Receiving the Law Society Medal

On December 8, 2020, Treasurer Theresa Donnelly, head of the Law Society of Ontario officially awarded me a 2020 Law Society Medal for leadership in environmental law, on behalf of Ontario’s 55,000 lawyers and 9000 paralegals. This is what I said in thanks.

Law Society Medal for leadership in environmental law

Thank you, Treasurer.

Like other honourees, I went to law school to make a difference. 

A central Jewish principle is the obligation of each person to help repair the world. We call it Tikun Olam. This obligation falls most heavily on those who have been lucky in life, as I have been. Lucky to be born to loving parents in a safe and prosperous country, at a time when a Jewish woman could go to law school. Lucky to have reasonable health, a supportive partner, fabulous children and grandchildren. And lucky that, after 10 years of trying, I found my way into environmental law.

I love being an environmental lawyer

It’s been an immense privilege to be a pioneer of Canadian environmental law. I have worked with wonderful people on fascinating and important issues. I have raised public consciousness. I have coaxed clients into cleaning up their act. I have supported my family and my staff. I have won cases and made deals, influenced thought and affected public policy. I have inspired and mentored young people. I have been honoured with public trust, and with the recognition of my colleagues, such as this award tonight for leadership in environmental law. I am very grateful for it all.

But climate and environmental crises are worse

I wish I could declare it all a success. But while we have been living lovely lives, huge changes have been happening. Since I graduated from law school in 1974, human destruction has pushed the natural world towards the edge of collapse. The beautiful wild creatures with whom we share this world are disappearing everywhere. The natural systems on which our lives depend are starting to break down. Global heating is turbocharging fires, storms and floods. Human systems are also breaking down, as the wealthy grow more powerful, twisting legal and political systems to their benefit. As inequality grows, social trust and cohesion are weakening. Standing up for truth and for science are being stigmatized as taking sides.

We can see this in many places in the world, and alas Ontario is one of them. Two generations’ worth of hard earned environmental laws have proved easy prey. Just today, the Ford government used a so-called Covid recovery Bill to ram through another attack on conservation authorities and the natural places they protect. As the birds, frogs and fish die, as the floods and droughts worsen, I must ask: how much good has my lifetime of environmental law done? 

Running for office for the Green Party

As a last resort, I am following in my father’s footsteps and going into politics. As of last week, I am now the Green Party candidate in University Rosedale, and the deputy leader of the Green Party of Ontario. This is not an easy step. Women are treated badly in politics; Jewish women who speak up for climate action, doubly so. But hopefully it will be a meaningful path to using the law for good and to help repair the world. Why else did we go to law school?


Why I am running for the Greens in University- Rosedale

Thank you for the overwhelming warm welcome for my decision to run for the Ontario Green Party in the 2022 election. After 45 years of being meticulously non-partisan, I can no longer stand aside and merely shout at the radio when I learn about yet another environmental collapse or government outrage.

Dianne Saxe at the Ontario Legislature

Why the Green Party?

Because none of the others are taking the environmental and climate crisis seriously. No question, the Ford government has done and is doing real and lasting damage in almost every area of energy, environment and climate policy, as both I and the Auditor General have reported to the Ontario Legislature. Ford’s well-connected donors must be making a lot of money as woodlands, wetlands and farmlands are turned into concrete and asphalt.

The other parties are better, but not good enough. The Wynne government took many positive steps on climate; there are also good elements in the NDP policy platform. But both the Liberal and NDP parties are too timid; environment and climate are somewhere in their long lists of policies and priorities, but nowhere near the top. They have had lots of opportunities to get serious, but instead have chosen to do little. Neither of their leaders is a strong advocate for climate action. Their proposals are for incremental tinkering that simply doesn’t match the science of what we have to do. Given how close we now are to environmental catastrophes, the Liberal and NDP plans remind me of bringing a garden hose to a wildfire when embers are already sizzling on the roof.

The Green Party is clear about the urgency and the priority, plus ideologically flexible about how we get there. No party has a monopoly of good ideas and we’re going to need them all. But we need the Green Party to focus enough political attention on the climate and environmental crises that the public, and the other parties, get serious about them while there is still time.

Why University-Rosedale?

Ok, but why run against a progressive NDP MPP, Jessica Bell, instead of against a Conservative? I have nothing against Ms. Bell, but:

1. I want to run for the Green Party in my own community, where I belong. I have lived, worked and played in central Toronto for most of my life. I was born here; I had my children here. I went to school at Oakwood Collegiate and at the University of Toronto. I shop, sing, swim, volunteer, see my doctor, get physio and go to synagogue in University-Rosedale. As the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, my office was in University-Rosedale. My daughter and her family live in University-Rosedale, as do many of my friends and relatives. Even my bicycle comes from University-Rosedale.

2. None of the ridings in my community are held by Conservatives. All three are currently held by the NDP.

3. I strive to live my values. In University-Rosedale, I can campaign on foot, by bike, and by public transit without having to drive. That is not true of any riding currently held by Conservatives.

4. I don’t want to be a spoiler as Ralph Nader was in 2000, splitting the vote and allowing a do-nothing candidate to be elected. This could happen if I parachuted into a riding with little Green support and a tight two way race between the Liberals and Conservatives. It cannot happen in University-Rosedale, where most voters prefer progressive leaders.

5. The strongest Green Party Riding Association in Toronto is in University Rosedale, headed by Ryan Phillips and Jim O’Reilly. It has been built up by 11 years of hard work by hundreds of volunteers, including long-time candidate Tim Grant. This is going to be a great group to work with, and the best place to make a Green Party breakthrough in Toronto. This is where we can win.

Will I be a great MPP?

What should an MPP know? During the lifetime I have spent in and around the riding, I have had amazing opportunities to learn how Ontario really works.

  • I am skilled at interpreting and using the law.
  • I have worked for all kinds of clients on all kinds of environmental problems and solutions.
  • I have helped charities and nonprofits tackle deeply rooted problems.
  • I have spoken with business, religious, and community organizations all across Ontario.
  • I thoroughly understand government, the Legislature, how laws are made and how they are enforced.
  • I have learned which government can do what.
  • I understand finance, tax and investments.
  • I learned about working conditions and labour relations from my husband, the late Stewart Saxe.
  • I understand business: I have advised 1000 different businesses, sat on corporate boards, run my own business and met a payroll.
  • I host a podcast on green business leaders.
  • I have studied virtually every environmental problem in Ontario at least once, and reported on many of them to the Ontario Legislature.

It helps that I grew up watching my father, Dr. Morton Shulman, be an outspoken and effective MPP. And there is always more to learn.

What should an MPP say? I speak truth to power. I have been punished for it, but it has not stopped me. I explain complex problems in memorable ways that people understand. And because of this, I have been privileged to earn peoples’ trust.

How should an MPP start? By listening.

Can we win?

Yes, we can win in University-Rosedale in 2022, if those who care work together and start now. After Mike Schreiner, I am the most winnable candidate that the Green Party has in Ontario. With my unparallelled training and experience, I am the best person to represent this riding, and to find a way forward in difficult times.

The Green Party knows that attacking nature makes us unsafe. There is much to be frightened and angry about in Ontario today; many of us struggle with climate despair. Voters can tell that something is wrong, that we are being lied to, that the Ford government is degrading Ontario in some of the same ways that Trump has done. When you think about what we are leaving our children, how do you feel?

Do you want to keep feeling like that? I don’t. How do we change it? Action feels better than anxiety, especially concrete action with friends. Let’s make the Green Party a warm, welcoming, invigorating place to turn anger and despair into energy.

Let’s start now. I am delighted to announce that, thanks to Lyndsey Lewis, my new website is up, And that’s where you come in. We need your time, your talent, your network and your financial support. June 2022 isn’t very far away. To have a winning campaign, we will need hundreds of volunteers, thousands of new Green Party members and $100,000. I am asking each of you to do three things this month:

  • volunteer for something you’d like to do,
  • ask at least ten people to join the Green Party of Ontario, and
  • make a campaign donation of what you can afford, or ask others to do so.

It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be worth it.


Excellent Massey climate conference

What a great finale we had yesterday to Massey is #MissingCOP26. It’s been an exciting two weeks.

Massey is Missing COP26 climate conference

This fifth and last session of the Massey is Missing COP 26 climate conference, hosted by Rosemary McCarney and myself, focussed on the role of arts and culture in the #ClimateCrisis. Recordings of each session, except the Nov. 16 Enroads workshops, are available on the Massey College website That means it’s not too late to hear a young climate striker interviewing Lloyd Axworthy and David Suzuki, or Kathleen Wynne telling us what really went on in the international climate negotiations in Paris, or which Canadian financial institutions are finally starting to switch to climate smart investments.

On November 19, we explored the rule of arts and culture in the climate transition, and in building public support for strong climate action. This is an important frontier for climate action. Art can touch the heart and energize the soul in ways that science, logic and law just can’t do. To grow a strong public movement for strong climate action, we need art and culture to lead the way.

In his excellent book The Art of Energy, Barry Lord showed that culture and values have always changed as an economy changes its source of energy, and that artists have been at the front line of the change. For most of the last century, we’ve had a society based on consuming oil, and status has come from conspicuous consumption. Now he predicts that, in a society based on renewable energy, status will come from what one protects. Artists are getting there first, and that’s why I’ve invited three artists here today.

Cultural institutions are a lot slower to change, so it’s exciting to see some stepping up. This fall, a group of museums adopted the Bremerhaven Declaration, calling on all world museums to make the climate crisis an important and highly visible part of their work. (  For some, that can be a tough financial challenge. Fossil fuel industries are still supporting cultural institutions to buy social license and access to decision-makers. Should we still allow that? The battle has begun to get oil money out of advertising and cultural events, with The Guardian newspaper one of the first to refuse it. It reminds me of the battle to get tobacco money out of advertising and cultural events. This was an important part of the cultural battle over smoking, but we lost some public events that tobacco money used to pay for. 

How  are Canadian artists and cultural institutions coming to grips with the climate crisis and its moral and cultural shifts? What role do they see themselves playing in building public support for climate action, including this critical year leading up to COP26?

These are the questions that I put to the Canadian Minister of Heritage Steven Guilbeault, Director of the Royal Ontario Museum Josh Basseches, poet Alice Major, and singer songwriters Ron Hawkins and Sarah Harmer.

The last half hour focussed on climate action, what you can do individually and to support collective change. We had great fun in the Dragon’s Den- type pitch competition. Competitors were:

  1. ShiftAction – Protecting your pension and the climate
  2. CleanAir Partnership – Home energy retrofits
  3. Guelph Tool Library – Sharing stuff, not buying 
  4. Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment – Active transportation for health
  5. David Suzuki Foundation – Think global, act on local government
  6. Nourish Healthcare – Plant-based diets

Congratulations to Peoples’ Choice Award winners @ActionShift and the @GToolLibrary!


Why teachers must teach climate action

A special issue of the Journal of the Philosophy of Education includes an interview with me on why teachers owe their students concrete lessons in climate action. Here’s a video intro to the chapter. If you are interested in climate education for kids, read the whole journal.

Thank you to Karen Acton for conducting and writing up the interview.

Climate Environment

I’m a guest on How Public Works

Listen to my interview with experienced municipal public servant Ilmar Simanovskis, P.Eng, MBA, on how the public sector works.

As he describes the episode:

Dianne Saxe is an environmental lawyer who has an extensive career in advocating for environment, climate and sustainability in our society both locally and globally. In her private practice and as the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Dianne has come to understand much of the issues threatening our planet. Her message is clear and her concerns real as the effects of climate change become more and more visible around us. But she also has hope and optimism in a brighter future if we all appreciate the impact our activities have on our environment and take personal responsibility for our daily actions. She is optimistic that together we will make a difference…in her view we have to.

Climate Environment

Law Society Medal

The Law Society of Ontario, which regulates Ontario lawyers, has finally announced my Law Society Medal. The prize was originally to have been awarded in May. Thank you to all my colleagues for recognizing my work as an outstanding Canadian environmental lawyer.

Their website says:

“Called to the Bar in 1976, Dianne Saxe is being recognized for her exemplary dedication and leadership to the development of environmental law in Ontario. As a pioneer in this area of law, she is one of Canada’s most respected environmental lawyers with more than 40 years’ experience in writing, interpreting and litigating Ontario’s energy, environment and climate laws.”

See my climate lawyer ad in the Ontario Reports:

Dianne Saxe award winning environmental lawyer

Can smaller businesses become carbon neutral?

Yes, many smaller businesses can become carbon neutral, depending on their current carbon footprint and the infrastructure/technology alternatives available to them. Many more will be able to do so as better infrastructure and technology becomes available. (The individuals referred to are all interviewed on my podcast.)

The first step is almost always to become more efficient. For example, it’s amazing how many businesses are both heating and cooling the same space. Consider a commercial kitchen, which often becomes ferociously hot especially in the summer because conventional gas cooktops give off a lot of heat. Induction cooktops cook the food without cooking the cooks, and produce better indoor air quality which might support the health of the workers. In other spaces, old fashion lighting may give us a lot of heat, when LED lights can provide the same illumination without heat. On my podcast, Bruce Taylor’s interview describes other examples where he’s been able to save clients quite a bit of money by eliminating waste of energy, water and materials.  

The second step is to eliminate or destroy high global warming potential gases that are leaking into the atmosphere, such as refrigerants, anesthetics, methane. These gases can do an enormous amount of climate damage, and can be captured or destroyed comparatively inexpensively. In many cases, the captured gases have an economic value, e.g. anaesthetics can be cleaned and reused; methane can be burned for energy (see Audrey Mascarenhas interview).

Third, figure out the business’ remaining direct carbon footprint, and reduce as practical. In Ontario,  half of the average carbon footprint comes from just four things: driving, heating leaky buildings, flying (before Covid), and meat. Increasingly, there are good alternatives to each. Meat is the easiest part, because there are so many good meat substitutes available. Virtual technology makes it easier to dramatically reduce flying, though admittedly zoom is not the same as being there. For driving, electric vehicles increasingly have a lower total cost of ownership, especially for those who drive long distances, because of reduced maintenance, dramatic reduction in fuel cost, and the likelihood of increased durability because there are so few moving parts. EVs also tend to be more fun to drive. (And, as David Roberts explains, there are other business benefits from being a better neighbour; EVs are much quieter, don’t smell, therefore better neighbours than diesel buses, which is helping with their social license.) There are also lots of options for reducing fossil fuel use in buildings, including adding solar (Mike Andrade; Richard Sefton), and joining a district heating system where possible (see Catherine Thorn’s interview).

Fourth,  look for opportunities to sell low carbon services or products. Carbon Cure in Halifax sells technology that strengthens concrete by displacing some of the expensive cement with captured CO2. This saves their customers money and sequester carbon at the same time. Woodland Biofuels expects to sell the world’s cheapest liquid transportation fuel, by making it out of construction waste. Their plant isn’t even built yet and the entire product output is already sold. Brandon Moffat is  turning food waste into low-carbon fertilizer, electricity and natural gas.

Fifth step is to buy from greener suppliers. For example, Canada’s big banks are huge fossil fuel funders, but equivalent banking services are available from Desjardins Financial, which has made serious low-carbon commitments, and is steadily delivering them. Most smaller businesses can choose a lower-carbon financial institution. Similarly, there are lower carbon alternatives available for a huge range of goods and services that smaller businesses buy, from steel to cheese to trucking to electricity.

The sixth step, for those who want to be carbon neutral now, is to offset their residual emissions. This can be done by buying good quality carbon offsets from a certified source. (Please note that I can rarely support some of the cheaper offsets, such as treeplanting.) Some businesses can directly restore a damaged ecosystem. For example, Bryan Gilvesy made his cattle ranch more profitable and resilient by replanting native tall grass prairie, which his heifers happily eat in August when conventional pastures wither in the heat. It also allowed him to eliminate pesticides because the prairie attracts birds which eat the bugs, plus the deep roots of the prairie plants also sequester a lot of carbon.

The seventh and even more important step is for small businesses to speak up, individually and through their associations, to demand that governments take strong action to create the infrastructure and technology to support a low carbon transition.  The climate crisis is a collective problem and it cannot be solved by individual humans or by individual businesses. Individual action is an important place to start but a terrible place to stop.


Cultural institutions and climate crisis

What role can and should cultural institutions play in the climate crisis? There is a valuable new benchmark, the Bremerhaven Declaration on the role of museums in the face of climate change. Here is an easy and useful thing for you to do: write to a cultural institution that you belong to or support, and ask them to commit to this declaration:

It says:

Bremerhaven Declaration on the Role of Museums in Addressing the Climate Crisis

Society stands at a fork in the road, with one fork headed to a future of fear, want and inequality, in a climate-compromised world. The other fork leads to a future where people – as individuals, communities and together –thrive in a sustainable environment, with a stable climate. We must help society to create and follow the latterpath. The map of that path exists in the form of the Paris Agreement, but the path itself does not yet exist: we must create it together, and with greater speed and greater ambition, to minimize the scale and impacts ofclimate change.

Museums, science centres and exhibition centres (referred to as ‘museums’ hereafter) – large, small,wherever they are, and of whatever subject matter – can all play a distinctive role in achieving the aims ofthe Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement through the six elements of Actionfor Climate Empowerment: education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information and international co-operation, as well as by reducing their own carbon footprints.

We welcome the formal recognition of the key role that museums play in achieving the goals of the FrameworkConvention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, by the members of the United Nations at COP24(2018) and COP25 (2019).

We also acknowledge that the members of the world’s science museum and science centre networks, andof the International Council of Museums, have already resolved to take up the Sustainable Development Goals, as a blueprint to address climate change and other sustainability issues.

We recognize the widespread interest in and concern about climate change across society. We hear theincreasing calls for support and empowerment from communities everywhere, to enable people to knowwhat they can do, have the motivation to act, and the skills and opportunities to act to address climate change,in their own lives and with others. We acknowledge that, in 2019, museum professionals working with climatechange have informed the United Nations of ten key lessons learnt by museums during 2016-19:

  • The importance of acting now: there is no time to waste.
  • The importance of confident and competent staff.
  • The great importance of reliable, up-to-date information and science, including basicinformation on climate change.
  • The great importance of a focus on solutions, not problems.
  • The importance of making climate change and climate action personal and relevant, aswell as understanding the big picture.
  • The importance of acknowledging people’s emotions and feelings.
  • The importance of community, and empowering people to participate fully in society.
  • The importance of engaging everyone.
  • The importance of co-ordination and collaboration between museums and partners.
  • The need for support from governments, government agencies and funders.

Having explored these points in Klimahaus® Bremerhaven 8° Ost at the international symposium ‘How To…?From Climate Knowledge To Climate Action’ we wish to make the following recommendations to museumseverywhere.

The Sustainable Development Goals are an unprecedented opportunity, for institutions, communitiesand other stakeholders to identify the challenges most relevant to their context and that draw mosteffectively on their strengths to meet these challenges.

Science, art and the humanities are all crucial for understanding and addressing climate change. Scientists, curators, designers, artists, authors, philosophers, historians, geographers, communities andpeople as individuals, all have a role to play in this endeavour. Their voices must be heard, and they should beempowered to use them.

Climate change requires radical creativity and radical collaboration, everywhere.

Museums are stronger and more effective when they make a collective impact, working with one anotherand other sectors, and empowering communities and young people. Existing movements such as Fridays forFuture, and annual dates such as Earth Day or International Museum Day, are ready-made opportunities that can help museums to collaborate with one another, and with their communities, in a joint effort to amplifyvoices and climate action.

Museums only exist within the context of their communities. Forming strong connections with individuals, groups and all of society, and listening to and addressing people’s concerns, is crucial. Museums andcommunities can be equal partners in imagining and working towards shared goals, ambitions and visions,and help share and create rich, powerful stories. They should also lead by example, and embrace climateaction across their institutions.

Effective climate education has to provide all of the necessary knowledge, motivation and practical skills.Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) offers such an approach,

embracing the importance of a positive relationship as part of the natural world; respect for others, diversity anddifference; human rights; and citizenship. ESD recognises that learning is lifelong, and happens in manylocations, including museums. Making ESD a core approach in museums can help museums becomeeffective resources for lifelong learning, and to connect with people’s heads, hearts and hands, to addressclimate change in their own lives.

Museums can help people to imagine a better future, focussing on creative, imaginative, collaborative andhopeful – rather than fearful – experiences, to help address climate change. Climate education andempowerment can be made to be enoyable and fulfilling, turning concerns into meaningful, everyday action.

We need to create and support sustained dialogue, among museums, with policy workers, with othersectors, with communities and people as individuals . This involves careful listening, to understand andaddress the interests, concerns, needs and suggestions of people, and a commitment to climate actionevery day, everywhere. We need to share our experiences and ideas with one another, and develop ourclimate responses together.

The need for support from governments, government agencies and funders

Society must expect us to provide and support climate change education, awareness, participation, access toinformation and co-operation as a priority. While we acknowledge that museums can already offer a greatdeal to climate education and action, we also recognize that they must be empowered to play these roles insociety. Museums need support and guidance from policy makers, local and national governments, through effective climate change education policies, plans, financial and other resources. We would welcome mechanisms that can help us share and tell our collective story. We stand ready to play our part,and we ask our funders, stakeholders and potential partners to play theirs to help us to do so, as we commitourselves to addressing the defining challenge of our times, together.

The international symposium ‘How To…? From Climate Knowledge To Climate Action’ was held atKlimahaus® Bremerhaven 8° Ost on 24th and 25th September 2020.

Further reading and links:

Tokyo Protocol

ICOM Resolution on Sustainability and Agenda 2030, Transforming Our World

UNFCCC (2018). Decision 17/CMA.1, Report of COP24


Don’t miss rare chance: Canada Pension public meetings this week

The #CanadaPensionPlan (CPP) is investing billions of dollars of our hard-earned retirement savings in risky oil, gas and coal companies that are harming people and fueling the climate crisis.

This week, we have a rare and important opportunity to ask why– and demand better! Sign up here:

Every two years, the CPP is required by law to hold free public meetings to tell us how they are managing our shared $434 billion in retirement savings. There are ten meetings October 5th to 20th – Ontario’s meeting is MONDAY OCTOBER 5.

This gives you the perfect chance to ask why the CPP is still pouring billions of our dollars into fossil fuels that lose money AND damage our future.

(By the end of fiscal year 2020, the CPP’s “Energy and Resources” portfolio dropped 23.4 per cent– the worst return of any asset group.)

These high-risk fossil fuel investments are incompatible with Canadian and global climate commitments, and inconsistent with the CPP’s mandate to invest in the best interests of Canadians.

You can help flood the CPP’s public meetings with tough questions about its investments in fossil fuels.

Sign up today at #climateaction #sustainability #greeneconomy #climatecrisis #dirtymoney


Great conversations on climate podcast

I hope you have subscribed to my Green Economy Heroes podcast, also called my climate podcast. Every week, I interview a Canadian green economy business leader who is making a living building the green economy. I talk to people of all ages from right across Canada in many walks of life. It’s amazing and inspiring how many ways there are for business people to make a real difference in the climate crisis.

Please rate and review this climate podcast, and will you please tell your friends?

In October, I learned more about carbon capture and storage, including its controversial use to enhance oil recovery from ageing oil wells. Steve Oldham of Carbon Engineering makes a case for considering this Canadian innovation a blessing, not a curse. What do you think?