Community Associations for Environmental Sustainability

Addressing Climate Misinformation

Addressing Climate Misinformation

CAFES Climate Misinformation Volunteer Team

CAFES Ottawa wants to equip and empower you to address climate misinformation in your everyday life during conversations with family, friends and co-workers. And then we would like you to consider speaking up in public dialogue and in municipal policy-making spaces. 

Climate change poses a dire, existential threat, but alongside this crisis, another is taking hold: the widespread dissemination of climate change misinformation. This intentional spread of falsehoods undermines scientific consensus, stalls public action, and leaves us more vulnerable. 

The CAFES Climate Information Team hopes to help to inoculate Ottawans against misinformation and extreme beliefs.

How to Use These Backgrounders

In each backgrounder, you will find the misinformation it addresses and speaking notes to help you respond to it, with credible information to back it up. We encourage you to get curious and check out the resources. We took the time to find credible facts and sources to help you quickly gain the confidence to speak up!

For questions and suggestions, please contact the CAFES Climate Misinformation Volunteer team at info@cafesottawa.ca

Climate science

We Won’t Solve Climate Change Unless Every Country Reduces Their Emissions, Including Canada

Use this brief to respond to climate misinformation, such as:

Canada/Ottawa’s emissions are negligible. Reducing Canada/Ottawa’s emissions isn’t worth the cost because it will have virtually no effect on global emissions.

Speaking points: 

  • The facts. In 2021, Canada emitted 545 million tonnes of CO2 – 1.47% of global CO2 emissions. It’s not negligible, and saying it doesn’t matter would be irresponsible. 
  • The “per capita” problem. The average Canadian emits much more than the average person worldwide. In 2021, Canadians produced 14.3 tonnes of CO2 per capita, more than three times the global average. 
  • Canada is considered in the top 10 countries historically the most responsible for climate change. If you add up all the carbon that Canada, as a country, has released since 1750, we’re ranked in the top 10 of the world’s biggest emitters. Those carbon emissions are still in the atmosphere, driving the global warming we see today. 
  • Collectively, even 1% matters. There are almost 200 countries in the world, and most countries’ share of global emissions is less than 1%. In fact, most are less than 0.1%. If we add up emissions from all countries that emit less than 2% of the global share, they add up to 36% of the world’s CO2 emissions. If “negligible” countries like Canada don't play their part in reducing emissions, we don’t stand a chance of tackling climate change. Only six countries emit more than 2% of the global share (China, United States, India, Russia, Japan, and Iran). 
  • Climate change, like littering, requires collective action and collaboration. Imagine a scenario where Ottawa has a littering problem. If every person in Ottawa (population: 970,000) took the stance: “I’m only one person, therefore my actions don’t matter. It makes no difference to the city if I continue to litter,” we would never solve the littering problem!
  • There are co-benefits to reducing emissions (health, financial, social). Air pollution from burning fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal) contributes to 15,300–34,000 premature deaths each year in Canada. Reducing our emissions means cleaner air and saving thousands of lives.  
    Every tonne of carbon we reduce this year saves society as a whole $261. And Canada could reduce millions of tonnes of carbon. 
  • Show leadership. Canada is in the top 20 of the world’s major economies. This means that our actions on reducing emissions will influence what other countries do. 
    The good news: In July 2023, Canada released a framework to phase out government subsidies for increased fossil fuel production – the first of the G20 countries to do so. The bad news: Canada is still the world’s 4th largest oil exporter, and most of Canada’s emissions come from producing oil and gas. 
  • The world is shifting to renewables, and Canada needs to, too. Globally, investments in renewable energy are getting closer to and exceeding those in fossil fuels.

Resources: 

Why “my country only emits 1% of emissions” is no excuse for rich countries to not tackle climate change: If you only have time to read one thing here, read this! Hannah Ritchie, Deputy Editor and Lead Researcher at Our World in Data, explains why “my country only emits 1% of emissions” is no excuse for rich countries to not tackle climate change. 

Does my country make a difference to climate change?: Francisco Garcia-Gibson, a research fellow at the London School of Economics Department of Government, explains why every country can and must take real action on climate change. 

Why the UK's 1% of global emissions is a big deal: The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit explains why the United Kingdom’s (UK's) 1% of global emissions is a big deal. It’s not just Canada – other countries like the UK and Australia have been trying to use this argument as a cop-out for climate action. 

How to answer the argument that Australia’s emissions are too small to make a difference: Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, at the University of Queensland, explains the obvious reasons why a country like Australia should be leading the way on climate policy – and why their country’s emissions make a difference.

Carbon emissions are costing Canadians five times what Ottawa once thought: Minister Environment Minister of Canada, Steven Guibeault, explains the economic cost of carbon: “Every tonne of carbon we reduce this year saves society as a whole $261 — and we are talking in terms of cutting megatonnes: millions of tonnes.” This economic cost of carbon estimates the financial impact that every tonne of emissions has on everything from food production and human health to disaster repair bills and property values.

Estimates on the annual number of deaths in Canada from fossil fuel air pollution: 15,300 (from Health Impacts of Air Pollution in Canada: Estimates of morbidity and premature mortality outcomes – 2021 Report). 34,000 (from a 2021 study from public health researchers at Harvard University and three British universities)

Canada: CO2 Country Profile: Statistics on Canada’s emissions from Our World in Data. Clean energy investment is extending its lead over fossil fuels, boosted by energy security strengths: Report by the International Energy Agency on how global investments in clean energy is set to surpass investment in oil and gas in 2023.

Clean energy investment is extending its lead over fossil fuels, boosted by energy security strengths: Report by the International Energy Agency on how global investments in clean energy is set to surpass investment in oil and gas in 2023.

Government of Canada delivers on key climate commitment to phase out inefficient fossil
fuel subsidies
:
News release from July 24, 2023. “Cutting pollution in our communities is good for our climate, economy, health, and well‐being. It will also help Canadians reduce the impacts of climate change that are already costing the Canadian economy billions of dollars every year.” “Eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and redoubling our focus on clean energy is a key step in building Canada’s net-zero economy by 2050 and supporting good-paying jobs for Canadians for generations to come.”

The Sun’s Energy has Decreased Since the 1980s, but the Earth Keeps Warming

Use this brief to respond to climate misinformation, such as:
Climate change is caused by the sun

Speaking points:

  • Is climate change caused by the sun? No. The sun influences earth’s climate, but it is not
    responsible for the warming we’ve seen in recent decades.
  • How does the sun influence earth’s climate? The earth gets nearly all of its energy from the
    sun. The sun’s energy rises and falls on an approximately 11-year solar cycle. It also fluctuates
    over a century-long timescale, and even over tens of thousands of years, in what’s known as
    Milankovitch cycles. Today, the earth has warmed an average of 1.3 °C since the pre-industrial
    period (1850–1900). Scientists have tested the hypothesis that this warming is caused by the sun.
    Here’s how they know why the sun is not the cause. Since the 1980s, the amount of sun
    energy reaching the earth has been steadily decreasing. If the sun were driving earth’s
    temperature, the planet would be getting cooler. Instead, earth’s global average temperature has been increasing, at a rate of 1.7 °C per century.
  • If the sun were causing global warming, we would expect to see warming in all layers of the
    atmosphere, but we don’t. Instead, the upper atmosphere (stratosphere) is cooling, while the
    lower atmosphere (troposphere) is warming.
  • If it’s not the sun, then what is causing global warming?
    The enormous rise in greenhouse gas concentrations since 1850–1900 has been warming the
    earth. Human activity of burning fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas) accounts for roughly three-quarters
    of the greenhouse gas emissions. The remaining come from deforestation, waste decay, and
    agriculture.
  • If the sun’s energy is decreasing, can we expect this to counter human-caused warming?
    No. The sun’s energy has a very small effect on global temperatures compared to greenhouse
    gas emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts global warming
    of 1.8–4.4 °C by 2100, depending on how much we reduce emissions. In comparison, a Grand
    Solar Minimum (when the sun gives off less energy for a long period of time) would lead, at
    most, to a cooling of 0.1 °C.
  • In sum: We can’t blame the sun for the crisis we face; we have to blame our own ingenuity, in
    bringing about the industrial revolution. However, we can use that same ingenuity to facilitate
    the electrical revolution. Unless we rapidly reduce emissions, the earth will continue to warm.

Resources:

Is the Sun causing global warming?: In three short paragraphs, the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (NASA) explains why the answer is a clear “No.”

Couldn't the Sun be the cause of global warming?: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) gives a two-paragraph explainer on why the sun is not driving
current global warming.

What is the Sun's role in climate change?: NASA's Global Climate Change website provides a short explainer about solar cycles, which last 11 years, and about “grand minimum,” a periodic solar event, in which there is less solar activity. The warming driven by greenhouse gases coming from the human burning of fossil fuels is far greater than the effect of the sun.

Climate change: Incoming sunlight: NOAA provides a thorough but concise summary of 11-
year solar cycles, longer-term changes in solar activity such as grand minimums, and Milankovitch cycles, which last tens to hundreds of thousands of years and influence how much sunlight reaches us. The effects of the sun’s activity on global average temperatures are tiny (0.01 to 0.1 °C) compared with the human-caused effects of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels (>1 °C).

Sun and climate: Moving in opposite directions: Skeptical Science debunks the myth that the sun is causing today’s global warming. This is the second most common myth about climate change!

It’s the sun, stupid: If you prefer audio, The Climate Denier’s Playbook, a podcast by Climate Town, has an episode debunking the misinformation that the sun is causing global warming. This podcast is where to look if you want well-researched information, and a good laugh!

Explainer: Why the sun is not responsible for recent climate change: An explainer from
Carbon Brief.
“… since 1970 global temperatures have shot up by almost 0.7 °C, while the amount of solar energy reaching the earth has actually declined. Similarly, the upper atmosphere is cooling while the lower atmosphere warms, a clear fingerprint of warming from greenhouse gases rather than the sun.”

Solar activity and the so-called "Little Ice Age: Professor Mike Lockwood of the University of Reading in the United Kingdom explains in Carbon Brief why the world is not about to plunge into a “Little Ice Age.” “We found the likely reduction in warming [associated with a decline in solar irradiance to Maunder minimum levels] by 2100 would be between 0.06 and 0.1 degrees Celsius, a very small fraction of the warming we’re due to experience as a result of human activity.”

Global Consensus: The Climate Emergency is Real

Use this brief to respond to climate misinformation, such as:

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) isn’t trustworthy. As a United Nations organization, it is corrupt.
  • The IPCC is wrong. There is no consensus on climate change, and many scientists are in disagreement.

Speaking Points

  • The climate emergency is real. While there will always be a dissenting few, we know the climate emergency is real, and we need to work together to help prevent the most devastating consequences of climate change.
  • Don’t be fooled. If you hear someone suggest they are smarter than the IPCC, don’t be fooled!
    No one person is smarter than the collective wisdom of thousands of top scientists worldwide.
    The IPCC is a historic achievement. The IPCC is a historic achievement of the scientific
    community, but the IPCC doesn’t do its own research. Hundreds of scientists from 195 member
    countries work together to gather evidence about climate change worldwide.
  • The IPCC reports on the state of climate science. Volunteer experts analyze thousands of
    scientific papers to prepare reports. The reports identify areas of scientific agreement and,
    where there isn’t consensus, indicate that further research is required.
  • 185 or more countries accept the science of the IPCC. In the landmark Paris Agreement (2016), the global community agreed to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. Over 190 countries adopted the agreement, and 185 countries ratified the agreement. It’s not about whether we need to do it, but how! There is consensus for the urgent need to take climate action, with much less consensus about how to do it and especially about who pays for it.
  • No more commitments. It’s time for action! Globally, nationally, provincially and locally, people have been affirming their commitment to take urgent action on climate change! In fact, we have made so many commitments and written so many plans it is mind-boggling.

Resources

Because IPCC: For a lighter read in a graphic novel format, read Because IPCC. Learn more about how scientific consensus on climate change is formally established and has been for decades, through the work of the IPCC.

About the IPCC: The objective of the IPCC, created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), is to provide governments at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies. IPCC reports are also a key input into international climate change negotiations.

Do scientists agree on climate change?: NASA says “yes, the vast majority of actively publishing climate scientists – 97 percent – agree that humans are causing global warming and climate change. Most of the leading science organizations around the world have issued public statements expressing this, including international and U.S. science academies, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a whole host of reputable scientific bodies around the world. A list of these organizations is provided here.”

Explainer: Scientific consensus: “It’s important to note that a scientific consensus is not proof for a scientific theory but that it’s the result of converging lines of evidence all pointing to the same conclusion. It is therefore not a part of the scientific method but is actually a consequence of it. When people argue against a scientific consensus, they are usually misunderstanding the term or are deliberately abusing the ambiguity of the term consensus.”

FACT: Scientists agree that humans are responsible for climate change: Use this source for basic facts about how humans impact the climate.

Global climate agreements: Successes and failures: Most governments accept and agree with the scientific evidence supporting climate change but differ in assigning responsibility, monitoring emissions, and supporting hardest-hit nations. Meanwhile, experts stress the need for immediate action to prevent the global temperature from rising by 1.5 °C, as it would result in catastrophic effects like extreme heat and flooding.

COP 21 Paris: The history of climate change negotiations: For a 10-minute overview presentation on the key events in the evolution of international climate policy, view this video by Down To Earth, a group committed to making changes in the way people manage their environment, protecting health, and securing livelihoods and economic security for all.

Ottawa’s climate change master plan: On p. 5 of the master plan, they summarize the calls for action at all levels of government for the urgent need to address climate action. “While the details of individual climate emergency declarations vary, one element remains constant: a commitment to take the urgent action required to avert the climate crisis.”

Municipalities and climate change: “Municipalities across Canada have set emissions targets, outlined climate strategies, and declared climate emergencies to signal their intent to address climate change in Canada. From land-use planning to transportation, the role of municipalities in helping to create a low-carbon future is clear. Yet related policies, such as energy regulation and building codes, are outside municipal jurisdiction. Climate change is provincial, national, and global in scope – both its causes and the actions needed to address it.”

Federation of Canadian Municipalities: Climate and sustainability: “Climate change is the single biggest challenge of our time. With municipalities influencing roughly half of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, it's essential to scale up local solutions to transition to a resilient low-carbon future by 2050. Together, we can build a greener and more prosperous Canada—one community at a time.”

Plants Need CO2 to Grow, but That Doesn’t Mean That More CO2 is Better

Use this brief to respond to climate misinformation, such as:

  • CO2 is good for the planet
  • CO2 is plant food

Speaking Points

  • Plants need CO2 to grow. You might remember from high school biology that plants use CO2 and water, through photosynthesis, to make sugars. It’s simple and appealing to think that “If plants need CO2 to grow, then more is better,” but it’s a huge oversimplification. The real world is more complicated. While plants need CO2 to grow and increasing CO2 can increase the rate of photosynthesis, it doesn’t follow that more CO2 is good for the planet.
  • Plants can’t survive on CO2 alone. They also need water and nitrogen. If there’s extra CO2, but not extra water or nitrogen, plants won’t necessarily grow more. Studies show that some plants show initial growth from more CO2, but this quickly plateaus, in what is known as the “nitrogen plateau.”
  • High density, urban areas subsidize low-density, suburban ones. The lower purchase prices for low-density suburban buildings hide their true cost: they provide less property tax revenue, yet their infrastructure costs the city much more to maintain.
  • Crops grown in higher CO2 are less nutritious. Major crops like rice and wheat lose significant amounts of key nutrients like iron, zinc, B vitamins, and protein when CO2 levels are higher. This could lead to nutritional deficiencies in millions of people, making them more vulnerable to illness.
  • Weeds are plants too. There’s clear evidence that weeds respond more to CO2 than crops, meaning that weeds can outcompete the crop and lower crop yields. In some biomes, more CO2 can favour invasive plants over native species, damaging the ecosystem and biodiversity.
  • Higher CO2 increases the global average temperature, and higher temperatures decrease crop yields. This is because the soil dries up and heat can interfere with plant reproduction. Warming can also lead to desertification and drylands. The negative effects of higher temperatures outweigh any benefits of increased CO2 at just 1–2 °C (we’re already at 1.3 °C).
  • Higher CO2 leads to more frequent and intense extreme weather events. From droughts to floods to forest fires, extreme weather is destroying crops. Farmers worldwide are struggling.
  • So if more CO2 isn’t better for plants, why do I hear this so often? People who benefit from burning fossil fuels – oil and gas companies and corporations that support them – love to say that more CO2 is good for the planet. It gives them a free pass to keep extracting and burning fossil fuels, which reaps billions in profits, while increasing climate disasters and creating air pollution that kills millions of people globally each year.

Resources

Plants cannot live on CO2 alone: An explainer from Skeptical Science on why more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not necessarily good for plants. “Assuming there are any positive impacts on agriculture in the short term, they will be overwhelmed by the negative impacts of climate change.”

How climate change could make our food less nutritious: A TED talk (2019) by Kristie Ebi, a public health researcher at the Center for Health and the Global Environment, speaking about how climate change could make our food less nutritious.

More CO2 is good for plants!: A comedic and educational podcast by the Climate Denier’s Playbook. This one dives into and debunks the misinformation that more CO2 is good for plants.

Ask the Experts: Does Rising CO2 Benefit Plants?: In 2016, Scientific American summarized interviews with several experts about topics such as the nitrogen plateau, how rising CO2 can make crops less nutritious and more.

Extreme weather events have strained farmers' mental health. But asking for help still a hurdle for many: This 2022 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) article looks at how farmers are struggling with increasing extreme weather events. “A postdoctoral researcher who studies farmers' mental health at the University of Guelph in Ontario, says farmers she's spoken to recently cited the impacts of climate change as a major cause of anxiety and depression.”

Challenges for farmers in the face of worsening climate change: It’s not just farmers in Canada who are struggling. Farmers around the world face a number of challenges from climate change: changes in rainfall, temperature, and viability of crops and livestock; flooding; drought; new plagues, pathogens and weed problems; increasingly harsh working conditions (e.g., heatwaves); and food insecurity.

Climate change is changing weeds: Blog post from the Ontario Grain Farmer Magazine (2019) on how rising CO2 levels are increasing weed infestation in agricultural land. “Needless to say, farmers should find this concerning.”

Canada’s Record-Breaking 2023 Wildfire Season Had Indirect Effects on Health and the Economy

Use this brief to respond to climate misinformation, such as:

  • There is no increase in extreme weather events
  • Wildfires in Canada are down
  • Wildfires in Canada are caused by arsonists not climate change

Speaking points

  • The statistics about Canada’s 2023 wildfire season. Fire experts have called the 2023 wildfire season “record-breaking” – but by which records?
  • Total land area burned. As of October 2023, the total area burned was over 18 million hectares. That’s around 44 million soccer fields, nearly double the size of Portugal, or three times the size of Nova Scotia. This is more than double the previous record set in 1995, and more than six times the Canadian average. Wildfires burn on average 2.5 million hectares in Canada each year, but the number varies greatly from one year to another.
  • Number of fires. 2023 saw around 6,500 fires, which is about average. Data compiled by Natural Resources Canada (1959–2021) show there were fewer wildfires in the years prior to 2021, but also some years with exceptionally high numbers of fires (1989, 1998).
  • Carbon emissions. The 2023 fires emitted around 1,700 megatonnes of CO2, which is more than Canada’s yearly total for human-caused CO2 emissions. According to another analysis, the 2023 fires emitted almost five time the average amount of carbon in Canada as in the previous 20 years, and a quarter of the world’s 2023 wildfire emissions.
  • Climate change more than doubled the likelihood of extreme fire weather conditions from May to June 2023. Climate change also made the fires 20–50% more intense. This is from the World Weather Attribution, an international team of scientists who quantify the role of human- caused climate change in weather events. Another example is the 2016 Fort McMurray fire, which was found to be 1.5–6x more likely because of climate change.
  • Most Canadians understand the link between climate change and extreme weather. 7 in 10 Canadians believe that climate change is playing a role in the wildfires. 7 in 10 also believe that the increase in natural disasters over the past decade are a direct result of climate change.
  • Wildfires are costly. Not only is there the cost of fighting the fires – we had to fly in hundreds of firefighters from overseas – but there’s the economic cost of businesses closing and people being unable to work; the health cost from the dangerous air quality; and home insurance costs are increasing.
  • The impacts of wildfires are far greater than the land area burned. Around 200,000 people were evacuated from their homes, and hundreds lost their homes. Millions were impacted by dangerous air quality in cities in Canada and the U.S. At the end of June, Montreal had the worst air pollution in the world. Businesses closed and many industries were impacted. Wildlife, whose population sizes have been declining for decades, mainly related to habitat loss, also have to escape wildfires and move or adapt to an area ravaged by fire.
  • It’s not just wildfires, and it’s not just in Canada. Human-caused climate change is making heat waves longer and more intense, hurricanes more intense, and increasing the likelihood of extreme rainfall and flooding around the world.

Resources

Fire Weather: The Making of a Beast, by John Vaillant: Everything you (n)ever wanted to know about climate change and fire. In his 2023 book, John Valiant tells the story of the 2016 Fort McMurray fire, and its impacts on the 88,000 people who had to flee for their lives in a single afternoon. “John Vaillant warns that this was not a unique event but a shocking preview of what we must prepare for in a hotter, more flammable world.”

Five charts to help understand Canada's record-breaking wildfire season: Want to visually understand how extreme the 2023 wildfire season has been in Canada? Take a look at these five charts.

Lil D'bunk debunks the wildfires: Lil D’Bunk is a charismatic kid who gives straight talk debunking an active piece of Canadian mis- and dis-information, with a particular focus on the climate. In this 3-minute YouTube video, Lil D’Bunk says “Over 22 million soccer fields of forest have burned so far this summer. So why won’t some public figures point the finger at climate change?”

NASA Earth Observatory: Tracking Canada’s extreme 2023 fire season: “Wildland fire experts have described Canada’s 2023 fire season as record-breaking and shocking. Over the course of a fire season that started early and ended late, blazes have burned an estimated 18.4 million hectares—an area roughly the size of North Dakota. On average, just 2.5 million hectares burn in Canada each year. While the total number of reported fires has not been unusual—6,595 by October—a subset of the fires reached extraordinary sizes. Hundreds of fires exceeded 10,000 hectares (39 square miles) and were large enough to be considered “megafires.” These megafires were also unusually widespread this season, charring forests from British Columbia and Alberta in the west to Quebec and the Atlantic provinces in the east to the Northwest Territories and the Yukon in the north.”

Media brief: The link between wildfires and other extreme weather and climate change: An explainer by Clean Energy Canada on the links between forest fires and other extreme weather and climate change.

Poll: 7 in 10 Canadians connect the country’s recent wildfires with climate change: Results from a survey by Clean Energy Canada conducted with 2,000 Canadian adults from June 2023. “A large majority (68%) of Canadians believe that Canada’s recent wildfires are ‘definitely’ or ‘most likely’ at least partly the result of climate change.”

Climate change more than doubled the likelihood of extreme fire weather conditions in Eastern Canada: A study by the World Weather Attribution on the role climate change played in Canada’s 2023 wildfire season. “Climate change made the cumulative severity of Québec’s 2023 fire season to the end of July around 50% more intense.”

Scientists uncover the role of climate change in devastating East Canada fires: Report from Imperial College London on the World Weather Attribution study. “Almost 200,000 people have been evacuated from impacted areas so far – the highest number of wildfire evacuees since at least 1980. [...] Until we stop burning fossil fuels, the number of wildfires will continue to increase, burning larger areas for longer periods of time.”

Natural Resources Canada: “The Canadian National Fire Database (CNFDB) is a collection of forest fire data from various sources.”. Data in the current spreadsheet shows historical wildfire data from 1959–2021. You can download the data yourself. The data does not yet include the 2023 wildfire season.

Wildfires have lit up home insurance costs. So what's needed to spark an interest in fireproofing?: A growing number of Canadians are facing volatile home insurance rates driven by this year's (2023) wildfire season.

Canada produced nearly a quarter of the global wildfire emissions in 2023: The data show that the country’s wildfires emitted almost 480 megatonnes of carbon [note: not CO2] this year, “almost five times the average for the past 20 years.”

Wildfires, wildlife and what we can do: According to the World Wildlife Fund, “As these fires also grow in size and intensity, it becomes increasingly difficult for these animals to escape in time. The ones that do survive must either move to a new area or adapt to the fire- ravaged area and then find adequate food and shelter.”

Climate Change is Increasing the Number of Heat-Related Deaths on Every Continent

Use this brief to respond to climate misinformation, such as:

  • More people die from cold than heat

Speaking points:

  • The grain of truth. Research is mixed, but it suggests that on average, more people die from the cold than from heat. However, the notion that global warming will save lives by reducing the number of cold-related deaths is false.
  • Climate change is affecting our planet in many more ways than just temperature. It is damaging our crops, causing malnutrition and food insecurity, increasing the frequency of floods and hurricanes, causing sea level rise, and increasing the spread of life-threatening diseases like malaria. Research suggests that food scarcity from climate change alone could cause 500,000 deaths by 2050, and could be as high as 6 billion deaths by 2100 if there is “runaway global warming” (8–12 °C).
  • Comparing heat-related deaths with cold-related deaths is complicated. What counts as a “heat- or cold-related death”? It depends on how you define it and the statistical method you use. Researchers have found anywhere from two to twenty times more cold-related than heat- related deaths. However, other researchers, like Weinberger et al., found that even in the United States (U.S.), heat is the leading type of weather fatality. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), heat kills four times more people than cold in the U.S. Also, deaths where heat is a contributing factor, such as in heart attacks, strokes, and other forms of cardiovascular disease, are under-reported.
  • The ratio of heat- to cold-related deaths is not the same everywhere in the world. In Canada and Europe, there are more cold-related deaths, so warming will probably reduce overall temperature-related deaths. But in India, Pakistan, eastern China and countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and places like Bangkok, Thailand, any increase in temperature will increase the total number of temperature-related deaths.
  • The framing of this claim – would you rather have more heat deaths or more cold deaths? – is a false dichotomy. Global warming is not the best or only way to prevent cold-related deaths. How about: Making our grid more reliable to avoid heating outages from power blackouts during winter? Building homes with better insulation and more efficient heating? Reducing the cost of heating so everyone can afford to stay warm during winter?
  • So much depends on how much we adapt to climate change and how much warming there is. Will we install air conditioning in homes that don’t have it? Keep in mind that countries that are poor and already hot are going to suffer the most. What’s more, even according to researchers who have found more cold-related deaths, if warming is around 3°C, the ratio will flip, and heat will kill more people than cold. Estimates for 2100 range from 1.4–4.4°C of warming.

Resources

Unraveling the debate: Does heat or cold cause more deaths? Part 1 and Unraveling the debate: Does heat or cold cause more deaths? Part 2: Professor Andrew Dessler, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) University looks into the nuances of temperature-related deaths in two excellent articles.

Explainer: Will rising temperatures mean more lives are saved than lost?: Carbon Brief offers a deep dive into the research on temperature-related deaths, with a focus on the United Kingdom. “On balance, more lives will be lost than saved as temperatures rise.”

Risk of heat-related deaths has ‘increased rapidly’ over past 20 years: Carbon Brief looks at how the risk of heat-related deaths has increased rapidly over the past 20 years. “More than 61,000 people died as a result of searing heat across Europe in the summer of 2022. And a recent study found that more than one-third of all heat-related deaths recorded over 1991– 2018 are linked to climate change.”

Global warming contributes to increased heat-related mortality, contrary to Bjorn Lomborg’s unsupported claims that climate change is saving hundreds of thousands of lives each year: Climate Feedback debunks Bjorn Lomberg’s claim that global warming saves 166,000 lives each year.

The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet, by Jeff Goodell: In his 2023 book, Jeff Goodell “documents the lethal effects of heat waves and why we need to take extreme heat more seriously,” describes a New York Times book review. As his book makes clear, depending on air conditioning is a dangerous solution: “If power goes out for long on a hot day, businesses shut down, schools close and people die.

U.S. heat deaths will soar as the climate crisis worsens: “Lee and Dessler’s findings suggest that, up through three degrees C of warming, increasing heat deaths and decreasing cold deaths will about balance out, with increases in total mortality driven by a growing and aging population. But with more than three degrees C of warming, they find, climate change will start pushing the number of deaths even higher.”

Heat is making our planet uninhabitable. Why isn't this the top news story around the world?: “If global temperatures exceed 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, 4 billion people will encounter intolerable heat and humidity on a yearly basis, often in regions where air conditioning and other forms of relief are not widely available. That could include more than 2 billion people in Pakistan and India, 1 billion in eastern China and 800 million people in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Climate change indicators: Heat-related deaths: According to this article by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “While dramatic increases in heat-related deaths are closely associated with the occurrence of hot temperatures and heat waves, these deaths may not be reported as ‘heat-related’ on death certificates.”

Food scarcity caused by climate change could cause 500,000 deaths by 2050, study suggests: A Washington Post summary of a 2016 study, which estimates the number of deaths due to climate change-related malnutrition and starvation.

Carleton T, Jina A, Delgado M, Greenstone M, Houser T, Hsiang S, et al. Valuing the global mortality consequences of climate change accounting for adaptation costs and benefits. The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 2022 Apr 21. https://doi.org/10.1093/qje/qjac020  

Gasparrini A, Guo Y, Hashizume M, Lavigne E, Zanobetti A, Schwartz J, et al. Mortality risk attributable to high and low ambient temperature: a multicountry observational study. The Lancet. 2015 Jul;386(9991):369–75. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(14)62114-0

Lee J, Dessler AE. Future Temperature‐Related Deaths in the U.S.: The impact of climate change, demographics, and adaptation. Geohealth [Internet]. 2023 Aug 1;7(8). https://doi.org/10.1029/2023GH000799

Richards CE, Gauch HL, Allwood JM. International risk of food insecurity and mass mortality in a runaway global warming scenario. Futures [Internet]. 2023 Jun 1;150:103173. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2023.103173

Vecellio DJ, Kong Q, W. Larry Kenney, Huber M. Greatly enhanced risk to humans as a consequence of empirically determined lower moist heat stress tolerance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2023 Oct 9;120(42). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2305427120

Weinberger KR, Harris D, Spangler KR, Zanobetti A, Wellenius GA. Estimating the number of excess deaths attributable to heat in 297 United States counties. Environmental Epidemiology. 2020 Jun;4(3):e096. https://doi.org/10.1097%2FEE9.0000000000000096

Vecellio DJ, Kong Q, W. Larry Kenney, Huber M. Greatly enhanced risk to humans as a consequence of empirically determined lower moist heat stress tolerance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2023 Oct 9;120(42). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2305427120

Weinberger KR, Harris D, Spangler KR, Zanobetti A, Wellenius GA. Estimating the number of excess deaths attributable to heat in 297 United States counties. Environmental Epidemiology. 2020 Jun;4(3):e096. https://doi.org/10.1097%2FEE9.0000000000000096

Renewable Energy

It'll be good.

It'll be very good.

Transportation

Designing Streets to Prioritize Walking and Cycling Helps Businesses

Use this brief to respond to climate misinformation, such as:

  •   Reducing car use in the city will negatively affect businesses

Speaking points:

  • Cars don’t shop at businesses; people do. Cars need far more space than people, bikes, or transit, so stores that cater to car traffic, including big box stores, usually have sprawling parking lots. Fewer cars mean more space for people, including stores and other economically productive buildings.
  • Only a minority of customers to businesses on a typical city’s main street arrive by car. Business owners tend to significantly overestimate the proportion of customers who arrive by car. For example, store managers along a section of Toronto’s Bloor Street were surveyed, and half of them believed that 25% or more of their customers drove there, when in fact fewer than 10% of visitors reported doing so. It takes space for a single vehicle, typically carrying a single customer, to park near a business, and parking can be difficult.
  • People who arrive on foot or by bike visit stores more often and spend more in total. According to reports from around the world, pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly streets and cities are good for business. In an old Canadian survey of cities around the world, almost half of all the pedestrian areas developed experienced increased retail sales, while only 2% experienced decreased sales.
  • People prefer spending time on streets with limited motor traffic. This is especially true for restaurant and cafe patios. When streets are made safer and more pleasant for people by closing them to traffic, widening sidewalks or adding bike lanes, the number of walking and cycling trips increases. Children and the elderly are less isolated and dependent in areas with less traffic. People stop more frequently to shop when walking or biking.
  • Streets can even become destinations unto themselves. This results in a major boost to foot traffic. Examples include New York City’s Open Streets program and Montreal’s pedestrian-only streets.

Resources:

Closing the streets to cars: bad for business? False: Summary of studies showing that removing automobile traffic from commercial streets is generally good for business (reposted and translated from Fermer les rues aux voitures: mauvais pour le commerce? Faux).

Economic impact study of bike lanes in Toronto's Bloor Annex and Korea Town neighbourhoods: Studied how the addition of bike lanes and removal of street parking along a portion of Bloor Street in Toronto in 2016 affected businesses. It found that most customers arrived by foot or by bike, and that these customers spent more in total than those who arrived by car (they spent slightly less per visit, but visited more frequently). The number of customers increased after the bike lanes were installed. There is a blog post that summarizes the study, Bikes and business on Bloor: An economic study from Toronto.

These animated videos show just how much space cars waste in our cities: Simulations showing the relative space efficiency of each transportation mode when clearing an intersection. The parameters were tweaked to be biased in favour of cars, yet cars still perform far worse than every other mode.

Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in our Lives: A book that argues, based on both research and personal experience, that we are much happier living in cities when automobile traffic is limited. It touches on how retail businesses are affected by less car- centric planning, but is primarily about the health benefits – physical, mental, and social – of living in a safer, quieter, less polluted, and more accessible place. When we’re deciding how to design our cities, there’s a lot more at stake than the balance sheets of businesses!

What happened when they banned cars (YouTube): A video about examples of main streets where cars were banned (i.e., pedestrian or transit malls), including Market Street in San Francisco, State Street in Madison, Wisconsin, and the 14th Street Busway in New York City. Retail shops continued to be viable; in fact, in the case of State Street, removing cars helped to reverse the trend of losing shops to suburban shopping centres.

Why car-free streets may be here to stay (YouTube): A video by Bloomberg published a few months after the start of the pandemic focuses on Market Street in San Francisco and the 14th Street Busway in New York City. Again, research showed that fears of harm to retail businesses and of traffic spilling over to neighbouring streets never materialized.

Why walkable streets are more economically productive: An article by Strong Towns about the economics of walkable streets, more from the point of view of the city – its revenue and liabilities – than an individual business. But the financial well-being of the city affects that of its residents and businesses.

The value of cycling: According to this report commissioned in the United Kingdom to provide a review of the literature on the value of cycling, “Cyclists visit local shops more regularly, spending more than users of most other modes of transport… Public realm improvements, including those that cater for cycling, have been shown to result in increased trade at local businesses; up to 49% in New York City.”

The business case for active transportation: The economic benefits of walking and cycling: This 2004 Canadian report found “A survey of cities around the world, concerning their pedestrianisation schemes, revealed environmental improvement closely related to the removal of traffic. The survey also showed that 49% of all the pedestrian areas developed experienced an upward trend in retail turnover, while only 2% experienced a decrease.”

Fifteen minute neighbourhoods

Higher Density Can Make Cities More Affordable

Use this brief to respond to climate misinformation, such as:

  •   Higher density leads to increased real estate costs

Speaking points:

  • Inadequate housing supply leads to higher prices. Therefore, the only way to keep housing affordable is to build more of it.
  • Higher density housing costs less than lower density housing. All else being equal (location in particular), higher density housing (e.g., apartments and townhomes) is less expensive than lower density housing (e.g., detached houses).
  • Correlation is not causation. A lot of high-density housing is being added to expensive cities, but that doesn’t mean that density is responsible for making housing unaffordable; prices would be even higher with less supply.
  • Municipal affordability matters too. Housing affordability refers to the costs paid directly by a resident for their property, but it’s also important to consider how the city’s finances are affected by the way property is developed. Sprawl increases costs for the city – and for residents, via property taxes.
  • High density, urban areas subsidize low-density, suburban ones. The lower purchase prices for low-density suburban buildings hide their true cost: they provide less property tax revenue, yet their infrastructure costs the city much more to maintain.
  • Higher density housing therefore improves both kinds of affordability. It drives down housing costs for residents (by increasing supply and providing lower cost options) and improves a city’s finances (resulting in lower property taxes or better amenities).
  • Transportation costs matter too. Higher density, paired with good urban planning, reduces transportation costs by shortening the distances one needs to travel and by supporting walking, cycling, and transit.

Resources:

Four Harmful Myths About Housing Affordability: A video by “Oh The Urbanity!” that rebuts some housing affordability myths. The myth most relevant to this issue is #2: Supply & Demand Doesn’t Apply. It shows how insufficient supply is the main driver of high housing prices.

The Economic Implications of Housing Supply: A study of U.S. housing markets that found housing is affordable when demand is matched by construction.

Case-Shiller National Index up 19.8% Year-over-year in February; New Record Monthly Increase: Shows the inverse relationship between months of inventory and housing prices in the U.S.

Vacancy Rates and Rent Change, 2021 Update: Shows the inverse relationship between vacancy rates and rents in Canada.

Forecast for Failure: A report by the Smart Prosperity Institute that links the explosion of home prices in Southern Ontario to the government’s failure to plan for population growth in the GTA.

Myth #1, that new housing must be affordable to count, is also relevant. Even expensive housing helps affordability, as shown in the paper City-wide effects of new housing supply: Evidence from moving chains.

The Cost of Sprawl: Another report by the Smart Prosperity Institute, about the costs of Canada’s suburban sprawl. has also published some related infographics.

Suburban expansion costs increase to $465 per person per year in Ottawa | CBC News: A study commissioned by our city showed that high-density infill development is subsidizing low-density homes built on undeveloped land.

Suburbia is Subsidized: Here's the Math: A video that shows how downtown subsidizes suburbia, referencing research by Urban3, with a particular focus on Lafayette, Louisiana.

Evaluating Criticism of Smart Growth: A detailed report that counters criticism of “smart growth” (higher density development paired with sound urban planning). “Critics claim that Smart Growth increases housing costs by reducing land supply, but ignore various ways it reduces household costs by reducing unit land requirements, increasing housing options, reducing parking and infrastructure costs, and reducing consumer transport costs. The evidence critics use to evaluate housing affordability fails to account for confounding factors, such as higher housing costs in larger cities, and the tendency of Smart Growth to be implemented in areas experiencing rapid population and economic growth, which tends to raise housing costs.”

Adding missing middle housing and simplifying regulations in low density neighbourhoods | Shape Your City Vancouver: Information about the “missing middle” – housing that is higher density than detached houses but lower density than apartment buildings – from a Vancouver perspective. It links to this video about Vancouver’s missing middle (which mentions housing affordability) and another that shows a fly-over of a block with a multiplex and other housing types. Understanding the missing middle may help to reassure people who worry that a trend toward higher density means that everyone will have to live in highrises.

Regarding how this will be implemented here in Ottawa, see NEW Urban Design Guidelines for Low-Rise Infill Housing | Engage Ottawa.

Higher Density Can Make Travel Easier

Use this brief to respond to climate misinformation, such as:

  • Higher density leads to more traffic congestion

Speaking points:

  • Higher density, when combined with good urban planning, can reduce travel time and stress. Research finds people don’t travel far or spend much time in traffic when cities support walking, cycling and public transit, and homes are close to commercial areas.
  • There is sufficient ridership to invest in good public transit, making it a practical option. Good transit is frequent, extensive, and operates on a dedicated right-of-way that isn’t affected by traffic.
  • The same applies to bike infrastructure. People are more likely to bike when a comprehensive network of separated bike lanes is available to them.
  • Higher density means that everything is closer together. This reduces average travel distance, and makes walking and cycling more practical.
  • Accessibility (what you can get to in a given amount of time) is just as important as mobility (how far you can travel in that time). Higher-density, mixed-use development reduces the average distance you need to travel, so travel time may be shorter even if traffic is slower.
  • Higher density and sound urban planning create a virtuous cycle. Compact, walkable, bikeable cities with good transit don’t need as much infrastructure for motor vehicles. That frees up space and money for people: more homes, more businesses, more public amenities such as parks, and more places to safely walk or bike. The city therefore becomes more compact and walkable, and the cycle repeats.
  • Driving becomes more pleasant, because most of the potential traffic has been diverted to other modes. The only people left driving are those who genuinely need or want to, and conflicts with other modes of transportation are minimized by design.
  • But the intuition that higher density makes traffic worse is partly valid. If density increases as urban planning continues to prioritize cars at the expense of everything else, congestion will indeed increase. Good zoning regulations and planning decisions can prevent this.
  • Traffic congestion worsens even more if the population increases via low-density sprawl. Restricting high-density development won’t necessarily prevent people from moving to a region; they need to live somewhere, and low-density, car-oriented sprawl increases total congestion costs the most. To mitigate this, it’s important for a growing region to have high- density options.

Resources

We used AI to measure Canada’s urban sprawl: An interactive article by Radio Canada with sobering statistics about how Canada’s metropolitan areas have grown primarily through increased sprawl from 2001 to 2021. “According to our analysis, in neighbourhoods built less than 20 years ago, 60 per cent of the population lives in single-family homes. But this type of neighborhood exacerbates road congestion and pollution: 81 per cent of those residents use their cars to go to work. By comparison, in historic neighbourhoods, only 38 per cent of residents live in houses and 65 per cent drive their cars to work.”

The best country in the world for drivers: A video by Not Just Bikes about how the Netherlands – a country with high population density – achieves low traffic congestion and pleasant driving conditions through good urban planning and traffic engineering. It mentions a study by Waze that ranked countries and cities by driving experience (see also Surprise: Bike-friendly Netherlands named best place in the world to be a driver).

Evaluating criticism of smart growth: A detailed report that counters criticism of “smart growth” (high-density development paired with sound urban planning). “Critics claim that Smart Growth increases traffic congestion and therefore reduces transport system quality, based on simple models of the relationship between density and trip generation. However, Smart Growth also increases accessibility and travel options, and provides incentives to reduce vehicle travel which reduces congestion. Traffic congestion alone is an ineffective indication of transport system quality; it is important to consider the quality of other modes. Empirical data indicate that Smart Growth reduces per-capita congestion delay.”

What happened when they banned cars (YouTube): A video about examples of streets where cars were banned (i.e., pedestrian or transit malls), including Market Street in San Francisco, and State Street in Madison, Wisconsin. Interestingly, there was little or no increase in traffic along adjacent streets.

Transport strategies for net-zero systems by design: An online book by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on how to decarbonize urban transportation. It takes a systems-oriented approach that emphasizes reducing the demand for automobile use through urban design instead of simply substituting electric vehicles for gas-powered ones. “The systems we create are a result of what we do, which is in turn determined by what we measure and the mental models that ‘filter’ what we see. For decades, transport policies have focused on supporting mobility (erroneously conflated with well-being) instead of accessibility, which is the combination of mobility and proximity. A mobility focus has led to reducing proximity, which mobility-oriented policies compensate with yet more mobility, locking territories into unsustainable dynamics. An analytical, rather than systemic, mind-set has also reduced the problem to identifying the part in the system (e.g., combustion cars), causing the undesired result.”

Adding missing middle housing and simplifying regulations in low density neighbourhoods | Shape Your City Vancouver: Information about the “missing middle” – housing that is higher density than detached houses but lower density than apartment buildings – from a Vancouver perspective. It links to this video about Vancouver’s missing middle and another that shows a fly-over of a block with a multiplex and other housing types. Understanding the missing middle may help to reassure people who worry that a trend toward higher density means that everyone will have to live in high rises.

See New urban design guidelines for low-rise infill housing | Engage Ottawa regarding how the missing middle housing will be implemented here in Ottawa.

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