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!

Supporting You to Speak Up

Most Canadians are concerned about climate change, but only a few speak up. We want to help change that.

In addition to our backgrounders below, which give you speaking notes to address misinformation, here are more resources to support you. When we talk about climate action in our everyday lives and municipal decision-making spaces, we are helping accelerate climate action in the City of Ottawa.

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!

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.”

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!

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.”

  • 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

Change the climate story from despair to possibility

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

It’s too late to do much about climate change, so why bother?

  • Every 0.1 C that we prevent has an enormous impact on quality of life, especially for our children and their children.
    It is too late to prevent every harm from climate change -- we are already seeing devastating impacts, from extreme weather events to species extinction. But there is so much human and non-human life in the world for which we can still make the world a better place, especially future generations. 

    NASA scientists said, “Humans have caused major climate changes to happen already, and we have set in motion more changes still. However, if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, the rise in global temperatures would begin to flatten within a few years. Temperatures would then plateau but remain well-elevated for many, many centuries. There is a time lag between what we do and when we feel it, but that lag is less than a decade” (NASA. Is it too late to prevent climate change?)

  • When it comes to limiting climate change, the faster we reduce our emissions, the better off we will be. The goal is to limit climate change to 1.5 C.
    While it may be too late to avoid or limit some of the worst effects of climate change (especially since some changes have already occurred and some are inevitable due to our past choices), the good news is that now we know what causes it and what to do to stop it.  This will take courage, ambition, and a push to create change, but it can be done.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Agenda 6 report makes it clear  that “every bit of warming matters.” 

    When well-known writer and climate activist, Bill McKibben, founder of both 350.org and the Third Act, spoke at Carleton University in February 2024, he also emphasized that while it is too late to fully stop climate change, it is critical that we act now to mitigate some of its worst effects.

    In agreement, writers Rebecca Solnic and Thelma Young Lutunatabua state: It is late. We are deep in an emergency. But it is not too late, because the emergency is not over. The outcome is not decided.  We are deciding it now.

  • In the City of Ottawa, we know how to do our part to limit climate change. We have to start doing it!
    The Climate Change Master Plan (Ottawa CCMP) is the city’s plan for mitigating and adapting to climate change. It has committed to priorities to be implemented between 2020 and 2025. For example, Energy Evolution is the plan for how Ottawa will meet its targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The problem is that we are substantially off-track and not making the changes necessary to protect our quality of life (2023 Progress Report on the CCMP).
  • We don’t have much time, But if we are prepared to act now and act together, we can substantially reduce the rate of global warming and prevent the worst impacts of climate change from occurring. Reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is an ambitious goal, one that will require substantial effort across every sector of the economy. 

    Addressing climate change has two fundamental strategies (Ottawa CCMP)
    - Mitigation strategies seek to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that cause climate change. GHGs are caused by burning fossil fuels
    - Adaptation and resiliency strategies seek to reduce the harmful impacts of climate change.

    To avoid the worst effects of climate change, the world must make significant progress toward decarbonization (reducing carbon from the atmosphere and replacing fossil fuels in our economies with renewable and clean energy sources) by 2030 and commit ourselves to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This energy transition is no small feat and will require a range of solutions applied together, to reach the goal.

    Similarly, the IPCC report tells us that transformation is now inevitable. The choice is between the transformations we choose and those forced on us by the climate we have altered. …where once we emphasized science and technology as the bridges to a climate-resilient future, the IPCC report recognizes a fundamental fact: climate change is a problem of people.  We already have the technology we need to mitigate and adapt to climate change. (Edward R Carr).

  • As Katherine Hayhoe has said, “Every action matters.”
    You can be part of the climate change solution and activate others, too. It is important that we use our voices for climate action, changing the climate story from despair to possibility:

    • Tell your Ottawa City Councillor that you care about climate change and want to see policies that address greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts. We have heard city councillors say they often only hear from the naysayers. They need to know that you support them in making unprecedented decisions to accelerate climate action in the City of Ottawa.

    • Talk to your family and your neighbours. We know these conversations can seem like a recipe for discord and hard feelings. It starts with meeting people where they are. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has resources to help you break the climate silence with family and friends to help pave the way for action on climate change.

    • Talk about climate change where you work, and with any other organization you are part of. “The majority of Canadians are increasingly concerned about climate change and are willing to engage in a conversation about the transition away from fossil fuels” (Re.Climate. Climate Communications Playbook).

    • Join an organization that shares your values and priorities to help amplify your voice. Collective change begins with understanding the risks climate change poses and the actions that can be taken together to reduce emissions and build resilience. The better parts are better largely because of grassroots campaigns, popular movements and Indigenous uprisings by people who believed it was worth trying to act on their beliefs and commitments.

For more information

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, Michael E. Mann, Columbia University Press (2012).

Not too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility, Rebecca Solnit (Editor) and Thelma Young Tununatubua (Editor), Haymarket Goods, April 14,2023

Transformative Change Assessment, Dr. Edward Carr, Stockholm Environmental Institute.

The Great Derangement, Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Amitav Ghosh, University of Chicago Press (2016).

Doppelganger, Naomi Klein, Alfred A. Knopf Canada (2023).

Saving us, a Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World, Katherine Hayhoe, Atria Books (2021).

The Flag, the Cross and the Station wagon, A Graying American looks back at his Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened, Bill Mckibben, Henry Holt & Co. (2022).

Economy

This backgrounder is finished, and we are working hard to get it online to support you.
Please check back soon.

Renewable Energy and Batteries

This backgrounder is finished, and we are working hard to get it online to support you.
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All child labour and forced labour must be stopped! Justice must be a driving principle of climate action!

Use this brief to respond to concerns, such as:

  • Batteries in electric vehicles (EV) require minerals mined in countries with human rights abuses.  
  • Child labour is used to mine cobalt and lithium used in EV batteries.

Speaking Notes:

  • We all agree with you, child labour and forced labour must be stopped!
    In Canada, The Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act came into force on January 1st, 2024. It requires companies to provide the federal government with an annual report containing information about the use of forced labour or child labour in its business and supply chains. The statute will prohibit these items from being imported into Canada.  The United States also has legislation proposed to help prevent child labour in their supply chains. 
  • During climate action, we must address human rights. This is called climate justice.
    This is a different way of thinking about climate action. It is more than reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, it  is about working together to create a better future for everyone. Climate justice calls on us to think bigger. It calls on us to think of our efforts to protect our planet as a civil rights movement.
  • “The race to net zero cannot trample over the poor...The renewables revolution is happening, but we must make sure that it is done in a way that moves us towards justice”
    (Launching new initiative to protect key minerals for clean energy transition). In April 2024, the United Nations convened a diverse group of people to embed the principles of justice, fairness and sustainability into the entire process of sourcing and using critical minerals needed for the clean energy transition. People from governments, organisations and UN bodies are organized in the newly established Panel on Critical Energy Transition Minerals. Canada is a member of the panel.
  • The unfortunate reality is that forced labour exists in the supply chains of many products that we consume in Canada.
    “This type of exploitation in the workplace is happening in virtually every country in the world, including Canada, and stretches across ethnic, cultural and religious lines…Men, women and children may be forced to harvest crops and ingredients used in food products; extract raw materials such as minerals used in electronics; manufacture products such as textiles and clothing in factories; and deliver or ship goods. Both major and lesser-known brands can be involved” (Fighting against forced and child labour in supply chains)
  • It is the Federal government’s role to protect human rights in the global supply chain during the energy transition.
    The Federal government is responsible for matters of international trade. The City of Ottawa must do their part to accelerate the energy transition and help prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
  • There are ongoing efforts to explore alternative battery technologies, recycling technology or relocating where materials are sourced.
    In Canada, Canada’s new Critical Minerals Strategy, includes recycling in addition to extraction. In the European Union, from 2024 onward new rules are being brought in to require increasingly more used batteries to be recycled and increasingly larger amounts of valuable minerals, including cobalt and lithium to be recovered. Individual corporations have also been seen to switch their supply chain. BMW relocated their supply chain to source materials from Morocco, and the remainder from Australia to supply their batteries from 2020 onward. (Making Mining Safe and Fair: Artisanal cobalt extraction in the Democratic Republic of the Congo ). Most recently in the news, a deal was made to strengthen their North American supply chain, where they’re attempting to localise it. The announced Umicore deal, Automotive Energy Supply Corporations (AESC) and BWM will be the first customers of electric vehicle battery components. BMW, AESC to be first Umicore customers in Bath | The Kingston Whig Standard.  A new Ontario, Canada plant will supply cathode active battery materials to AESC and BWM. BMW secures new battery material supplier in Canada | Manufacturing Dive
  • Canadian mining companies are working hard to get back in the game for lithium mining. Canada is in fact the 5th or 7th (depending on what you read) source of Cobalt in the world. And for example, “Quebec is a highly attractive investment destination for lithium production because of its supportive resource development sector, access to skilled labour, and its proximity to high-growth electric vehicle markets in North America and Europe” (Canada’s lithium is in Quebec).
  • Organizations are working hard to protect people and the environment during mining operations.
    For example, groups like MiningWatch Canada, are dedicated to ensuring that mining that goes on in Canada follows strict environmental regulations and engages Indigenous peoples. MiningWatch also keeps an eye on abuses by Canadian mining companies overseas. Internationally, “Children’s rights are enshrined in the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the most ratified human rights treaty in the world…Article 42 of the Convention is a commitment to educate children and adults about child rights, but it seldom happens. Ignorance of rights puts children at greater risk of abuse, discrimination and exploitation” (Children’s Human Rights)

Further reading

Climate Justice
An article by the United Nations that introduces and explains climate justice. “The impacts of climate change will not be borne equally or fairly, between rich and poor, women and men, and older and younger generations. Consequently, there has been a growing focus on climate justice, which looks at the climate crisis through a human rights lens and on the belief that by working together we can create a better future for present and future generations.”

Cobalt Mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Addressing Root Causes of Human Rights Abuses
A well-rounded and concise discussion of the complex issue – and potential solutions.”Based on field research conducted in the DRC, the analysis details how the formalization of [Artisanal Small-Scale Mining] is a viable approach for addressing root causes of human rights abuses in cobalt mining, alleviating extreme poverty in mining communities, and meeting the projected global demand for cobalt.”

The constitutional distribution of legislative powers
“In Canada, there are two orders of government: the federal government and provincial governments…Municipal government is not a constitutional order of government. Municipalities are established by the provincial legislatures which delegate some of their powers to municipal governments.”

Fighting against forced and child labour in supply chains
“Starting in January 2024, many Canadian companies will have to report in writing what they did this year to prevent or reduce forced or child labour in their supply chains…According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), nearly 28 million people, including children, were in situations of forced labour in 2021, an increase of 2.7 million over 2016 global estimates.”

U.S. Seeks To Limit Products Containing Minerals Mined With Child Labour In The D.R.C.
“A ban targeting working conditions which infringe on human rights and the partnerships which allow those conditions to exist would strike a firm blow against child labour and its proponents. The U.S. must stop supporting child labour and by extension, through the ownership of the mines, China, through its purchase of cobalt from the D.R.C.”

The Canadian Critical Minerals Strategy. From Exploration to Recycling: Powering the Green and Digital Economy for Canada and the World
“Critical minerals are the building blocks for the green and digital economy. There is no energy transition without critical minerals: no batteries, no electric cars, no wind turbines and no solar panels. The sun provides raw energy, but electricity flows through copper. Wind turbines need manganese, platinum and rare earth magnets. Nuclear power requires uranium. Electric vehicles require batteries made with lithium, cobalt and nickel and magnets. Indium and tellurium are integral to solar panel manufacturing….It is therefore paramount for countries around the world to establish and maintain resilient critical minerals value chains that adhere to the highest ESG standards. It is also important that we partner with Indigenous peoples — including ensuring that long-term benefits flow to Indigenous communities.”

We don’t have to choose between wildlife or wind energy. We can have both, and we need both.

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

  • Wind turbines kill too many birds 
  • Wind turbines are not able to coexist with wildlife like birds and bats 

Speaking notes:

  • Bird mortality caused by wind turbines is not a population-level concern.
    While concerns about bird mortality due to wind turbines have been raised, studies in recent years report that the overall mortality impact is not of population-level concern in Ontario. The Wind Energy Bird and Bat Monitoring Database ("the Database”) is described as a joint initiative established in 2008. It was established to enable the collection and analysis of bird and bat monitoring information from Canadian wind power projects (Wind Energy Bird and Bat Monitoring Database Summary, 2018).

    A Bird Studies Canada committee on the Wind Energy project then concluded that, “while turbines do cause low levels of bird mortality in Canada, these levels are not significant enough to pose a threat to bird populations compared to other major sources of mortality” (Wind Energy Bird and Bat Monitoring Database Summary, 2018). This report is in collaboration with Bird Studies Canada, Canadian Wind Energy Association, Environment and Climate Change Canada and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
  • We have tools, techniques and technology available today that are successful at reducing bat mortality.
    Dr. Christina Davy at Carleton University, identified bat expert, who has contributed to much of this work, has spoken up about her research on bats and turbines, as there are serious concerns with a few species of migratory bats. She advocates that we need “bat-friendly” wind energy. The good news is, this is entirely possible. When it comes to bats, Davy states, “The good news is that we have tools to reduce the mortality from wind turbines,” Dr. Davy added. “They’re not ones the industry loves, but they work.” (Globe and Mail Article, 2023).
  • Curtailment can reduce bat mortality.
    Curtailment means to restrict or reduce something. In the context of turbines, the slowing of rotating speed at certain hours when there is the highest wildlife activity (Wind Energy Bird and Bat Monitoring Database Summary, 2018).
  • Siting, where turbines are specifically located, can help reduce mortality.
    This could include avoiding areas that are known to be biodiversity hotspots, or important areas for birds or bats. 
  • Participate in environmental assessment and Renewable Energy Approval (REA) processes to protect birds and bats.
    Environmental assessment is how the decisions are made to prevent and reduce mortality by a specific wind power project. By law, a Renewable Energy Approval (REA) is needed from the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks for wind projects (Renewable Energy Approvals | ontario.ca). This process includes environmental assessment and results in the technical approvals that enable and prescribe how a project may proceed to construction and operation. It determines what species are present, potential impacts and how impacts will be reduced or avoided. These processes require site assessments and studies, planning and reporting as well as consultation with municipalities, indigenous communities and the public. So get engaged to help protect what is important to you!

Further reading

Wind Energy Bird & Bat Monitoring Database - Project resources 
The Wind Energy Bird and Bat Monitoring Database (“the Database”) is described as a joint initiative established in 2008. It was established to enable the collection and analysis of bird and bat monitoring information from Canadian wind power projects. 

Longcore, T., and P. A. Smith. 2013. On avian mortality associated with human activities. Avian Conservation and Ecology 8(2): 1
This study compares various sources of mortality of birds in Canada.

Major threats to birds in Canada. Birds Canada | Oiseaux Canada 
If you’d like to learn more about birds, then Birds Canada is a great resource to start with. They’re one of Canada’s national bird conservation organizations dedicated to the conservation of birds. Their website offers accessible material to learn more about the leading causes of bird mortality in Canada of most concern.

Mississauga cat owners urged to keep their pets indoors to save the birds
Read about how the City of Mississauga is addressing the free-roaming cat problem in cities with keeping birds safe as the objective.

Ottawa bird deaths prompt scrutiny of window collisions
Local news in Ottawa that highlights the point about infrastructure, building and window collisions as a threat to birds. 

“Live in a house? Have a bird feeder?  Ever hear a thud from a window? Chances are that it was a bird collision.”
Use this Nature Canada resource to understand more about the direct human causes of bird deaths of more concern.

Davy, C. M., Squires, K., & Zimmerling, J. R. (2021). Estimation of spatiotemporal trends in bat abundance from mortality data collected at wind turbines. Conservation Biology, 35(1), 227-238. A research paper that details the mortality data collected to support the work on understanding bat species decline. 

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.”

The Transportation Sector is Responsible for 28% of Canada’s GHG emissions, second only to the Oil and Gas Sector!

Use this brief to respond to the following climate misinformation:

  • Cars built after 2005 emit 99% less pollution than an early 1970s car

Speaking points:

  • Engine efficiencies have improved but Canada is still one of the top global emitters of carbon pollution per capita.
    Transportation is a big part of the overall emissions.  Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transport sector have increased by 27% between 1990 and 2021, despite improvements in fuel efficiency.  Did you know that Canada has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the world, with more than one vehicle for every two people?
  • Emissions from transportation have increased since the 90’s because we have more vehicles and they are bigger!
    In 1980, SUVs made up less than 2% of new car production in America.  In 2022, that number was closer to 50%. Vehicles have become bigger and heavier since the 70’s. The fuel consumption of a mid-size internal combustion engine car increases by about 1% for every 25 kg of weight. So despite some improvements in engine efficiencies that allow a vehicle to go further on a litre of gas, emissions overall are still increasing.
  • We have so many cars because Canada has built a car-centric infrastructure.  We are forced to rely on cars.
    Car ownership in rural, suburban and even urban centers is personally costly and has expensive externalities borne by city property tax ratepayers.  The lack of safe active transportation options and inadequate public transportation necessitate vehicle ownership.  Vehicles enable people to live further away from the workplace and the services they need and want.  Urban sprawl is detrimental to greenspace, agricultural lands, and the ecosystem.  Urban sprawl puts more cars on the road, often in gridlock, during rush hours.  The cycle repeats with ever-increasing GHG emissions, health impacts, and wasted economic potential.
  • Less fuel burned means less carbon dioxide pollution emitted.  About 95%-99% of all of the carbon pollution from burning fuel in vehicles is released as CO2.
    When a litre of gasoline is burned, it produces approximately 2.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2).  How can that be?  The weight of a carbon ( C ) atom is much less than the weight of the carbon dioxide molecule (C+O2).  Canadians drive more than 300 billion kilometres each year, consuming up to 44 billion litres of gasoline.   That’s 101.2 billion kg of C02 per year! 
  • What about that last 1% or so of emissions?  We’ve made significant reductions that improve air quality and human health.
    It’s important to distinguish between greenhouse gases and other smog gases like carbon monoxide that harm human health.  The other 1%-5% of emissions are scrubbed to a large extent by the vehicle emission control system (catalytic converter).  Today, these trace smog emissions are negligible in well-maintained vehicles.
  • To prevent the worst possible impacts of climate change, we must reduce our reliance on the internal combustion engine to get where we want to go.
    We must find a way to reduce our reliance on personal vehicles or, even better, design our cities to enable us to walk, bike and take public transit to get what we need.  Driving vehicles with an internal combustion engine contributed to 44% of our GHG emissions in the City of Ottawa in 2020. This is second only to burning natural gas in our buildings, contributing 45% of our GHG emissions in 2020. 

Resources:

AutoSmart driver training:Driving and the environment.
Videos and transcripts that describe driving and the environment in Canada.   

Catalytic Converters. Let's Talk Science. 
A deep dive into the function of the catalytic converter and how it deals with criteria air contaminants (CACs).  Carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides make up 1%-5% of emissions.  Learn how these CACs are processed within a catalytic converter to help prevent the release of smog causing gases.

Greenhouse gas emissions — National Inventory Report (NIR) : Canadian Centre for Energy Information. 
See a graphical view of how Canada’s emissions have changed since 1990.  View the information at the national or provincial level and zoom into a specific sector like transportation which shows an increase of about 27%.

 Natural Resources Canada. (2014). Learn the facts: Emissions from your vehicle.
The difference between CACs and greenhouse gases is well explained.  The interesting quote is “Today’s vehicles produce 99% fewer CACs than vehicles built in the 1970s thanks to advances in engine and emission control technologies and improved fuel quality standards.”  This refers to the 1%-5% of the overall vehicle emissions. This has nothing to do with the remaining 95% to 99% of vehicle emissions!  

The Loophole That Made Cars in America So Big.
Light duty trucks were allowed to bypass regulations that mandated improvements to fuel efficiency starting in the 1970s.  SUVs were lumped into the light duty truck bucket as they were classified as off-road.  

Accomplishments and Successes of Reducing Air Pollution from Transportation in the United States. The US EPA also makes it clear that the emissions reductions that have been dramatically reduced do not include carbon dioxide (CO2). “Compared to 1970 vehicle models, new cars, SUVs and pickup trucks are roughly 99 percent cleaner for common pollutants (hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particle emissions).“

What are the Car Exhaust Gases & Emissions?
An automotive industry view on how the catalytic converter manages CACs.  From industry's perspective, C02  is one of the three “most desirable by-products of combustion”.  Even with perfect engine combustion, the only way to eliminate emissions of carbon dioxide is to stop burning gas.

Cars sit idle 96% of the time in Canada
" And yet three out of four Canadians feel life would be impossible without one "

Damage from extreme weather events has increased due to climate change

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

  • Costs associated with extreme weather events are growing because we have more infrastructure, not because they are caused by climate change.
  • We cannot attribute rising infrastructure costs of extreme weather events to climate change
  • The costs of extreme weather events have increased dramatically. Insurance payouts clearly show this.
    According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, recent losses have been 20 times that of the 1980s. This doesn’t account for much larger uninsured losses. In the 1980s, property and casualty (P&C) insurance paid less than $100 million a year, on average in severe weather damage claims.  This changed suddenly with the 1998 ice storm, for which insured losses in Canada exceeded $2 billion.
  • The city of Ottawa has experienced exponential growth of costs to respond to severe weather events.
    Notably the May 2022 derecho storm recovery effort cost the City $18.8 million. This has a significant impact on residents and businesses. Understanding the financial risks related to climate change is critical to understanding the City’s financial sustainability.
  • Increased exposure and age of infrastructure are important factors.
    More people are moving to risky areas and building more infrastructure. This increased exposure magnifies the effects of other factors, including climate change. Meanwhile, aging infrastructure, such as storm sewers, are becoming more vulnerable due to lack of maintenance.
  • Climate change has already contributed to extreme weather events.
    Ottawa’s average temperature has increased by 1.3 degrees since the mid 1940s. Higher temperatures increase the risk of heatwaves, drought, and wildfire. Warmer air carries more moisture, increasing the risk of extreme rainfall events and severe storms. In 2017, flood levels on the Ottawa River reached the 1 in 50-year flood event; in 2019, the flood levels approached the 1 in 100-year event. 
  • Attribution studies show that climate change has made extreme weather events more likely or severe.
    The rapidly developing field of attribution science can determine the degree to which human-caused climate change increased the likelihood or severity of an extreme weather event (by comparing climate simulations – validated using real world observations – that include and exclude human influence). For example, the record-breaking heatwave that afflicted western Canada in 2021 (when wildfire destroyed most of the village of Lytton, B.C.) would have been virtually impossible without global warming. More recently, and closer to home, climate change more than doubled the likelihood of the extreme fire conditions experienced by eastern Canada in 2023.
  • Climate risk is projected to increase.
    “Climate risk” refers to potential damages from the effects of climate change. As the global temperature increases, so will the frequency and severity of extreme weather events; Canada is warming about twice as fast as the global average. Assessments by the City of Ottawa and the NCC highlight such risks as:
    • extreme heat, drought, and humidity, which will increase illness, reduce agricultural yields, and degrade our ecosystems;
    • seasonal variability and change leading to more invasive pests and diseases and more damage to infrastructure from freeze-thaw cycles;
    • more precipitation causing more flooding and erosion, and disruptions to planting and harvesting; and 
    • more extreme weather events.
  • We can reduce future costs through mitigation and adaptation.
    Mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation (building infrastructure that is more resilient to climate risk) are both essential. More global warming means more unpredictability and higher costs, so we need to transition to a clean economy quickly. At the same time, we need to build infrastructure that is flood resistant, and manage our forests to reduce the risk of extreme wildfires. Discouraging development in the riskier areas is also important.

Further Reading

Fact check: Is climate change increasing the cost of insurance in Canada?

  • A journalistic fact check based on expert interviews
  • Quote by Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Change Adaptation at the University of Waterloo: "It is climate change -- combined with loss of natural infrastructure, combined with aging municipal infrastructure, combined with aging housing, combined with finished basements" 

Newman R, Noy I. The global costs of extreme weather that are attributable to climate change. Nature Communications [Internet]. 2023 Sep 29;14(1):6103. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-023-41888-1
This study estimated the global costs of damage attributable to climate change to average 143 billion USD per year from 2000-2019. The authors noted that this likely underestimates the true costs due to the lack of data from certain regions. It also doesn’t account for indirect impacts, such as loss of productivity or trauma.

Uninsured (Grist)
A four-part series about how climate change is destabilizing the global insurance market, with a particular focus on the U.S. It starts with an overview of the problem, and then focuses on specific risks: flooding, wildfire, and crop failure.

From Research to Action: The Growing Impact of Attribution Science - Union of Concerned Scientists (ucsusa.org)
A summary of attribution science and how it can be used.

Wildfire climate connection (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

  • This NOAA article summarizes research about the relationship between climate change and wildfires in the U.S.
  • Quote: “Research shows that changes in climate create warmer, drier conditions, leading to longer and more active fire seasons. Increases in temperatures and the thirst of the atmosphere due to human--caused climate change have increased aridity of forest fuels during the fire season. These drivers were found to be responsible for over half the observed decrease in the moisture content of fuels in western U.S. forests from 1979 to 2015, and the doubling of forest fire burned area over the period 1984–2015.”

Western North American extreme heat virtually impossible without human-caused climate change – World Weather Attribution

  • A summary of an attribution study, with a link to the published paper.
  • Quote: “[...] the occurrence of a heatwave with maximum daily temperatures (TXx) as observed in the area 45–52 ºN, 119–123 ºW, was virtually impossible without human-caused climate change. [...] in a world with 2°C of global warming (0.8°C warmer than today which at current emission levels would be reached as early as the 2040s), this event would have been another degree hotter. An event like this – currently estimated to occur only once every 1000 years, would occur roughly every 5 to 10 years in that future world with 2°C of global warming.”

Climate change more than doubled the likelihood of extreme fire weather conditions in Eastern Canada – World Weather Attribution

  • A summary of an attribution study, with a link to the published paper.
  • Quote: “Climate change made the cumulative severity of Québec’s 2023 fire season to the end of July around 50% more intense, and seasons of this severity at least seven times more likely to occur. Peak fire weather (FWI7x) like that experienced this year is at least twice as likely, and the intensity has increased by about 20% due to human-induced climate change.”

Canada’s Changing Climate Report
“Canada’s Changing Climate Report (CCCR), completed in 2019, assessed the state of knowledge on how and why Canada’s climate has changed and what changes are projected for the future. The report is national in scope and provides the Canadian context to the issue of global-scale climate change. The CCCR builds on information from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments available at the time.” (Canada’s Changing Climate Report - Canada.ca)

Canada’s Changing Climate Report in Light of the Latest Global Science Assessment
“This new report is a Supplement to the 2019 Canada’s Changing Climate Report. It provides some perspectives on the implications of the findings of the recently completed IPCC report Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis for the conclusions of the 2019 Canada’s Changing Climate Report.” (Canada’s Changing Climate Report - Canada.ca)

Adapting to Climate Change (National Capital Commission)

  • A summary of the NCC’s climate change adaptation project: “The climate change adaptation project consists of three phases: climate projections study, vulnerability and risk assessment, and the development of an adaptation plan.”
  • Links to the NCC’s Climate Vulnerability & Risk Assessment Report (not to be confused by the City of Ottawa’s report with the same name – see below), as well as climate projections

Climate Risks Report (Insurance Institute of Canada)

  • This report attributes most of the increased costs from extreme weather events to increased exposure and vulnerability of infrastructure, but it identifies climate change as an important contributor that is projected to become more significant over time. (It was published in 2020, before many more recent extreme weather events took place.)
  • Quote: “Recently there have been many large loss events. This includes Canada’s most destructive hail storm (2010), urban flooding (2013), wildfire (2016), tornado (2018), severe wind (2018), and residential overland flooding (2019). Since 2013, industry severe weather damage claims averaged $2.1 billion a year. Since the 1980s, severe weather claims paid by the Canadian insurance industry doubled every 5 to 10 years, after adjustment for inflation. Recent losses are 20 times that of the early 1980s.” (p. 54)

Flood Plain Mapping and Climate Change (City of Ottawa)

  • Information about the city’s flood plain maps, and how they are being updated to account for climate change risk
  • Quote: “Ottawa’s climate is already changing.
  • Average temperatures have increased by 1.3 degrees Celsius since the mid 1940s.
  • More severe weather events in recent years such as heat waves, tornadoes, and significant flooding along the Ottawa River.
  • In 2017 flood levels on the Ottawa River reached the 1 in 50-year flood event, and in 2019, the flood levels approached the 1 in 100-year event.”

Climate Resiliency (City of Ottawa)

  • Summarizes (1) how climate change is currently affecting the city, (2) projected changes, and (3) what can be done to manage climate risks.
  • Links to the city’s Climate Vulnerability and Risk Assessment report; a quote from the report itself (p. iv): “if no further adaptive actions are taken, the climate related hazards associated with extreme heat, seasonal variability, precipitation, extreme weather events and global climate change are expected to present as significant risks to the physical and mental health of residents, visitors and staff, the construction, operation and maintenance of City infrastructure, the delivery of community, emergency and recreational programs and services, the operation of the economy and the natural function of ecosystems.”

The First Public Report of the National Risk Profile (Public Safety Canada)

  • A national-level risk assessment for understanding and managing Canada’s vulnerability to natural disasters (completed in May 2023)
  • Quote: “The 2019 Canada's Changing Climate Report shows that Canada’s climate is warming at twice the global average rate and even faster in northern regions, putting the population, economy and environment at a higher risk of natural hazards leading to disasters. Climate change also increases the intensity of climate extremes—acute natural hazard events that are responsible for many of the disasters in Canada. The Insurance Institute of Canada’s New Climate Risks Report explores risks and solutions and indicates that the average annual severe weather claims paid by insurers in Canada is expected to double over the next 10 years, increasing from $2.1 billion to $5 billion annually.”

Adapting to Rising Flood Risk - An Analysis of Insurance Solutions for Canada (Public Safety Canada)

  • A Report by Canada's Task Force on Flood Insurance and Relocation (August 2022)
  • Section 1.2, Key Drivers of Canada's Flood Risk, discusses flood risks from both climate change and other factors (increased population density and development in at-risk areas). Climate-driven contributions to flood risk include:
  • warmer temperatures that increase the frequency and severity of extreme precipitation events;
  • rising sea levels, for coastal areas;
  • extreme heat (through wildfire and droughts that reduce the ability of ecosystems to absorb water).

City of Ottawa 2022 Annual Report

  • Includes the section, “Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures” (pp. 96-112), which relates the city’s finances to climate-related metrics and risks, and its plans to address those risks.
  • “The voluntary disclosures enhance the reliability and transparency of climate information and are structured around four areas that represent core elements of how organizations operate: governance, strategy, risk management, and metrics and targets.” (p. 98)
  • This section references other climate-related reports by the city.

Urban Planning

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.

15-minute neighbourhoods will improve quality of life for everyone!

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

  • 15-minute cities are part of an agenda to lock people in their homes or neighbourhoods and restrict their activity

Don’t be fooled by anyone who claims 15-minute neighbourhoods are part of a strategy to lock us in neighbourhoods. Mobility is protected by our charter rights. In Canada, freedom to move about, also called mobility rights, is enshrined and protected by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedom. It would be unconstitutional and illegal for the City of Ottawa to create a by-law that would restrict our freedom to a 15-minute walk from home.

What are 15-minute neighbourhoods? It is a conceptual idea. Everyone’s 15-minute neighbourhood will be different. It is about each of us having more of what we need and enjoy (like groceries, medical services, schools, and entertainment) within a 15-minute walk from home.

Imagine popping out to get a few ingredients for breakfast within a 15-minute walk from home. You can walk your dog at the same time. Along the way, you can chat with familiar and unfamiliar faces. Imagine if we could create this quality of life for ourselves, where we live right now!

It’s about asking ourselves the question, "Can I get to a coffee shop, a grocery store, a park, and a library in just a 15-minute walk from my home?" If you can’t, you are forced to use your car to get what you need and enjoy. 

15-minute cities increase our freedom to live our lives the way we want to. People enjoy this quality of life in other cities around the world every day! For example, 94% of Parisiens live within a five-minute walk of a bakery. You have the freedom to choose to go wherever you please. Most everything you need and enjoy is within a 15-minute walk from home and you are also free to jump on your bike, the bus, the train or in your car to travel farther.

It’s more like creating small-town living in a big city. When we say 15-minute neighbourhoods, we don’t mean create more “downtowns.” Downtowns typically are financial and commercial districts where most of us commute for work. They also are the location of large-scale venues, such as convention centres and our biggest entertainment and sports facilities. With 15-minute cities, we are talking about having smaller businesses (gyms, libraries, grocery stores, pharmacies, bookstores) serve local neighbourhoods. Imagine the small business community that could evolve! 

People in Ottawa want to live their lives close to home. In a 2020 survey of over 4000 residents of the City of Ottawa, the top three choices for amenities to have within a 15-minute walk from home were:

1. Grocery stores and supermarkets 

2. Parks with or without playgrounds or splash pads 

3. Retail/commercial, such as restaurants, bookstores, laundry/dry cleaners, bakeries, pet stores, bars, and convenience stores

15-minute neighbourhoods improve the quality of life for everyone, regardless of how much money you make or were born into. They also mean more freedom for people living with disadvantages, such as limited mobility, vision, etc. We can walk to get more of what we need and enjoy!

Unfortunately, we typically build cities for cars instead of people. We’re forced to drive to different areas of the city to get what we need. That’s not freedom; it’s forced adaptation. It’s no wonder we “prefer” cars! Walking, taking the bus, or biking to other parts of our city is often absurdly time-consuming and unpleasant.

For more information

The 15-Minute City Freakout Is a Case Study in Conspiracy Paranoia

“The term doesn’t describe a discrete area with barriers — it’s a planning approach that tries to ensure that schools, health-care facilities, parks and other amenities are spread equitably across neighborhoods, limiting the need for lengthy commutes and expanding job access. The time span in the name refers simply to what a person can easily reach from their home. Every resident’s 15 minute radius is going to be different; a city of a million homes will have a million overlapping 15-minute cities.”

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Mobility rights are a protected right in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Scroll down and find mobility rights listed third (Sections 6[1] and 6[2]), immediately after Fundamental Freedoms and Democratic Rights. 

What People Get Wrong About Dense Urban Living – Oh the Urbanity!

A 7-minute video by Oh the Urbanity! “Discussions of urbanism often devolve into fights between ‘downtown living’ and ‘suburban (or small town) living.’ This misses something big — most city-dwellers don't actually live ‘downtown.’ They live in dense residential neighbourhoods outside of downtown. We understand the aversion that many people have to ‘downtown living’ because it can feel overwhelming, noisy, and crowded, but urban density does not have to be like that. It can actually be quite peaceful and calming. In this video, we cover our experiences based on living in older, denser parts of Toronto and Montreal.”

Urbanism: Not Just a Big City Thing! 

An 11-minute video by Oh the Urbanity!  “We usually talk about big cities on this channel — Toronto, Montreal, San Francisco, New York. But most of the same ideas about housing and transportation also apply to smaller cities too. In this video, we take a look at Halifax, a smaller city in Atlantic Canada.”

7 Rules for Creating 15-Minute Neighbourhoods

Daniel Herriges’ rules for making 15-minute neighbourhoods:

  1. Bring back the neighbourhood school.
  2. Make sure food and basic necessities are available locally.
  3. Third places come in all shapes and sizes.
  4. House enough people, and all kinds of people.
  5. Density isn't enough.
  6. Sweat the small stuff for true walkability.
  7. Know when to get out of the way.

Walkable Ottawa

Walkable Ottawa is taking practical steps to create walkable neighbourhoods in Ottawa to help make us smarter, healthier, happier, safer and greener.

Complete Streets in the 15-Minute City

An intern at The Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) wrote this report to better understand the reciprocal nature of the urban planning concepts of Complete Streets and the 15 Minute City.

The 15-Minute Cities Conspiracy (with Adam Something)

A 40-minute video by the Urbanist Agenda. “The 15-minute cities conspiracy has almost nothing to do with urban planning, and everything to do with climate change denialism. Urban planning has just become the latest topic to get caught up in the culture war.”

Ottawa’s New Official Plan: 15-minute Neighbourhoods

“The 15-minute neighbourhood study is the first step at understanding the components of a 15-minute neighbourhood as they evolve across Ottawa’s urban, suburban, and rural transects. This study of 15-minute neighbourhoods is composed primarily of two different mapping exercises, one looking at access to available services and amenities, and the other focuses on the safety and enjoyability of the pedestrian environment with respect to walking to these services and amenities.”

15-Minute Neighbourhoods Baseline Report: Appendix C – Public Survey Analysis & Rural Survey Analysis

“An online public survey was conducted in summer 2020 to understand the public’s needs and desires for a 15-minute neighbourhood. The survey duration was approximately six weeks and received over 4,000 respondents. The survey included optional demographic questions including age, gender, those with and without children at home, and those who use mobility aids.”

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