Canada's aspiration for 'net zero' is couched in so much smoke that few people realize that they are responsible for the emission of 45,000 pounds of carbon each year. It's time for a little transparency on this subject.
Despite small pockets of denial, most Canadians now accept that excessive carbon emissions have a negative effect on our environment, and are warming to the aspiration of a "Net Zero" future.
But very few understand what this concept involves, and this lack of awareness poses significant risk to any efforts designed to clean up our act.
Canada emitted 706 megatonnes of greenhouse gases in 2016, 714 Mt in 2017 and 729 Mt in 2018 (latest data available), most from heating buildings, driving cars and running factories.
But this number takes on a chilling new urgency when it is converted to imperial, and annual emissions are quantified as 1.6 trillion pounds … or 45,000 pounds per capita. Counting only the end uses over which individuals have direct control, such as 146 billion pounds from heating our homes and 225 billion pounds from driving our cars, this still means that each of us emits 10,000 pounds of carbon every year. Put another way, each household emits six pounds of CO2 for every square foot of floorspace.
These numbers are never discussed by those who promote "Net Zero". Governments and companies that announce plans to go Net Zero never bore us with details; they want minimal discussion of how the goal is to be achieved, but maximum public admiration for saying they will do the right thing. Many environmentalists are transfixed by plastic straws, and rarely take the personal action that is required to address our climate crisis.
Netting 1.6 trillion pounds out of our atmosphere every year will involve two disparate actions: reducing current emissions, and finding "clean" ways to balance out the remainder.
If Canadians cut our driving in half, we would eliminate seven per cent — more if all cars switch to electric. If we insulate all 15 million households and switch to non-emitting sources of heat, that would shave another 10 per cent. Shutting down all oil and gas production would have the greatest climate impact, but Alberta is not thrilled with that option.
The challenge of offsetting the "dirty" energy that remains will involve swapping fossil fuels for wind, solar or hydrogen produced from renewable energy. Companies will purchase the environmental attributes from offsets with no control over how those offsets are defined, and there is growing hucksterism about green hydrogen and renewable natural gas. Some people want to plant trees, but a mature oak sequesters 45 pounds a year, so check if your backyard can plant 1,000 seedlings for every member of your family.
Canada can and must reduce our emissions drastically through a large number of proven actions and market-ready technologies, and we must increase the supply from non-carbon renewable energies.
But, before we blindly head down any of the numerous promised paths to a Net Zero future, each of us must clearly understand the magnitude and scope of this challenge on a macro and on a micro level. Each Canadian must own the 45,000 (or 10,000) pounds of annual carbon for which each of us is responsible, and agree on an action plan that has a good chance of saving our planet.