Programs Director, Environmental Defence Canada
We asked Keith Brooks, Programs Director at Environmental Defence Canada, to share his expertise on renewable energy, climate change, and plastic pollution.
Why is renewable energy important for protecting our environment?
The combustion of fossil fuels — coal, oil, and gas — is the main cause of climate change, which is arguably the most pressing environmental issue of our time. Renewable energy, on the other hand, doesn’t produce carbon pollution. We can meet our energy needs without cooking the planet. Renewable energy is the key to that.
Which forms of renewable energy are the most efficient?
Efficiency isn’t what matters most — the important thing is for the energy to meet the needs of the users, so it needs to be available where and when it’s needed, and it needs to be affordable. To meet all our needs, we need multiple forms of renewable energy — wind, water, solar, and likely some biofuels — and these should be widely distributed, mostly connected via an electricity grid, and backed up by reliable storage.
What changes to daily life can the average person make in an effort to stop climate change?
Individual efforts matter, but it’s collective action that matters most. Just as with the COVID-19 pandemic, the sum of all our actions together, and especially those taken by our government, can arrest climate change. If we work together, daily life won’t change that much.
Canada’s electricity grid is already very low-carbon. If we upgrade our buildings to make them more efficient, swap out our existing cars and trucks for electric- and hydrogen-powered cars, and trucks that run on renewable fuels, we’re more than halfway there. Industry would be the remaining challenge, but there are solutions there, too. The thing that people often don’t appreciate is that addressing climate change will make our lives better — more energy efficient, cleaner, with more space for nature, and more opportunities to walk, cycle, and be active.
How is Canada dealing with plastic pollution? What changes must be made in order to put an end to the problem?
Canada has committed to ban some single use plastics by 2021 and to make the producers of plastic products responsible for dealing with their disposal. The government has yet to announce which plastics they’re going to ban, however, and will need to release that information soon if they’re to follow through on the commitment.
They also need to clarify how they’ll hold producers responsible for the waste they create. Right now, a company can make and package a product with no regard for what happens to that product once it’s purchased. We need to change the laws to ensure that plastic products must be recyclable, which isn’t a requirement today, and ensure that companies are, in fact, recycling those products, or they’ll be fined or otherwise penalized. There will be push back, but the government needs to be firm on this to solve the problem.
What can we do to change the consequences of biofuels?
We need a smart and well-designed biofuels policy that ensures the worst products don’t end up here in Canada — we don’t want palm oil, for example. And we need to guard against possible unintended consequences, such as the use of too much fertilizer, or mono-cropping of corn, or impacts to the price of food, or the degradation of natural areas and the biodiversity in those spaces. Biofuels are promising for some applications, but the policy needs to be designed well to ensure we get high quality projects that meet multiple environmental objectives, protecting biodiversity, reducing carbon, and increasing resilience.