Climate change is a large-scale problem, but it’s also a direct result of our collective choices and actions. That means we can make a difference.
We’ve been told for years to take environmental and climate action as individuals. Things like upgrading our home insulation, riding our bikes and taking public transit are important, but these small-scale personal choices take place in a wider world. Our social, political, and economic systems also have a responsibility to tackle the climate challenge head on.
There are two aspects of climate action: mitigation (making sure climate change doesn’t get worse) and adaptation (getting ready to handle the impacts of ongoing climate change). Mitigating and adapting to climate change will require a combination of:
- Technical know-how
to find solutions that allow us to effectively transition to low-carbon sources of energy, to provide data and analysis to understand global warming and its consequences, to create innovative adaptation tools and methods.
- Political will
to create market incentives such as carbon taxes that reduce our collective reliance on high-carbon fuels, and to create climate-smart laws and regulations in the face of resistance and denial.
- Personal responsibility
to recognize the importance and urgency of the global warming threat, to make changes in our own lives, and to empower community, government and business leaders to take a key role in in our communal effort, so we can creatively rise to the collective economic and social challenge.
Huge amounts of greenhouse gases have been released as an accidental side effect of how we built our modern infrastructure and economy over many years . For most of this history, we simply didn’t realize the serious impacts on the planet that were being caused by high-carbon industrial development. Now, however, we know that greenhouse gases are driving climate change. We can’t use ignorance as an excuse any more.
Climate change solutions start close to home, with simple actions in our own homes and families, but also involve new ways of thinking, planning, and acting in workplaces, neighbourhoods, and communities across the country.
Urban life is a great example of the mix of personal and collective effort that’s required to turn down the volume of our greenhouse gas emissions. We all live and work in cities as individuals and as families, but we share public spaces, services, and amenities with everyone else who also participates in the communal experience of city life.
City planners and politicians regulate many important aspects of modern life that have direct impacts on climate change. It’s essential that municipal decision-making incorporate climate change projections so cities can build resilience and help reduce the threat of climate change. Requiring high energy efficiency for new buildings or implementing climate-smart waste management practices, for example, require smart political decisions that take climate change risks seriously.
Fortunately, many cities across Canada are actively working on climate-smart policy. The city of Vancouver, for example, has set the high bar of becoming the “greenest city in the world” by 2020 and has made climate change planning central to city planning and development.
Four out of five Canadians live in urban areas. Our cities sustain large, growing, and diverse communities with shared needs for transportation, energy, prosperity, and security. With creative and forward-thinking planning, we can serve those needs, take meaningful action on climate change, and make our cities more livable, less polluted, and more productive at the same time.
- Our “Cities” topic provides much more information about climate change and Canada’s cities.
- We have a series of reports on Climate Change and Canada’s Cities that summarize climate change impacts for Canada’s major urban centres.
- See the series of urban climate resilience reports we prepared for the cities of Calgary and Edmonton for a discussion of various aspects of climate mitigation and cities.
The use of fossil fuels to generate power and heat causes most of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions . Continuing to rely on high-carbon fossil fuel energy not only increases our exposure to climate risks, but represents a fundamentally backward-looking commitment to nineteenth-century technology with escalating economic, social, and environmental risks.
Making changes to our energy systems that will be strong enough and lasting enough to make a real impact on climate change demands a thorough re-thinking of how we generate, transmit, store, and use energy.
Fortunately, we are living through a green energy technological revolution right now. There is continuous innovation and improvement in familiar solutions such as solar and wind power, but also a steady and adventurous exploration of entirely new low-carbon energy products and approaches. Importantly, innovation and invention in energy has a long history of driving economic activity, and the green energy revolution already generates more North American jobs than the oil and gas sector [3, 4].
Transforming our energy systems has all kinds of advantages over and above helping with climate change. Climate-friendly energy systems will generate less pollution, provide more security, cause less environmental damage, and offer better quality of life. The transition away from high-carbon fossil fuel energy will provide important economic and social benefits such as more consumer choice, accelerating technical innovation, and the creation of whole new sectors of business activity, training and employment.
The Climate Atlas features some great stories about innovative change in energy systems:
- A video focused on community solar energy projects in British Columbia
- A video about a First Nation owned and operated solar company in Alberta
- A video about home energy efficiency from Ontario
A little more than ten years ago, in 2006, the documentary “Who Killed The Electric Car?” mourned the wasted promise of electric vehicles. But times have changed: seemingly out of nowhere, affordable electric and hybrid vehicles are suddenly all over the place. Tesla now offers high-performance electric cars with a range of almost 500km between charges, and has announced the prototype development of an electric long-haul truck. Volvo, Jaguar, and Land Rover have all committed to produce only electric and hybrid vehicles by 2020, and the United Kingdom has announced a ban on gas- and diesel-fueled vehicles as of 2040.
In conjunction with renewable energy sources, the electric vehicle revolution offers the promise of climate-friendly transportation systems. The town of Tatamagouche in Nova Scotia has made precisely this connection between low-carbon transportation and low-carbon energy, and has committed to making low-carbon transportation a reality.
Reducing our dependence on personal vehicles is an even better approach to climate-friendly transportation, though. Choosing to walk, bike, or bus instead of driving saves on energy resources and greenhouse gases. Of course we need effective and appealing systems of active and public transportation to make this possible, which means we need to support low-carbon transportation initiatives and demand better public transit systems planning and spending from our political leaders.
Whatever direction they take, our transportation choices make a meaningful difference to the climate.
This is all very “big picture” stuff. What about direct action? What can we do about it in our everyday lives?
One of the most important things we can all do about climate change is simply to recognize that it’s happening and commit to taking it into account as we live our lives. This means making choices as consumers and citizens that help on the small scale, but also supporting the strong collective effort we need to create a resilient low-carbon future together.
Energy efficiency is a great example of a small-scale win-win strategy: it saves consumers money and it takes direct action on climate change. This can be pursued on a community level in the form of building code requirements and a higher quality of new construction, but also on an individual level when we choose to insulate our attics or buy high-efficiency home appliances. (And many jurisdictions offer incentives and rebates for home insulation or replacing old, inefficient appliances, which helps lower the financial barrier to making change.)
Climate-smart commuting decisions include sharing vehicles, taking public transit, or getting to work by bike or on foot. And using buses or trains instead of airplanes wherever possible for long-distance travel is much better for the climate. But of course to make these climate friendly choices, we also need to ensure that these options are available in the first place. So another kind of action we can take is to support the development of more bike paths, public transit, and electric car charging stations so that we can more happily and easily choose climate-friendly transportation options.
And of course as consumers we can use our spending power to reward innovation and climate action by supporting low-carbon technologies and businesses that take climate change seriously and take meaningful steps to help.
We can take actions that lessen the severity of climate change, but we also need to deal with the fact that climate change is already happening and will have an impact on our lives. We can take proactive steps to reduce our risks and increase our capacity to cope with impacts when they occur.
Around our homes, we can do many things to reduce climate risk. We can use rain barrels to capture storm water, reducing the risk of flooding while also offering free and convenient water for our gardens and lawns. We can install solar panels on our roofs, which both provide renewable energy and help maintain power in case of an emergency.
Being better prepared for the impacts of climate change has many other benefits. It means we’re ready to handle a wide range of challenges and risks. And many adaptation efforts—such as installing solar panels—help reduce emissions and so cut down on the severity of climate change, too.
And, as with all our personal actions and choices, we need to work together as a community to ensure that we have the resilience and the resources to deal with the climate changes that are underway. For a detailed look at how resilience and adaptation planning might work in cities, check out the series of policy reports we prepared for Calgary and Edmonton.
The key thing is simply to realize that climate change is here, that it is a serious risk, and that we all need to make the necessary effort to deal with it. The inconveniences and the costs of taking action now are much, much lower than the damages to come if we fail to effectively cut down on the risks of climate change.
Start learning about climate change with our “Climate Change: the basics” page. You can start exploring the climate of the future using our map, for example by displaying how many +30 °C days per year your community have to deal with in the future. Our library of documentary videos offers a multitude of voices and perspectives on understanding and responding to climate change.
Climate change touches all of our lives, one way or another. And because it affects all aspects of modern life, there are many kinds of meaningful choices we can make that will help. Climate change can feel like a strange, large, impossible problem, but we actually have a lot of opportunity to make things better for ourselves and one another.
More information and ideas:
- David Suzuki Foundation: “Top 10 ways you can stop climate change”
- Climate Action Canada: “Climate Action: This is how we can make a difference”
- The Climate Atlas exists to help Canadians understand climate change science, risks, and solutions. Our “Take Action” section showcases exciting stories and ideas about collective and individual action that can make a real difference.
- IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
- Canada. Canada’s greenhouse gas inventory
- Environmental Defence Fund. “IN DEMAND: Clean Energy, Sustainability and the New American Workforce”
- Clean Energy Canada. The Transition Takes Hold: Tracking the Energy Revolution 2017.