Climate Change Essay Finalists: Envisioning Canada in 2067

For the 2017 Lieutenant Governor’s Climate Change Essay Challenge, Grade 12 students from across Ontario were invited to tell their story of how Canada will stop climate change by 2067. Here are the three winning entries.

The downtown core of Vancouver rises above a morning fog in this view from Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver, British Columbia. REUTERS/Andy Clark

This year, Canada will celebrate 150 years of Confederation. While there is much to celebrate, our province, country, and world face enormous challenges. Last year was the warmest in recorded history. Global temperatures are now close to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages. Canada, like other countries, recognizes the need to take urgent action. By signing the Paris Agreement, Canada has signalled its commitment to tackling this challenge in tandem with others.

The Lieutenant Governor’s Climate Change Essay Challenge, hosted in collaboration with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), invited grade 12 students from across Ontario to tell their story of how Canada will stop climate change by 2067. After review by an esteemed panel comprised of journalists, teachers and environmental research fellows, three outstanding entries were selected.

On April 21, in anticipation of Earth Day, all three winners will be celebrated at the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite in Toronto where they will be presented with a certificate by the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, and awarded by CIGI with a scholarship prize.

In the lead-up to the celebration, read all three winning entries below.

First place: An optimistic approach

— By Matea Ceric, Waterloo Collegiate Institute in Waterloo

WindFarm
Windmills generate electricity in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near the town of Pincher Creek, Alberta, September 27, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol

Over the course of its 200-year history, Canada’s story has been one modelled on the ideas of innovation and overcoming hardship. Whether it has been wars, economic struggles or achieving independence, often the country has pushed for a better standard of living, for current, as well as for future generations of Canadians.

Indeed, there has never been one greater moment of hardship and innovation than when the human population faced one of the greatest problems of all: climate change. The fight for a clean, green and sustainable world has, undoubtedly, presented itself as both the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity that Canada has ever faced. However, due to several key factors, this country has, over the past fifty years, astonished the world with its ingenious new technology and daring ideas, along with its highly cooperative citizens all vying for a better world.

Through rigorous efforts to use more efficient sources of power, to completely rethinking the way it lives and conducts business, Canada has demonstrated that it has reached its potential as an environmental superpower that is capable of positive change for the future. Thus, as a direct consequence of Canada’s creative and bold mentality as well as it optimistic approach to the issue, this country has managed to help curb climate change for good, and this can be seen through several of its most vital efforts.

To begin, one must first mention one of the more prominent ways Canada has helped shape its image as a powerhouse for environmental change, and that is due to how it completely rethought the way it obtained its energy.

Fifty years ago, Canada’s main energy sources consisted of a mixture of pernicious crude oil and gas, nuclear energy, coal, and natural gas. All of this accounted for approximately one fifth of the 732 megatonnes of total carbon dioxide produced around that time. No matter how much the energy companies claimed that their method of energy extraction was “clean” and “safe”, the facts were starting to sink in: these toxic energy sources could not be viable long-term, and secondly, the health of the natural world and the communities living close to the extraction sites were at serious risk.

After years of protests and petitions, the federal government decided it was time to change tactics. It began the “Project CanRenew,” a nation-wide initiative designed to make the shift from the dependence on fossil fuels to a nation completely reliant on renewable sources. In essence, each province determined its most valuable natural resource. Then, over the next 15 years, using a portion of the annual $2.7 billion that would otherwise be given to the fossil fuel industry, they had the task of gradually transitioning to complete renewable dependence.

Vast wind farms were installed all over Canada, such as in Quebec and Nunavut, and the coastal provinces utilized new technology that Canadian scientists developed, which harnessed the immense wave power of the oceans. It became commonplace for all homes and public institutions to have solar panels on their roofs and thousands of new jobs were created.

Furthermore, there were now opportunities for more innovative and creative solutions, like using special types of anaerobic bacteria to consume trash and convert it into energy. By deciding to make the switch from non-renewable to renewable energy sources, Canada advertently made a huge step in stopping climate change.

Not only has Canada made great progress in its energy sector, but also through conscientious changes in lifestyle, business and infrastructure. These days, a green lifestyle is second nature to Canadians who enjoy eco-smart cities, filled with green space and gardens, reliable but sustainable modes of transport, and ample opportunity to lead healthier and more purposeful lives. This transition was not an easy goal to accomplish.

"The government began the 'Project CanRenew,' a nation-wide initiative designed to make the shift from the dependence on fossil fuels."

Just as early as a few decades ago, Canada’s cities were built more for the car than for the average citizen. There was also a lack of decent organization, as towns were overrun by huge swaths of suburban land and spread over large distances. With few fast public modes of transport, travel was difficult and time-consuming. However, as people became more concerned about their health and also the health of their environment, political leaders started to take notice.

In 2016, a revolutionary plan, called the “Transformational Infrastructure Plan” invested over 180 billion dollars in areas like public transit, green and social infrastructure and advancement in rural and northern communities, courtesy of the federal government. Cities were completely redesigned to become more pedestrian friendly, vibrant and sustainable. Due to this initial advancement, Canadian businesses began incorporating environmental concepts into their business models and were more respected by the citizens. For example, many zero waste restaurants popped up that used animal products created in-vitro, and instead of city lights, the streets began to use bioluminescent bacteria that did not require electricity. The transportation sector was vastly improved so that people could essentially go from one end of a city to another using nothing but bikes, elevated, aboveground and underground hydrogen trains or frictionless vehicles.

The shift in the way Canadians thought about their lifestyles vastly reduced harmful methane, carbon dioxide and chemical emissions, and it demonstrated a bold and optimistic mentality in combatting climate change.

Through several of Canada’s greatest achievements as well as its positive approach to climate change, it has managed to contribute its hand to curbing the global problem once and for all. By radically changing the way it fuels our homes and our economy to making large improvements to our cities and businesses, it has demonstrated its capacity in tackling this challenge along with other countries. In fact, many other countries followed in its footsteps and adopted its drive for innovation and problem-solving.

Now that Canada has successfully survived the greatest challenge of this century, it is up to future generations to continue to innovate and persevere through the next steps in the Canadian as well as the human story.

2nd Place: A sunny day

— By Yassin Djebbar, Gisèle-Lalonde High School in Orléans (original French version follows)

Forest
A couple skates in Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel, near Three Rivers, Quebec, January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

At eight in the morning, the smart calendar wakes me up by playing Beethoven’s fifth symphony. I clap my hands twice to stop the music and head to the washroom, where I get undressed and take a steam shower. After five minutes, the water jets stop and the fans dry me with warm air. I get ready and go downstairs. My smart calendar automatically informs me of the day’s schedule: “Happy 200th anniversary of Confederation! Outing with Sami downtown at 10 a.m.” Finally! I’ve been looking forward to this stroll with the kid for a whole week.

I enter the kitchen and make myself a salad of locally grown blueberries, strawberries, and cherries. I savour my breakfast, brush my teeth, and leave to pick up my grandson. After walking a half-hour, I find young Sami in the doorway waiting for me.

“Grandpa!” he cries, leaping into my arms.

I signal to his mother, and we head toward the train station. As we walk, Sami asks, “Grandpa, when will I be able to drive?”

“Why are you in such a hurry to drive, kiddo?”

“Because it’s so cool!”

“You know, Sami, when I was your age, it was very rare to see an electric car. Most ran on gas. They were noisy and polluting.”

“Really?”

“Yes! But fortunately, the government invested heavily in finding renewable energies.”

We get to the station after 15 minutes, I buy our tickets and we board the maglev (magnetic levitation) train. Sami takes the window seat and I sit beside him. As we pull out, Sami is impressed with the train’s speed. “Wow, Grandpa! How fast are we going now?”

“I’d say about 600 kilometres per hour.”

“What? That’s faster than a leopard!”

“It sure is. Before, trains were much slower, polluted more, and were less efficient. That’s why the government funded a national project to replace all the old trains with maglev trains.”

Sami looks out the window and notices that the urban landscape has become a magnificent forest. “Grandpa, look at the giant trees!”

“I see them. They’re about 40 years old.”

“Only 40?”

“Yes. Forty years ago, hundreds of forests were planted where there were once cattle ranches.”

“Why?”

“Those ranches caused deforestation and emitted a lot of greenhouse gasses.”

“I’m happy that the animals finally found a home!”

“Me too…”

After less than 5 minutes, we arrive in the downtown of Canada’s national capital. We get off the train and explore the city centre. Ever since oil-based transportation was banned, it’s a real pleasure to go downtown and breathe fresh air. The time passes quickly and it is soon lunchtime. Sami is hungry, so we head for the nearest restaurant, Vegemiam. I order two vegetarian hamburgers and grilled potatoes. We sit down and Sami devours his meal. Watching him eat, my memory takes me back 60 years, when I was 8 years old and ate ground beef hamburgers and French fries. Back then, we didn’t realize just how harmful the meat and frying oil industries were for the environment. Industrial livestock farming emitted more greenhouse gasses then the entire transportation sector, and discarded frying oil destroyed aquatic ecosystems. Thanks to a national awareness campaign and government taxes on the meat industry, we were able to dramatically reduce our emissions of pollutants.

We finish lunch, I take little Sami’s hand, and we walk to the city centre to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation. I remember like it was yesterday when I went with my friends to celebrate the 150th anniversary. Back then, the future seemed dark, and humanity was heading straight for its own destruction. Environmentalists were sounding the alarm, but we turned a deaf ear. Our lifestyle was focused on consumption and profit, to the detriment of the planet. All the melting glaciers, droughts, and species extinctions should have awakened our consciences. 

It’s incredible how much has changed over the last 50 years. Today, thanks to our engagement and perseverance, we have managed to change directions. We have reduced our consumption of water, innovated our means of transportation, replanted our forests, and changed our eating habits to reduce our ecological footprint on earth. Our efforts stopped the hemorrhage of species extinctions and stabilized climate change. 

“We do not inherit the earth from our parents; we borrow it from our children.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Une journée ensoleillée

À huit heures du matin, calendrier intelligent me réveille en jouant la cinquième symphonie de Beethoven. Je tape mes mains à deux reprises pour arrêter la musique et me dirige vers la salle de bain. Dans la toilette, je me déshabille et prend une douche à vapeur d’eau. Après cinq minutes, les jets d’eau s'arrêtent et les ventilateurs me sèchent avec de l’air chaud. Je me prépare et descend les escaliers. Automatiquement, mon calendrier intelligent me rappelle le programme de la journée : “Bonjour et joyeux 200e anniversaire de la confédération ! Sortie au centre-ville avec Sami à dix heure.” Finalement, j’attendais cette ballade avec le petit gosse pendant la semaine entière.

Je rentre dans la cuisine et me sert une salade de bleuets, fraises et cerises locaux. Je déguste mon déjeuner, brosse mes dents et sort pour chercher mon petit-fils. Après une demi-heure de marche, je trouve le petit Sami à l'entrée de sa maison entrain de m’attendre. “Pepe !” Il crie avant de se jeter dans mes bras. Je fais un signe à sa mère et nous marchons vers la gare.  En marchant, Sami me demande : “Pepe, quand est ce que je pourrais conduire moi ?

-  Pourquoi t’es pressé à conduire petit bonhomme ?

- C’est trop cool !

- Tu sais Sami, quand j’avais ton âge, c'était très rare de voir une voiture électrique, la majorité fonctionnait à l’essence. Elles étaient bruyantes et polluantes !

- Vraiment ?

- Oui ! Heureusement, le gouvernement a investi sérieusement dans la recherche des énergies renouvelables.”

Après un quart d’heure, nous arrivons à la gare, j'achète nos tickets et nous embarquons sur le train maglev (lévitation magnétique). Sami choisit un siège au bord de la fenêtre et je m'assois à côté de lui. En démarrant, Sami est impressionné par la vitesse auquel le train va : “Wow ! Pepe, à quel vitesse qu’on va maintenant ?

- Je dirais à peu près 600 kilomètre par heure.

- Quoi ? C’est plus vite qu’un guépard !

- Oui le jeune ! Avant, les trains étaient beaucoup plus lents, polluants et moins efficaces. C’est pour ça que le gouvernement a financé un projet national pour remplacer tous les vieux trains pour des trains maglev !”

Sami regarde par la fenêtre et remarque que le paysage urbain est devenu celui d’une forêt magnifique. “Pepe regarde les géants arbres !

- Je les vois, ils ont environ quarante ans.

- Juste quarante ?

- Oui, il y a quarante ans, des centaines de forêts ont été boisées là où il y avait des fermes bovines.

- Pourquoi ?

- Ces fermes causaient la déforestation de ces régions et libéraient beaucoup de gaz à effet de serre.

- Je suis content que les animaux aient finalement retrouvé leur maison !

- Moi aussi...” Après moins de 5 minutes, nous arrivons au centre de la capitale nationale du Canada.

Nous sortons du métro et explorons le cœur de la ville. Depuis que le transport à base de pétrole a été banni, c’est un vrai plaisir d’aller centre-ville et respirer l’air frais. Le temps passe vite et c’est déjà l’heure du dîner. Sami a faim, on se dirige donc vers le resto le plus proche, Vegemiam. Je commande deux hamburgers végétariens accompagnés de patates grillées. On s’attable et Sami dévore son plat. En le regardant manger, ma mémoire me transporte soixante ans auparavant, lorsque j’avais 8 ans et que je mangeais des hamburgers à viande hachées avec patates frites. En ce temps, on ne réalisait pas à quel point l’industrie de la viande et l’huile de friture nuisent à l'environnement. L'élevage industriel d’animaux émettait plus de gaz à effet de serre que toute l’industrie de transport et l’huile de friture rejetée détruisait les écosystèmes aquatiques. Grâce à la campagne de sensibilisation nationale et des taxes imposées par le gouvernement sur l’industrie de la viande, nous avons pu réduire dramatiquement nos émissions polluantes.

Nous terminons notre dîner, je tiens la petite main de Sami et nous marchons au centre de la célébration du 200e anniversaire de la confédération canadienne. Je me souviens comme si c'était hier quand je suis allé avec mes copains à la célébration du 150e anniversaire. En ce temps, l’avenir semblait obscur et l'humanité se dirigeait droit vers sa destruction. Les environnementalistes sonnaient l’alarme mais on faisait la sourde oreille. Notre style de vie était axé sur la consommation et le profit au détriment de la planète. La fonte des glaciers, les sécheresses et l’extinction des espèces auraient dû éveiller notre conscience.

C’est incroyable à quel point les choses ont changées au cours des 50 dernières années. Aujourd’hui, grâce à notre engagement et persévérance, nous avons pu détourner notre trajectoire. Nous avons réduit notre utilisation d’eau, avons innové nos moyens de transport, reboisé nos forêts et changé nos habitudes alimentaires pour réduire notre empreinte écologique sur la Terre. Nos efforts ont arrêté l'hémorragie de l’extinction des espèces et ont stabilisé les changements climatiques. 

“Nous n'héritons pas la Terre de nos parents, nous l’empruntons à nos enfants.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

3rd Place: A historical accounting of the fight against climate change

By Alexander Bishay, Virtual High School in Bayfield

InVitroMeat
Professor Mark Post shows the world's first lab-grown beef burger during a launch event in west London, August 5, 2013. REUTERS/David Parry

July 1, 2067.

The fight to prevent climate change was successful, based on two international fronts; energy and agriculture. Each had their winners and losers.

The energy front was based off the transition between fossil fuels to renewable sources.

On the one hand, while the likes of solar, wave, and wind energy successfully made the transition from ‘alternative energy’ to conventional energy sources, this has limited our nation's industrial capabilities.

Essentially, moving away from fossil fuels was a painful transition, both economically and politically. In 2017, Canada had one of the most emissions intensive economies in the world, and had earlier dreamed of using its vast Athabasca oil sands to become an energy superpower. However, new federal regulations and taxes began saw the gradual phasing out of fossil fuel sources.

While this has generally paid off by now, the devaluation of one of our biggest economic assets temporarily stagnated the economy in regions that relied on them. For example, in 2015, the mining and gas sector made up 27 percent of Alberta’s GDP, and the Atlantic Provinces were particularly dependent on goal for power. Even when we put our lost economic opportunities aside, the transition was an expensive one.

Due to our climate, domestically produced solar energy was generally an unreliable producer, so we had to resort to other options. Wind, wave and tidal energy are the most prominent. The installation of windmills and tidal stations were expensive long-term investments, and were dependent, day to day, on the output of wind or tide.

"Even when we put our lost economic opportunities aside, the transition was an expensive one."

That said the switch to renewable resources did have an awesome effect on our CO2 output; with cars, homes and factories no longer burning fossil fuels but electrical based fuel cells, automobile contribution to climate change sharply fell to a small fraction of its 2017 output.

We have also been able to take advantage of the development of electrical ‘supergrids’ across the country and the world. Supergrids, based on high voltage direct current rather than alternating current, allow nations to distribute energy from abundant green sources, to regions in most need.

For example, Alberta and Ontario have traditionally relied on the oil sands and nuclear power respectively, for energy production. Using a super grid, however, they can instead import surplus hydroelectricity from British Columbia and Quebec. Long distance transmission lines with Direct Current power allow us to deliver power with much less electrical loss over longer distances, resulting in greater energy efficiency.

Asia and Europe have their own DC supergrids. For example, North Africa can now export surplus solar energy to Northern Europe, while off-shore wind farms in Scandinavia can export surplus wind energy down south. China’s Gobi desert likewise exports solar energy to places as far east as Japan.

The second front was based on agriculture.

In 2017, the meat-based diet was widespread across the parts of the world that could afford it. However, as the western diet was exported to more parts of the world, it became clear that this trend was unsustainable. The ecological footprint and demand was beginning to outstrip the earth’s resources.

There were two solutions that arose. First of all, vegan diets became more mainstream, for practical purposes. Raising animals for food has a high ecological cost on all fronts, from food production to water usage to methane by-product.

One solution has emerged, in the form of In-vitro meat. It is essentially meat grown in a lab. You take stem cells from an animal and you cultivate them in specific conditions, and they grow into customized pieces of meat. In-Vitro meat, while controversial in its beginning stages, became mainstream by the 2030s. It had the support of both animal welfare groups and environmentalists. As a rising population contributed to rising food costs, in-vitro meat was seen as a sustainable alternative to factory farming.

Today, In-vitro meat is the largest source of animal protein in Canada. the early days, it was labeled and more expensive. Today it’s cheaper and the average consumer takes for granted that tonight's steak was grown in a lab. Livestock sourced meat is still available, but in a minority. Furthermore, the land that was previously used for livestock has largely been repurposed for foresting, further sequestering CO2 production.

In total, cultured meat has produced 96 percent fewer CO2 emissions than conventional farming before it.

Overall, the journey to where we are now has been a long one. By introducing Super-grids, we made alternative energy a more viable option across the world. By bringing the world to accept in vitro meat we helped cut a great deal of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere, allowing the Western diet to become sustainable. By pushing for long-term investments into green energy, at no small amount of short-term economic pain, we were able to meet the global challenge head on. Because of that, Canada, through innovation and leadership by example, has helped stop climate change.