Ontario’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray, focused on forestry, Ontario’s cap and trade system and electric cars when he visited Western last Friday.
Around forty students and faculty members came out to the question and answer session with the minister which took place in a small classroom in the Physics and Astronomy Building.
The boreal forest
One of Murray’s focuses was Ontario’s boreal forests. He said climate change is having a surprising effect on the woodlands.
For example, the minister points to an increase in forest fires and problems with invasive species as side effects of climate change.
However, Murray tried to keep things light.
“Secretary of Cabinet Steve Orsini says he stopped reading science fiction and horror novels and just follows the feeds on what’s happening in the boreal forest,” he joked.
Cap and trade
Another of Murray’s focuses was the province’s cap and trade system which is being used to combat greenhouse gas emissions by big companies.
Basically, the province establishes a limit to the amount of greenhouse gas a company can emit each year. Companies who emit less than the cap are eligible to sell their “leftovers” to companies that have emitted more than the annual cap.
“Without having to apply to the government, companies can just trade in the market,” Murray explained. “It’s not a penalizing system, it’s an incentive system.”
Each year, the province lowers the cap, forcing companies to reduce their emissions long term.
The minister also tried to push Canadians to use electric cars. According to Murray, the province provides a reimbursement — equivalent to the price of an electric motor — to anyone who buys an electric car.
In his one-on-one interview with The Gazette, the minister responded to questions about issues the province is having with surplus electricity.
“We probably produce way more energy than we need every year, we just don’t produce it at the right time of day,” Murray said.
Murray said demands peaks in the morning and late afternoon. At night, when demand is low, the nuclear plants are still running and excess energy is being produced.
Murray noted that in an effort to combat this issue, the province is trying the store the surplus energy in batteries.
The Gazette also asked Murray what kind of effects he thinks Trump will have the environmental policy.
Murray cited the parallels between President Trump and former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“He says he wants to pull out of the Paris Agreement, and Mr. Harper pulled us out of Kyoto which was equivalent to Paris,” Murray said. “Mr. Trump wants to subsidize oil development and coal even. Mr. Harper massively subsidized the oil sands and oil development.”
However, he brought up the role that the provinces played in keeping alive environmental activism, even during the Harper administration and believes that the states will take on that role as well.
“I imagine that the U.S. will have a similar kind of debate to what we’ve had in Canada the last ten years and I’m hoping with similar results because if the states do as well as the provinces did, the next ten years the United States will see major G.O.D. reductions,” Murray said.