is “Invest in Our Planet”. A visit to the earthday.org website provides some examples of what that investment might look like: planting trees and pollinator gardens, reducing your use of plastics, or hosting a neighbourhood clean-up. You might also sign petitions, make phone calls to politicians, or attend an Earth Day rally asking elected representatives to take immediate and effective action on climate change.
These are all worthwhile endeavours that can make a tangible difference. But you can literally invest in our planet, too, and that’s where opportunity lies for momentous transformation.
If you are lucky enough to have an investment portfolio, that portfolio is likely the biggest contributor to your carbon footprint. That’s because your investments probably include stocks or funds containing a number of fossil fuel corporations, transportation companies, and banks.
According to Environment and Climate Change Canada’s most recent report on greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions, the oil and gas sector (coal is placed in a different category) emits more than a quarter (27%) of all Canada’s emissions. This calculation applies only to the exploration, extraction, and transportation of the fuels. It does not include what is known as “scope 3” emissions; that is, all the emissions generated by burning those fossil fuels, such as in the transport sector (24% of Canada’s emissions) and the buildings sector (no percentage given, but this sector is the third largest contributor of GHGs in Canada).
The top five Canadian banks, in turn, are major financiers of fossil fuel projects worldwide, ranging from number five (RBC) in the world out of 60 institutions for fossil financing to number 20 (CIBC). In fact, from 2016 to 2021 inclusive, those five banks all together invested almost a trillion (yes, with a ‘t’) Canadian dollars into fossil fuel projects around the world. Imagine how much closer we could be to a cleaner and more equitable world if all that money had gone into sustainable energy!
And it’s not just the banks. Various levels of government also invest in fossil fuels. The environmental advocacy organization Environmental Defense tracks federal government subsidies to the oil and gas industries. For 2022, Environmental Defense identified $20.223 billion in subsidies. However, that number is likely low due to “a lack of transparency and public reporting”. Nor are federal tax deductions disclosed. This is something that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) would agree with: CAPP does not consider tax deductions a subsidy.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this taxpayer-funded support is that Canadian oil and gas industries are estimated to have had an after-tax cash flow of $140 billion in 2022. Not only have these subsidies benefited an industry that has made huge profits, but they have come at time when ordinary people are struggling to pay for necessities like food, housing and transportation.
With this kind of financial support to fossil fuel industries, it’s no wonder that Canada’s GHG emissions have been on a steady upward trajectory, apart from the temporary decline due to pandemic cautions early in 2020.
Furthermore, these fossil fuel industries are the very ones that are driving the climate instability that leads to extreme weather events like the May 2022 derecho and the 2017 and 2019 floods. What will we see in 2023?
The earth’s average temperature has already risen 1.1°C above pre-industrial times. As a northern nation, Canada is warming up to two times faster than the rest of the world. Despite increasing instances of severe storms, droughts, heat waves, fires and floods, we aren’t even experiencing the worst of it yet. Without swift and decisive cuts to GHG emissions, we are well on our way past 1.5° C, the limit that 194 signatories agreed to in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
On the other hand, we already have technologies that can help us cut emissions at the source. Here in Ottawa, check out investment opportunities in solar and wind with the Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-operative; install a heat pump like so many of your neighbours have done; take advantage of the bike and walking paths in the community to engage in some active transportation! Above all, let your banker and your elected representatives know that you want a cleaner, more equitable, and more sustainable community both locally and globally.
We live on one planet. Whatever happens elsewhere will affect you. Whatever you do, affects people elsewhere. This year, invest in your neighbours near and far. Invest in your earth.
Cecile Wilson has lived in the Glebe for over 20 years and appreciates the ease of engaging in active transportation in this community.
Pull-quote: If you are lucky enough to have an investment portfolio, that portfolio is likely the biggest contributor to your carbon footprint.