Call That a Budget?

By Tooker Gomberg and Angela Bischoff, Montreal, Canada.

An eco critique and proposal for the federal budget.

“We will do whatever we can to create jobs” I heard federal Finance Minister Paul Martin say the other day on the radio, proudly promoting his new budget.

But his budget misses the mark in a big way. Mr. Martin seems to have forgotten where wealth comes from: it comes from the earth. And this budget ignores the importance of a healthy environment to the future of this country. By neglecting the huge environmental debt we owe he does a disservice to all Canadians, present and future.

One might have expected more of Mr. Martin. Previously he was the Liberal Environment Critic, and he surely knows that climate change has been called the greatest ecological threat next to global nuclear war. The risks of inaction on climate change are great: increased storms and hurricanes, serious impacts on agriculture, melting polar ice caps, and flooded coastal cities.

Mr. Martin is also aware that the federal government has committed to stabilizing and reducing emissions of gases, primarily carbon dioxide, that contribute to climate change. Yet rather than emissions going down in Canada, they are actually climbing.

Yet somehow the federal government manages to come up with at least $1 billion per year in handouts to the oil, coal and natural gas industries. Greenpeace Canada has attacked these budgetary gifts to “environmental destroyers”. Since burning of fossil fuels is damaging to the environment, and a primary contributor to carbon dioxide emissions that are fueling climate change, it’s time to look at better places to invest that money.

A Modest Proposal

Mr. Martin should immediately cut the tax giveaways to the fossil fuel industry by half, and put that half billion a year into a program to improve the country’s energy efficiency (and our international reputation).

Call it the Cool Jobs Program. Cool Jobs would help to counter global warming, and they would be good jobs, especially for youth. It could be modelled on the successful Ontario Green Communities program.

The interesting thing is, it’s easy to cut the energy and water consumption of a house in half. All it takes is some expertise, some human power, a bit of financing, and some political will. And it saves the homeowner money to boot.

Here’s what a Cool Jobs program could help to get done:

1. Change the Windows: Windows waste a whack of energy. New windows are seven times more energy efficient. And while they’re being changed some well placed weatherstripping and caulking around the windows and doors would save a bundle too. Why not target every window in the country?


2. Change the Toilets
: The minister might not see this one as a great photo-op, but new toilets save 70% of the water of the old kind. In Edmonton we helped steer the city away from an unnecessary $350 million expansion of a water treatment plant just by changing toilets and teaching efficiency to homeowners.
3. Plant Trees: Let’s wait until the ground thaws, but this is a wonderful way to keep homes cool in the summer without sucking electricity into an air conditioner. Trees also provide habitat for little critters, beautify a neighbourhood, absorb CO2, and improve the real estate value of a property.


4. Recycle the Car Keys
: Selling the second car, or not driving at all, would save big bucks not only for the car owner but for all levels of government. The Cool Jobs program would provide a free bus pass, a bus route map and some information to help Canadians to drive less. Pumping up the bike tires, a bit of chain lube and a bike tune up would get tens of thousands more bikes on the roads. A bit of exercise means healthier Canadians and fewer heart attacks. This alone could save millions in health care costs.


5. Keeping Water Ho
t: It ain’t rocket science, but a simple insulating blanket around your hot water tank will save piles of energy. Since it’s cheap and easy the payback is fast.

Let’s say that $2.5 billion was put into the program over five years. Perhaps the provinces and the municipalities might even match that amount. And since money invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy creates at least twice as many jobs compared to investing in fossil fuels, Cool Jobs could create tens of thousands of jobs. The work would be mostly in our cities, where jobs are needed most. Montreal might get 1000 people out to retrofit the city.

To top it off, these jobs would save people money. After your home is upgraded, gas, electricity and water bills would go down and you’d have more money in your pocket.

A federal budget is the time to set priorities that are in the best interests of Canadians. Climate change won’t go away unless we do something – the scientific community is urging quick action. Canadians are crying out for jobs, and we all want a healthy future for our children and the planet. A Cool Jobs Program would be popular, good for the economy and the environment, and create employment. How could Mr. Martin lose?

 

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