Ontario Environmental Commissioner report falls on deaf ears as Ford government slashes energy efficiency programs,attacks carbon pricing (again)

ECO 2019 health happy prosperous Ontario coverA Healthy, Happy, Prosperous Ontario: Why we need more energy conservation  is the final report of Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe, released on March 27. The report documents the province’s energy use, argues for the value of energy conservation, and makes recommendations:  for improving utility conservation programs and energy efficiency programs for homeowners, and for urban planning policies to promote greater population density in “compact, complete communities” with jobs, transit and housing. The official summary of the report is here  ; a summary  was published by The National Observer on March 27.

This is the final report of the Environmental Commissioner because the ECO Office  has fallen to the pro-business agenda of the Doug Ford government: after April 1, it no  longer acts as an independent agency reporting directly to the Legislature, but will be merged into the Office of the Auditor General. The Commissioner has been critical of government policies – for example,  in the  annual Greenhouse Gas Reduction Progress Report for 2018, Climate Action in Ontario: What’s next? (September 2018).  With the 2019 Energy Conservation Progress report,  The Happy Health report , she states that current government policies encourage the use of fossil fuels in the province and will result in higher energy costs for consumers, higher greenhouse gas emissions, and increased air pollution, with associated adverse health impacts.

The “Government of the People” slashes energy efficiency, promotes P3’s: Despite the blunt criticism and recommendations of the Environment Commissioner (and many others), the Ford government continues to implement its “pro-business” agenda.  It is planning cancellations to consumer energy efficiency programs, as reported by  The  National Observer on March 20, “Exclusive: Doug Ford’s government slashing programs designed to save energy in buildings”  (March 20) and in “Ontario Slashes Energy Efficiency Programs, Delays Promise to Cut Hydro Rates”  in the Energy Mix  (March 25), which summarizes the Globe and Mail article, “Ontario Pulls the plug on energy conservation programs”  (subscription required).  A day later, the Globe and Mail said the cutbacks will include “subsidies for modern lighting, such as LED bulbs, more efficient air conditioners and furnaces, and upgrades to commercial refrigeration equipment. The government will also centralize the delivery of eight programs aimed at businesses, low-income seniors, and First Nations communities…”

On March 19, the government posted “Ontario Moving to Increase Innovation and Competition in Infrastructure Market” (March 19) , stating that it is  “ working for the people to make the province a leading destination for investment and job creation by increasing innovation and competition in its public-private partnership (P3) market.” This will include action to “Open P3 projects to greater innovation by making output specifications less prescriptive and rebalancing the Infrastructure Ontario bid evaluation criteria to better reward design innovation.”  Incidentally, the Ontario’s government is also willing to take credit for  federal infrastructure programs: as described in the March 12 press release, Ontario Launches $30 Billion Infrastructure Funding Program . In fact, the $30 billion refers to combined federal, provincial, and local funding  over the next 10 years through the federal Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program. The provincial share is a maximum of 33% .

And finally, the Ford government continues its attacks on carbon pricing:  A March 25 press release, “Ontario closes the book on cap and trade carbon tax era”  announces that “the  total compensation amount is $5,090,000 for a total of 27 participants” as a result of the the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018 (Oct. 2018) .  The press release continues: “But in one week, the federal government will impose a brand-new job-killing carbon tax, punishing the hardworking people of Ontario… Our government remains part of a growing coalition of provinces across Canada that oppose this cash-grab, which raises the cost of essentials like home heating and gasoline.”   The reality is that as of April 1st, the federal carbon pricing backstop will take effect in Ontario and the three other provinces that failed to design their own carbon pricing system under the Pan-Canadian Framework  — Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and New Brunswick.

Ecofiscal-Commission-10-Myths-about-Carbon-Pricing-Infographic-vertical-1.jpgThe EcoFiscal Commission is the latest to defend carbon pricing, with 10 Myths about Carbon Pricing in Canada – saying “Myths and misleading statements, however, continue to damage the debate over carbon pricing. A debate based on poor information does a disservice to Canadians….this new report will improve the quality of the debate by drawing on the best available evidence to debunk ten common myths. The report aims to serve as a resource for Canadians who want to learn what the evidence says about carbon pricing and its impacts on emissions, the economy, affordability, and jobs.”

The constitutional challenge to the carbon backstop is awaiting the court’s decision in Saskatchewan, and in Ontario, the court case will begin in late April. All related court documents are here .  Also in April,  the Ontario government releases its budget on the 11th.

Tips for greening office workplaces in new Guide

green office toolkitThe Canadian Coalition for Green Healthcare, in partnership with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and others,  recently published the  Green Office Toolkit ,  which provides practical tips and examples focused on improving energy and water conservation, handling of toxic materials, and  workplace transportation, as well as the topics of creating, organizing and motivating a workplace “green team”.  Although it is intended for health care clinics and medical offices,  like Confronting Climate Change on Campus , (published by the Canadian Association of University Teachers in 2018),  the Green Office Toolkit  is easily adaptable to other office workplaces beyond the medical office or university setting.

The Guide falls squarely within the interest area of the Canadian Coalition for Green Healthcare , established in 2000, and which is the lead agency managing the Green Hospital Scorecard  program, “ the only comprehensive health care benchmarking tool in Canada measuring energy conservation, water conservation, waste management and recycling, corporate commitment and pollution prevention.” The CCGH publishes an electronic newsletter, Green Digest , with news from Canada and the U.S. , and other resource guides and tools.

One of the other partners in the publication of the Guide is the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment  , best known for its increasing advocacy related to the health impacts of climate change – such as  air and water pollution, toxic chemicals, health effects of wildfires and natural disasters.  The other partner organizations are McMaster University Hospital (Hamilton, Ont.), Women’s College Hospital (Toronto, Ont.) and  Synergie Santé Environnement (Quebec).

Environmental Psychology: Motivating behaviour change and coping with the fear of climate change

A new environmental psychology study released in December concludes that the most effective programs to encourage climate-friendly behaviour such as reducing energy consumption are those in which financial incentives (rebates, or cheaper prices) are paired with appeals to personal identity and values.  The authors of  Social Mobilization: How to Encourage Action on Climate Change  review  four decades of  psychological research and find  strong empirical support for employing a number of strategies : providing tailored information, soliciting commitment (e.g. pledges), recruiting leaders from within social networks, giving feedback,  and using a variety of other social influence strategies .  This report highlights several successful large-scale programs as models – mostly by utility companies in the United States .  The study was financed and published by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS), University of Victoria.  A related, longer report by one of the authors, Reuven Sussman, was  published in October 2016 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.  Behavior change programs: Status and impact  is here  (registration required, free).

Another recent study of found that the moral values of compassion and fairness influenced an individual’s willingness to take personal action to mitigate the effects of climate change.  The authors, from Cornell University, showed that participants who were younger, more liberal, and reported greater belief in climate change, also showed increased willingness to act on climate change.  Ingroup loyalty and authority were not supported as important predictor variables. However, the authors state  :   “Our finding that willingness to take action on climate change was related to moral values embraced by both liberals and conservatives suggests that it is too simplistic to use political ideology alone to predict support for climate change action. ”  The full article, “Which Moral Foundations Predict Willingness to Make Lifestyle Changes to Avert Climate Change in the USA?”  appeared in  PLOSOne in October 2016, and was summarized by the Huffington Post in “ Why some people take action on climate change – and others don’t” (November).

Environmental psychology is also turning attention to the growing mental health issues caused by climate change.  The  first-ever International Conference on Building Personal and Psychosocial Resilience for Climate Change was held on November 3-4, 2016 in Washington D.C.  .  Climate Progress reports on the conference  in  “How to stay sane in the face of climate change” ,   and quotes psychiatrist Lise van Susteren: “before people let their fear turn to hopelessness …  it’s critical to tell them that there are actionable things they can do, in their everyday life …. — measuring your own carbon footprint, putting solar panels on your own home, or paying for carbon offsets to counteract your own travel — can help a person take their fear and transfer that energy into positive action.  And that in turn can help mitigate the mental trauma of the reality of climate change.”   Climate Progress also quotes consultant Bob Doppelt, who told the conference  “Psychological traumas of more frequent storms, floods, and fires associated with climate change, as well as toxic stresses — long term heat waves and droughts, food shortages, involuntary migration, loss of community and breakdown of culture — are eroding personal protective systems, amplifying preexisting mental health problems and creating new mental health issues.” Doppelt has recently published Transformational Resilience: How Building Human Resilience to Climate Disruption Can Safeguard Society and Increase Wellbeing .

Setting the record straight on Economic Analysis of Energy Efficiency Programs

On April 16, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released a White Paper, Critiques of Energy Efficiency Policies and Programs: Some Truth But Also Substantial Mistakes and Bias . The paper examines recent U.S. studies of energy efficiency programs , “ … pointing out  a variety of recurring mistakes, such as misunderstanding the programs and markets they are examining or unreasonably extrapolating their findings to areas they did not study.”  The accompanying blog provides additional links and highlights a new study about Ontario,  by the Fraser Institute.  Demand-side Mismanagement: How Conservation became Waste  examines energy conservation programs in Ontario and concludes that they have not saved money for consumers, but according to the ACEEE , “Their conclusion is not based on data from Ontario, but cites previous critical studies of other programs, in particular a controversial study from 1992. Their analysis ignores or downplays other more recent studies that found much lower costs.”

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy  also launched a new website in April, providing detailed energy efficiency metrics for the United States , as well as overview measures for the international community , including Canada.

New Workforce Certification Guidelines for U.S. Commercial Building Occupations

The National Institute of Building Sciences and the U.S. Department of Energy have developed voluntary national guidelines to improve the quality and consistency of commercial building workforce credentials. The Better Buildings Workforce Guidelines     were introduced  in March  2015 and cover four energy-related occupations: Energy Auditor, Building Commissioning Professional, Energy Manager, and Building Operations Professional.   See the press release here.