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The rain began to fall in Toronto’s downtown core shortly after 9 p.m. and quickly intensified, turning city streets into rivers, flooding basements and submerging streetcars in murky water.
Up until that point, it had been a warm day, with some clouds and a high of 28 C. But the rainstorm that drenched the city was one of the worst in recent memory. It was Aug. 7, 2018 and the flooding caused millions of dollars in damage.
It wasn’t the first time Toronto had seen flooding in recent years and, as climate change progresses, it certainly won’t be the last, says Elliott Cappell, the city’s chief resilience officer.
“Overall we see a greater intensity and frequency of storm events,” Cappell said. “What we saw on August 7th, and we saw it also several times during the summer of 2017 … is that we’re getting more rain than our system can handle.”
Cappell’s job as the city’s resilience officer is to develop plans to make the city’s infrastructure adapt to the changing climate. But, he says if action isn’t taken to manage the root of the problem — climate change itself — we can expect to see more flooding, heat waves and unpredictable weather.
Young activists who are calling for action on climate change get it. Recognizing that their generation has the most at stake, they are waging campaigns for action on multiple fronts, including the upcoming federal election, in the courts and on the streets.
“We all have the same idea of wanting to have a lasting impact and … we’re very passionate about creating action on climate change,” said Muhammad Ahmed, a Toronto representative of the Youth Climate Lab.
That group is supporting the Liberal government’s carbon tax, an approach that has caused widespread debate and driven rifts between the feds and some provinces.
The federal tax was implemented in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick on Monday.
Those four provinces have refused to implement their own carbon pricing plans that live up to federal standards and, here in Ontario, the Ford government is vowing to continue fighting the imposition of the federal tax in the courts.
However, Youth Climate Lab activists like Ahmed say the carbon tax is key to ensuring climate change is brought under control.
“When you do look at it, carbon pricing does benefit everyday people,” Ahmed says, arguing that the carbon tax will start driving people away from using fossil fuels and create a cleaner environment in the long run.
“People will be a little bit more concerned about their consumption of fuel.”
At the same time, Ahmed said, the carbon tax system means Canadians will receive rebates from the federal government that outweigh the amount they put into the tax. He predicted most people will also reallocate that money away from purchasing expensive products that cause pollution.
The Toronto branch of the Youth Climate Lab has been organizing “pop-up lab” events to sway public opinion in favour of the tax.
Ahmed sets up booths at environmental conferences and community events where he engages with young Canadians in discussions about the benefits of the carbon tax.
“We ultimately from those programs hope to engage youth and have them understand where they might be able to participate in climate policy at a government level,” he said.
He said he hopes they will vote for parties that have a carbon pricing plan in the upcoming federal election.
Of the three major parties, both the Liberals and the NDP support implementing a carbon tax. The Conservatives, however, are adamantly opposed to one.
The Youth Climate Lab is so sure that the carbon tax is needed to secure the future of young Canadians, it has joined other activist groups in launching a challenge to the court case the Ontario and Saskatchewan governments have started in a bid to halt the carbon tax.
The challenge, led by the group Generation Squeeze, argues that failing to implement a carbon tax amounts to “discrimination” against youth because of environmental damage they will have to endure.
David Coletto, the CEO of the polling and research firm Abacus Data, says the Youth Climate Lab and others already have most young Canadians, specifically those aged 18 to 29, on their side.
“Eighteen to 29 year olds are most likely to support a carbon tax and they’re least likely to oppose it,” he said.
“Our polling consistently shows that it’s true that younger Canadians are more supportive of a carbon tax than older Canadians.”
This support is evident on the ground. On March 15, for example, young people participated in massive climate marches in more than 100 countries around the world, demanding that governments take effective action now.
Not all analysts, however, view the carbon tax as a positive policy for young Canadians.
In fact Ken Green, the chair of the Fraser Institute’s energy and environmental studies department, said it will only harm them.
“They raise the cost of energy and young people or people who are low income spend more of their income just on acquiring the energy they need to heat their homes and drive their cars,” Green said in an interview.
Green said the cost of living for those aged 18 to 29 is rising and taxing them more will only make things more difficult.
There are, he said, alternatives to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including implementing more natural gas usage and making a more competitive technology market whereby companies over time would produce greener products at cheaper prices.
Cappell said Toronto Centre needs to prepare for the ravages of climate change by updating the city’s infrastructure so it is mitigated as much as possible.
Immediate action, however, is needed to stop climate change, he said, or else Toronto will become “hotter, wetter and wilder.”