In his Feb. 17 “Pointed Views” column, Kyle Carruthers notes that he is not “terribly optimistic that the body politic is sufficiently united with the commitment and determination” to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The guest commentary of the same date proposes a levy of 6.2 cents per litre in the Yukon to raise $12 million to “take a northern leadership role on climate change.”
While it is commendable to try to do something at a local level, no matter what we do here in the North or even in Canada, the lack of unity that Mr. Carruthers reflects on can only be overcome with a massive transfer of wealth from the First World (North America and Europe) to developing countries.
There are currently 300 million people (i.e. about 10 times the population of Canada and 10,000 times our Yukon population) in India who do not have access to reliable electricity. Their carbon output is growing faster than any other country. As the Sierra Club has asked, how do you pull that many people out of poverty using a lot more renewable energy that has ever been used before?
The prime minister of India has promised that all Indians will have electricity by 2022 (an extension from the initial promise of 2019). Even if this date is just a politician’s promise, the fact remains that one-quarter of India’s 1.2 billion people do not have the same basic reliable electricity that we have. Our alarms go off at 6 a.m. and we turn on the light. This happens nearly 100 per cent of the time. To get that same reliable electricity, India plans to build 455 coal-fired electric power plants, which is more than the U.S. has now, using its vast coal reserves (mostly low-grade, highly polluting coal). This, of course, would destroy any hope of reaching worldwide emissions targets.
The only alternative would be solar and wind energy. However, right now solar power is more expensive than coal-fired power. Should the poor of India pay more for cleaner energy or, as the Indians have argued, should the West pay billions to India to help them move into the modern era without first going more through the fossil fuels industrialization process? (India did release an emissions plan recently, with a cost of $2.5 trillion to 2030 to be paid for by the West.)
Lessening our dependence here in the Yukon and in Canada on fossil fuels is a good thing, but I am not going to care (and cast my votes in elections based on) whether we meet provincial or territorial or national climate change targets. Given that Canadians (or Americans or Europeans) are not likely to agree to higher taxes to send monies and technology to India (and other developing countries) and given that India will continue to move forwards, the “inconvenient truth” is that we really don’t matter much.