Green Economy Heroes

As faithful listeners will have noticed, I took a break from the podcast during the most intense parts of the provincial election campaign, but I have now picked it up again. We posted a new episode in June and one in July, and hope to get back to the regular bi-weekly schedule by September.

I love talking to people about their green businesses, and how they made them a success. If you have businesses to suggest, that operate in Canada and reduce our carbon footprint, please get in touch. Thank you.


Honourary doctorate in Environmental Studies

On June 14, 2022, the Faculty of Environmental Studies at the University of Waterloo awarded me an honourary doctorate. Here is the address I gave to convocation:

“When I am six years old, I fall in love with nature. Polio is ripping through the city, so my brother and I go to sleep away camp.  There, we hear birdsong, not traffic; smell balsam fir, not exhaust fumes. We swim in a real lake among living fish, we taste our very first wild raspberries. Thus begins a lifelong love affair, that continues to this day.

What I didn’t suspect at six, or even in law school, was that nature needed protectors, and that I could be one of them. This was before we had environmental law or environmental studies.

Instead, I won a coveted job at a fancy tax law firm. My family was proud, the paycheque was great, but I hated it. I was horrified to be helping the rich evade taxes. Eventually, someone let me in on a secret: no woman had a future at that firm.

Now what? All the good jobs had been snapped up a year ago, the recession was deep, and the future I had worked for was in tatters.

Fortunately, there was an unfilled articling job left over at the ministry of energy. Little money, no prestige, not a topic I had wanted to work on, but I was in no position to be picky. Plus public good, and a chance of a long-term career even for a woman.

At the Ministry of Energy, I had real legal work to do, on issues that mattered, and that served the public good. Sometimes there were environmental tasks I could volunteer for. Doing those tasks, I learned that nature was in peril and that lawyers could do something about it.

It took 10 years, and many setbacks, until I got to fight for nature as a lawyer for the ministry of environment. Finally, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, but nothing turned out as I expected.

  • When a jealous new boss made the MOE job impossible, I earned a PhD in law, and joined a private firm.
  • When an unbridgeable clash of values made that impossible, I started my own law firm, and ran it through children and cancers and recessions.
  • I gave up my firm to become the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, hoping to do that for the rest of my working life.
  • When Ford abolished my office, I was forced, again, to start again from scratch. I started a podcast, Green Economy Heroes, and did the hardest thing for an introvert, the one thing I swore I would never do – enter politics. So I stand before you today as deputy leader of the Ontario Green Party, the only party serious about our climate future.

I have now been an environmental and energy lawyer for 46 years. So much has been lost, but we have had some victories and there is still so much we can save. And now there are all of you.

Despite every setback, I have kept fighting because:

  • I accept a personal obligation to protect it. Not to finish the task, or to guarantee results, but to show up and keep doing my part. Do you?
  • It is not too late,  yet, to make a difference in what is ahead. So I look for a meaningful task to do and a good team to do it with. When the last one is gone, I look for a new one. Will  you?

Who would like to have hope? The only formula I know is knowledge plus action equals Hope

You have the knowledge. You know more than most people about our climate and environmental peril. Now it’s time to turn that knowledge into action.

Don’t give up- not now, not ever. Fight for what you love. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it. If there isn’t a direct path, take another. When you get knocked down, get back up. When you’re tired, rest, don’t quit. When the rules are stupid, run for office and try to change them.

Action feels way better than anxiety, and there is so much at stake.

I will be able to look my grandchildren in the eye and tell them I did everything I could. What will you do for what you love?”

Watch the convocation address here.


International Women’s Day

Hurrah, it is International Women’s Day.

Remember the groundbreaking Paris Agreement of 2015? It was women like Christina Figureres, the visionary and collaborative leader of the UNFCCC who made that Agreement possible. Today, I salute all the women leaders who care more and do more. I am proud to stand among you.

Today I am participating in many events to encourage women to step up and speak up. If you are a woman, that includes you.

Now, in 2022, women are still underrepresented at all levels of decision-making. It’s way too late for women’s voices to be so widely overlooked, undermined, and claimed by others. Male leaders may be bigger and louder, but they don’t necessarily make us safer. In fact, decades of research shows that political decision-making is better when women lead, and when there’s a critical mass of women at the table.

Most women get into politics to advance a cause, whereas men commonly do it to wield power. Women are less full of themselves, more willing to reach across party lines and to listen to contrary views around the table to solve the greater issues of our times.

On our climate and environmental crises, which threaten the survival of everything we care about, women care more and do more.

Women are the majority of the adult population. We can get far more women elected as our leaders if we decide to do it. Campaigns are mostly won by donations and volunteers. Those who show up are the ones who affect the result. Donate as much time, treasure, ties and talent as you can to the candidate(s) of your choosing. Start NOW. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. If we want a better future, we have to make it ourselves.

There’s a great opportunity right now here in Ontario, because there’s a provincial election in less than three months. To help send me to Queens Park, sign up at And do read my interview in the SustainabilityX Magazine!

Climate Energy Environment

Becoming a corporate director

One of the ways I hope to make a difference is by sitting on appropriate corporate boards. I am therefore honoured and grateful to have been one of the four featured candidates in A Seat at the Table‘s December 2021/ January 2022 advertising campaign, which appeared on the back of the Globe and Mail front section. It was kind of them, and perceptive, to emphasize my skills in advocacy, expertise, influence and perspective. Hope it leads somewhere!


Roadmap to Net Zero

I spent much of 2021 preparing, and consulting on, the Green Party of Ontario Roadmap to Net Zero, the plan that sets the Canadian benchmark for action on climate, environment and equity. This free webinar gives an overview of the plan and answers many audience questions. Enjoy!


Fast green transition will save money too

An excellent new report from Oxford shows that a rapid green #energytransition will likely save many trillions of dollars – even before accounting for climate damages and co-benefits of climate policy, such as #cleanairforall. How? Continue exponentially increasing deployment of #solar PV, #wind, #batteries, and #hydrogen electrolyzers for the next decade, just as planned in the Ontario Green Party Roadmap to Net Zero.

A slower transition will cost more and a nuclear-driven transition will cost much more. Yet more evidence that dragging our feet on #climateaction is bad for almost everyone.


Wouldn’t you like to live here?

This is a photo of the Richards Complete Street project in Vancouver. Today, Richards Street has safe bike lanes plus a universal design buffer (avoiding conflicts with seniors and the disabled) which also creates dedicated permeable space for tree roots and rainwater. This project is a finalist in the upcoming Brownie awards contest, which I helped to judge.

Climate Environment

Climate chaos worsens inequality, but climate policies shouldn’t

Canadians have not engaged very productively with the debate about whether the climate crisis and inequality are competing causes in a zero-sum game. But bold public policy can improve them both at the same time. See my article in Corporate Knights. Or keep reading here:

The climate crisis and inequality – are they competing causes in a zero-sum game? Or can the climate crisis trigger public policies that improve them both? What is the place of “environmental justice” in designing climate action?

Canadians have not engaged very productively with this debate. Conservative politicians tend to simply argue that climate action increases the cost of living for the poor, and therefore that climate action should be weakened or delayed (even though climate chaos disproportionately hurts the most vulnerable). Ontario’s cap and trade system, and the federal carbon price backstop, both increased the cost of energy across-the-board without specific attention to environmental justice. (Although most low income families probably come out ahead after the federal climate refund).

Some US Democrats have become more ambitious. President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative promises that at least 40 percent of the benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy will flow to disadvantaged communities. This would be a major change. As the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council notes, frontline communities are routinely left behind in the competition for government funding, due to bias, inertia and lack of capacity. Even if there is no bias, organizations that are well-resourced with people, technology, knowhow and connections are better able to obtain government funding than those most in need.

Can this be changed? This summer, the White House Office of Management and Budget, the Council on Environmental Quality, and the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy directed 21 federal government programs to immediately start enhancing benefits for disadvantaged communities. Each agency must define “benefits” and “disadvantaged communities” for its program, including

Each program must identify disadvantaged communities, conduct meaningful community engagement, evaluate the distributional effects of their programs, and decide how to modify them.

At the same time, five US nonprofits got together to help front line communities apply for the new federal money. In August, their Justice40 Accelerator gave $25,000 plus guidance to each of 52 environmental justice–focused community organizations, so they’ll have staff, computers and knowhow to apply when Justice40 grants are available.

Inequality is not as extreme in Canada as it is in the US, but many people feel excluded and left behind. And many people say they cannot worry about climate breakdown in 20 years if they cannot make the rent in three weeks. Would some version of Justice40 in Canada help build public support for climate action, and increase our ability to withstand climate breakdown?

The good news is that many climate actions here would be of particular benefit to disadvantaged communities. For example, energy retrofits of low-income and social housing slash fossil fuel use, climate pollution and operating costs, while creating good careers, supporting local businesses and giving residents more comfort and dignity. Most of these buildings are cheaply built and poorly maintained, expensive to heat and uncomfortable to live in. Fixing them would be a great investment.

What else? Low-income residents live in the dirtiest air, and would benefit the most from cleaning it up. What makes their air so dirty? Fumes from fossil fueled vehicles, especially older cars and trucks. A generous cash-for-clunkers program can get these vehicles scrapped. A 2009 US program was so popular that it ran through its $1 billion of funding in weeks.

Plus, it’s easy now to provide better ways to get around. Halifax is planning electric buses on dedicated bus lanes to reduce climate, toxic and noise pollution. Low-income and disabled residents are particularly dependent on good transit, and benefit the most from not having to own a car. Dedicated lanes are the cheapest, fastest way to improve transit speed, service and reliability. Halifax expects to save $24,000/ year per electric bus, while reducing congestion, reducing servicing costs and increasing property tax revenue.

Better transit, in turn, improves the case for eliminating parking requirements, as Buffalo and Edmonton have done. This makes housing less expensive, facilitates small-scale infill in walkable locations, and can slash concrete use, with its heavy carbon footprint.

Then there are community gardens, which improve equitable access to healthy food, reduce food costs, food waste and food transportation emissions, build community cohesion, and improve mental health. The plants also sequester carbon, catch rainwater, clean the air, and cool the area around them.

As these examples show, taking the climate crisis seriously can improve environmental justice while protecting the more stable climate upon which all of us depend. Doing both of these things at once may not be easy. But it is going to be worth it.


Zero Carbon Law

Any serious #climateaction plan should start with a Zero Carbon Law and a binding Fair Share Carbon Budget. Check out the Green Party of Ontario’s groundbreaking Bill 32 in the Ontario Legislature, and the Toronto Star’s article about it. Plus, watch for our big announcement tomorrow.


Climate Change and Sustainable Finance

#climatechange and #sustainablefinance at @masseycollege: join our expert panel Tom RandRobin EdgerAlex Chapman and me to explore what Canada’s financial community is doing now to build a #greeneconomy, especially #Cleancapitalism and Canadian venture capitalists; Property assessed clean energy programs #PACE, and the Canadian insurance industry. Nov. 2 at noon. Register

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