Climate Change Coming to a province near you. Pan-Canadian Redux


Ah, you don’t believe

we’re on the eve

of destruction

Barry McGuire


For climate change, now might be the time to believe in case you have any doubts. NASA recently recorded CO2 to be at 408 parts per million. The previous high came in at 300 ppm over 300,000 years ago. We have to look back 3 million years to see carbon levels comparable to today. But then, temperatures were about 2 degrees higher than pre-industrial time and sea levels were about 15-25 metres higher than today. If the climate acted like the stock market, then 300,000 years ago compares to 1929 stock market levels before the crash and the present compares to dot-com market valuation levels. The point being that the repercussions of those lofty levels lingered for years afterwards. Climate wise, we can anticipate several centuries before things start to normalize again.


We will likely zoom right past those ancient levels. If you have doubts, then the UN has some good peer reviewed studies indicating that things may be a bit worse than they seem.



I mentioned the increasing carbon levels to give a sense of scale of what appears to be occurring. Personkind always tends to push problems off into the future in order to avoid the present cost. This became the constant theme since the early eighties when countries could not reach a conclusion on how to deal with the increasing carbon in the atmosphere. Back then, there seemed to be a great deal of confidence that we would be able to innovate to create cost effective solutions to the problem in the distant future. Moreover, that distant future is suddenly here. A cost effective solution may have been true had we been working on the problem a bit more, but subsidies for new less carbon intensive technologies have waxed and waned. We pushed back even further the practical application of the innovations we should have started back in the 90s.


The climate change issue came onto the science scene several decades ago. The world finally managed to agree on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change back in 1992 after many attempts of trying to do something. This framework provided for the implementation through the Kyoto Protocol. Canada finally dropped out of the protocol seeing that we would not meet our stated obligations mainly due to dithering by the governments at the time. In any event, without China or the USA signing on, the protocol would not finally solve the problem of rising carbon emissions.


With the 2015 Paris Agreement, most of world again agreed on the need to do something. Albeit on a non-binding basis. Here the Canadian government agreed to decrease emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. Canada stepped up with the pan-Canadian Framework and later the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act. The framework uses carbon pricing, complimentary climate actions, adaptation and innovation to address the problem


Economists generally agree that adding a price to carbon can be the most effective and efficient way to reduce emissions as opposed to command and control regulation. This price signal assists in the modification of behaviours as businesses and individuals slide towards less carbon intensive behaviours. Some economists now wonder if carbon pricing may not be the panacea everyone hoped. So far, the end objective of stopping the increase in carbon emissions has not yet occurred as hoped.


The federal GHG Act provides a backstop approach in that the Act only applies if a province did not pass a similar piece of legislation that would allow the federal government to reach its objectives under the Paris Agreement. To avoid the federal backstop, any provincial system should then obtain the same level of reductions as would have been achieved under the federal system.


The GHG Act charges regulated emitters for excess carbon emissions at a rate of $20 per tonne in 2019 and this rate increases annually to $50 per tonne.


Ontario used to have about the best carbon pricing policy in Canada. Their cap and trade program integrated nicely with the Western Climate Initiative with California and Quebec.


Doug Ford promised to rid Ontario of this tax, which it never really had in the first place, but semantics aside, he intends to contest the federal government’s jurisdiction in applying a carbon tax. Again, the GHG Act uses ‘charge’, but even more semantics. Residents in Ontario shall live in interesting times for the next few years. Ontario joined Saskatchewan’s challenge to the carbon tax, and Ontario commenced its own challenge. Most legal scholars feel the challenge will not succeed and the other provinces declined to join in. However, since politicians do keep their promises, Ford will bring all available resources to this event, which may proceed at a receding glacial pace.


In the meantime, the Ontario government took a number of steps to dismantle the existing system starting with stating that emission allowances can no longer be traded. Although businesses purchased $2.8 billion in credits, Ontario does not anticipate reimbursing businesses anywhere near that amount. After all, businesses operated during this time. Any funds allocated to purchase unused emission reduction credits might add to incremental greenhouse gases (go up in smoke, so to speak). They have also canceled any future rebates on their clean technology programs and other innovation technology. They recently passed legislation allowing them to cap compensation for the cancellation of the White Pines windfarm program.


As of January 2019, the federal GHG Act will start to apply to apply to all provinces that do not have comparable legislation in order to reduce their emissions within the province. Ford opened the door to the carbon charge himself instead of the homegrown policy. This does allow him the luxury of pointing to how the federal government is now imposing this carbon charge and it is out of the hands of the province. The province can take all the benefits and none of the blame as the federal government then returns the carbon charge funds back to the various provinces. If Ontario simply returns the funds back to those incurring the cost, then the entire carbon-pricing concept can get lost.


Ontario will now face a higher carbon charge of $20 per tonne increasing to $50 tonne rather than the $18 tonne in 2016 dollars as suggested by Ontario’s policy analysts. The Ontario government would appear to be bringing in more revenue with less effort on their side. At least they fought the good fight and can sit back and allow the revenues to pour in. The federal government’s $420 million transfer to Ontario under the Low Carbon Economy Leadership fund may in jeopardy since the feds do not appreciate where Ontario is leading.



Carbon pricing maybe too little too late as climate change incidents start to accelerate. Ontario just recently announced that it will introduce a regulatory plan for reducing greenhouse gases in the province, but they will not commit to hitting the federal government’s targets. This lack of commitment allows the federal charge to start January 1st. Perhaps Ontario’s $1 beer will alleviate the heat and take everyone’s minds off their ever-increasing climate related problems.







Trickster Trees and Nature Deficit Disorder

pexels-photo-38136 (2)When you buy a cottage this becomes a great opportunity to deposit old things or buy new things. And, if I may generalize for a moment, the first thing that a guy wants includes a gas-powered chain saw to deal with deadfall. Or at least this guy anyway.


Our cottage property and the crown land on the water side contains a couple hundred trees. Some birch, oak, and a lot of ash and poplars. The poplars grow at an amazing rate. We have dozens of poplars leaning haphazardly either towards or away from the cottage. Some of the leaning away ones lean bravely against some of the nasty and sometimes larger leaning towards the cottage ones. The nasty ones generally have a diameter of 18 inches or so, with shallow roots. These trees contain an amazing amount of water and then become exceedingly heavy.


When cutting trees, I use all of the necessary safety gear. Safety glasses, steel toed boots and that ‘nothing can hurt me fool-hearty immortality’ that some of us carry around. I should have lost this in high school, but some remnants stuck.


We can get some very heavy winds off of Lake Winnipeg. One morning I stepped out and saw that one poplar partially broke and hung up on another tree. I am somewhat pleased since this would be, should have been, a no risk situation. At that angle, the tree can only fall in one direction. The tree surrounded by forest at the edge of our property cannot damage anything. Or so it appeared.


The tree broke partially off about three feet off the ground, fell a few feet and a major branch from another tree stopped it. So I started cutting the broken tree four feet off the ground. It’s already at a 45 degree angle, so there is now a top and a bottom part of the trunk. I cut a little bit from the top side of the trunk, but no so much that it binds the saw. Then I cut the rest from the underneath part of the trunk as the wedge starts to open from the weight of the tree.


Then the most amazing thing happened.


You know how a tire on a rope swings from a branch? Sort of like a pendulum effect. If you really shove the tire hard, it gets to the far side of its pendulum and comes swinging back to you. And you have to watch your face depending on hard you pushed.


Here the tree I just finished cutting swung like a pendulum as it was hinged at the top by another branch. The bottom of the tree managed to clear the ground and swing to the far side. Again managing to miss every other tree. But by the time it swung to the far side, the branch acting as the pivot point swung far enough to suddenly let go. Without the pivot at the top to bring the bottom of the tree back to where I was, the entire tree entered what I would call a free fall state. I entered a mesmerized state. The top of the tree was now falling directly on top of me.


All the books, ok book, ok ok operating manual, I read on chainsaws said of course to know which way the tree should fall and to stay out of this line. The manual said nothing about a duplicitous tree that did a complete 180 degree change in the way it was falling. The book did say never turn your back on a falling tree.  Trees are tricky that way.


According to the insurance industry, a 50 foot tree with a 12 inch diameter weighs 2000 pounds. I dropped the saw. It would have to cope on its own.  This still seems stupid even on reflection, but I put both hands up and used the falling tree trunk to push myself out of the way. I would like to think that my karate skills deflected the tree, but no amount of stupid can deflect a 2000 pound tree.


So I did manage to learn something without getting one of those Darwin awards for being naturally selected out of the gene pool. Too late for that anyway. My stupid genes infiltrate the gene pool. But I do have a mild aversion to swing sets. And when I walk through the forest I constantly check for any trickster trees that may be following me.


However, I believe the trees do talk to one another. I encountered one other tree that had it in for me. One monster poplar started leaning even more precariously towards the cottage. This was a good 18 inch thick one, so it had a great deal of height and weight. The overall fall would be more towards the front of the cottage and our newly constructed deck.


But I have fallen a few dangerous poplars by this time. Never something quite this large or quite this heavy. But if you play the stock market during a rising economy, then every trade makes you look brilliant. So it all works out. Till suddenly it doesn’t.


My normal practice became to tie a rope several feet up and attach it to a come-along pulley system. Normally I can get enough tension on the pulley to angle the tree just to where I want it if the tree leans in a direction that I do not want it to fall.


I do like trees. Some of the elms we have on our city property are 100 years old and three feet in diameter. I think of them as sentient type creatures similar to whales. Well, back at the cottage, I lined up my Moby Dick poplar tree and got the tension nice and tight. I am quite good, I thought, of cutting the proper wedges in a tree to create a hinge that directs how the tree might fall. With some of the base cut out, I can then pulley the tree even further in the direction I wanted.


However, Moby had other plans. After cutting out a portion of the base, the pulley system tightened and some of the ropes started springing a few threads from the increased strain. Moby pulled ever so slightly in the opposite direction I wanted. Moby definitely wanted to see what it would be like to have a coffee on the cottage deck.


I tried cranking the pulley even more but nothing was going to straighten this guy out any further. I needed a way of this situation that had a delicate line between the ‘everything went fine honey’ and the ‘I am so fucked’ result. A fat gray line did not exist here.


Fortunately, we have a Rob. Everyone needs a Rob. Rob owns an auto body shop and knows just about everything mechanical, electrical and basic woodworking. I sauntered over to get some ideas. It may have been faster than that. But fortunately, he’s next door and came by to appraise the situation.


He goes back to his place and comes back with even more rope and his all-terrain vehicle. This time he tells to take my ladder and rope the tree as high up as I can reach.


Now Moby hasn’t moved for several minutes, but neither has he relaxed into this position. He looks ready for destruction. Climbing up the side of this would not be my first option, but I had no other options. After a bit, I managed to wrap the rope a good 12 feet off the ground snag a major branch to keep if from slipping down.


Rob ties the rope on the back of his ATV. By experience, he knows to have an extra 20 feet on the rope than what the top of the tree can reach when it falls.


I cut the last bit of the wedge, call to him and he takes off in the ATV. He manages to pull the tree in the exact opposite direction from the cottage. No coffee on the deck for Moby this time round. I thank Rob profusely.


Asking others for help has never come very easy for me. Not sure why. It might be the entire awkward social interaction thing perhaps. I have now gotten myself to the point that if there is a possibility I may destroy the entire cabin, I will call on someone to help avert that.






Photo by veeterzy from Pexels

Nature Deficit Disorder and the Cottage Preseason Opener

pexels-photo-42240Nature deficit disorder appears to be a real thing and spending time at the cottage provides a great fix. As part of this, my family and I have been unintentionally creating additional habitat for various invasive species for almost 17 years.

We purchased an A-frame cottage on Lake Winnipeg to get closer to nature.The two-story cottage and the open design allow everyone in the family their own personal space. The metal roof and cedar siding keeps out the elements, but not the rodents, which need their own personal space.

Opening the cottage after a long winter became a joyous occasion for the family. The main reason for this joy includes my travelling to the cottage by myself beforehand and conducting a cottage preseason opener. Like baseball spring training, I do some preliminary cleaning to work out the bugs. And of course by bugs, I do mean insects and other things that would drive away family members till the incident was forgotten.

In the first year, the flat roof over the sunroom leaked. The good news was that the vapor barrier captured all the water. The bad news was that these bags of tarry water hanging from the ceiling pushed out the ceiling tiles and made the room reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Making an incision in the hanging cocoon and draining the water remedied the situation.

We recently installed a small outdoor hot tub that we can plug-in for the summer. When lifting the lid for the first time of the season, I ask please don’t let me find a dead small mammal inside. This is only exceeded by the triple please of don’t let me find a terrified, alive and wanting to escape small mammal inside. So far, we have been good.

When cleaning outside, I use the gas-powered leaf blower to man-dust the decks. I do walk through the cottage, engine off, to clean the upper deck. Only a few times has it passed my mind to quickly man-dust the interior. Who would really know? But there are the gas fumes. So next year I am so going electric leaf blower. The gas blower works very well in the garage, especially if no one is watching.

Inside the cottage, checking all of the furniture, particular the beds, for mouse droppings, comes next. We keep the cottage warm during the winter, so finding a soft fluffy mouse nest in one of the beds is not beyond consideration. A mouse nest would require a cathartic cleansing of the linens. And by cleansing, I mean burning.

Cleaning inside causes a bit less stress. The freezer has to be cleaned out to make room for the coming summer. Sometimes this means tossing everything. Sometimes this means not letting things go to waste. This spring I had to dispose of a half container of crystalized ice cream, and by dispose of I mean eat. It tasted liked solidified sugar. And regret.

The main event involves crawling beneath the cottage. We have this area closed in, insulated and covered in plastic. Dark, dusty, bit mildewy, no one could hear you scream, if you even had the chance.

One late fall, some mid-sized mammals had moved in underneath the cottage. The tunnel they dug underneath the wall enclosing the bottom of the cottage allowed the cold winter air to directly hit the pipe coming up out of the ground from the well pump. This resulted in no well water for the rest of the winter and no working toilets. So during the summer, I closed off their hole and installed more furnace venting to direct heat towards the corner to prevent the pipes from freezing. The following winter, the hole was redug, and the venting was ripped apart. Apparently they didn’t like the air flow. They continued to show their displeasure by scat throughout the level beneath the cottage. Mid-size mammal droppings are a general sign to be careful, but I would swear that the droppings were arranged into an actual sign that said ‘stay away’. It may have been the darkness.

The forested property provides a tremendous view of the lake, which with the waves can look more like the ocean. Lake Winnipeg suffers from some eutrophication. Surface runoff from the extensive watershed and fertilizer use creates algae blooms. These blooms create green waves with the consistency of green paint. Waves glurp when hitting the shore. And waves should never glurp. Not a sound you want to have alongside your morning coffee.

At some point during the summer the sun brings out the flowers and butterflies. When the family comes to the cottage, the BBQ comes out, along with the home-made beer, bicycles and kayaks. This sooths the nature deficit disorder somewhat, and we continue to get inoculated as often as possible. There remains a difference between watching nature, and nature watching you. Nature normally comes at night, with many pairs of eyes that appear to glow in the dark. But, we are intervening into nature’s arena and we should be respectful. And watchful. Always watchful.



Photo by mali maeder from Pexels