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Q&A with climate change expert, Michael Bernstein

Climate change exists and its effects are becoming more and more evident. With mountains of information and headlines being thrown at us about the climate crisis, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, hopeless, and maybe even a bit apathetic.

To make sense of it all, I sat down with climate change expert, Michael Bernstein, the curator for the Fight Climate Change with Policy Fund by Unite for Change. Michael is the executive director of Clean Prosperity and an economist by training. He is an advisor to elected leaders across the political spectrum and a frequent commentator on climate policy.

In our interview, we delve deep into the effects of climate change, how we can play a role in fighting it, and why we should not lose hope.

There’s been a lot of talk about the ongoing climate crisis. But for many, it’s hard to imagine how that will affect them personally. What’s really at stake for the average Canadian?

It’s a great question, and there are so many different parts to this answer. But let’s start by looking at how climate change will affect weather patterns. If we continue dumping millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into our air every year, we’ll see more severe weather. For example, flooding that typically happens every 100 years could happen every five to ten years. Even if you don’t experience flooding directly, it could impact the insurability of your home if it’s situated in a flood-prone area.

Many Canadian cities have already broken records for high-temperature weather. Rising temperatures can contribute to droughts, which will impact our ability to grow food and increase food insecurity. For many of us, it’s hard to imagine not being able to go to the grocery store and get whatever we need and want. But it’s there until it’s not. Shortages in basic human needs like water and food can intensify the competition for resources. This can lead to political conflict.

On another note, we’re already finding that Arctic sea ice isn’t forming during the times that it used to. This has a negative impact on many Indigenous communities in the North, who depend on sea ice as an integral part of their culture, community, and livelihood.

The effects of climate change are broad. It affects everybody.

How do we solve this problem then? Is recycling, composting, carpooling, or any other individual initiative the answer?

I think it’s great that so many people want to change and are changing their personal habits. But it doesn’t get to the root problem of greenhouse gas emissions on the massive scale we need. In order for us to solve this problem, our whole system of how we create energy to power things like cars, homes, and factories needs to change.

This can only be done by changing public policy.

How does policy help us address climate change?

We need millions of people to shift their behaviours to ones that benefit our planet. Some will do it on their own because it’s the right thing to do. But most will need some sort of incentive. Policies at all levels of government have the power to do just that.

With the right policies, we can put a price on carbon emissions that will incentivize us to use cleaner fuels. Or, provide funding that supports the development of new low-carbon technologies.

But for those who aren’t policymakers, does that mean we can sit back and relax? Do I need to continue recycling?

You should continue to recycle and do everything possible on an individual level. Some may think it’s just a drop in the bucket. But we’re all trying to fill the same bucket, so everything helps.

Just because policy change is the determining factor in addressing climate change, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a part to play. Think of it this way. Politicians are incredibly busy and climate change is just one of the many issues on their plates. They have hundreds of people and corporations lobbying for their wants and needs. By default, the fight for climate change doesn’t naturally have lobbyists and advocates in the same manner as a large corporation. And without this function, the government may not have enough understanding to address the crisis or pay attention to critical climate policies.

Thankfully, there are organizations across Canada that are advocating for policies that can move our country to a cleaner economy.

They are doing critical research to show politicians the impacts of climate change in their local areas. These organizations are also developing reports on necessary solutions. And are having critical, in-depth conversations with decision-makers, detailing the importance of new climate policies. This is just the surface of the fantastic things they are doing.

But they need support to keep doing this important work. That’s where everyone else comes in. By supporting these policy-focused organizations you’re playing a role in creating system change.

And that’s where our Fight Climate Change with Policy Fund comes in?

Exactly! The Fight Climate Change with Policy Fund is a great way to play a part in system change.

The Fund is made up of eight organizations that are tackling climate change head-on by advocating for policy change at the federal and provincial levels.

By donating, you’re actually fueling the work of multiple high-impact organizations.

I think that’s pretty amazing, especially when you look at the work they are doing. Most of the organizations have long track records of achieving policy results. One policy, in particular, is incentivizing homeowners to retrofit their houses with more insulation and cleaner forms of heating and cooling. Other policies are supporting the use of a new zero-carbon fuel that can power cars.

That’s awesome! I think it’s easy and natural to feel hopeless when we see headlines about climate change. It almost seems like we’re doomed. For people who feel this way, what would you say?

Our goal by 2050 is to have net-zero carbon emissions. Yes, we have a lot of work to do. But even if it doesn’t feel like we’ve been making progress we’re actually moving in the right direction.

There are hundreds of thousands of people who are in some way engaged with fighting climate change on a system level. Why not join them? It’s going to take all of us to end the climate crisis.

Michael is right. It’s going to take all of us. Play a role in creating system change and help enact policies that will create a better, healthier planet.

Donate to the Fight Climate Change with Policy Fund today!

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