Why 400+ academics wrote to the Finance Minister
– By Haley Alcock following an interview with Dr. Christina Hoicka –
On January 19, 2022, in an open letter to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland 400+ academics and researchers urged the federal government not to introduce a proposed tax credit for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS). Insisting that the tax credit would constitute a new fossil fuel subsidy, these academics made clear that research and science has an important role to play in pointing out discrepancies within the nuance of governmental climate policy. The deep knowledge and meta-perspective that researchers have that allows them to see disparities that non-researchers might not, is exactly why Dr. Christina Hoicka and her seven co-authors decided to write this letter.
As a Canada research chair for urban planning and climate change as well as an associate professor of geography and civil engineering at the University of Victoria, Dr. Hoicka has attended the UN’s conference of the parties negotiations for the last two years. From those international negotiations it has been agreed that, globally, we need to reduce fossil fuel emission by 40-50% by 2030 if we are to keep global warming to 1.5°C and avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Dr. Hoicka’s research focuses on how exactly we are going to do that, all while ensuring equity and justice throughout the transition.
From her research, Dr. Hoicka knows that renewable energies have become the cheapest energy option, even compared to coal. What’s more, there already exists market-ready technologies like wind turbines, solar panels and energy efficiency tools that have proven to be scalable to get us to 2030. Her concern and reason for writing to Minister Freeland is that instead of focusing on what the research shows we need to be doing, time and again governments are focusing on technologies like CCUS that are not necessarily market-ready and are not proven to be able to get us to 2030.
What’s more, Dr. Hoicka explains that the large energy infrastructures and systems that we have in place can be very hard to change and that anytime you add new support to these systems it can further entrench them. Her other concern is that if this proposed tax subsidy is used for oil recovery projects it would ultimately constitute a fossil fuel subsidy program. It may make fossil fuel production more efficient, but it would ultimately subsidize the prolonged production and use of a product that we know we cannot continue to use. Dr. Hoicka says that rather than focusing on the changes that research like hers shows need to happen, policies like this can be a distraction from real solutions.
For Dr. Hoicka writing this letter is not just a matter of professional concern but a matter of personal concern as well. It’s about what kind of future we are leaving for our children and how we will right inequalities that, through the climate crisis, have become glaringly clear. Climate change is a defining issue of our time and touches nearly every aspect of society. It is also an extremely urgent issue. These are, Dr. Hoicka believes, the reason why the letter gained so much popularity among scholars from a wide variety of disciplines. Scholars studying climate change from every angle–science, law, policy, psychology, engineering, sociology–have all seen years of scrapped plans, broken promises, policies that don’t go far enough and bold discrepancies between what the research shows and what’s actually being done. Researchers can have a big role to play in bringing the best evidence forward, highlighting disparities, questioning decisions, and putting pressure on decision-makers to proceed with evidence-based policy. An expanding personal concern over climate decision making in addition to professional concern is calling more and more academics to speak up in the public sphere.
The 2022 budget will not be presented until February so it is not yet known what the full impact of the letter will be. However, for Dr. Hoicka, success from this letter is that we continue having hard conversations about societal shifts that we need to make. Academics, policymakers, industry professionals and community members all come to this conversation with a different focus. We need to continue talking if we are to come to a common understanding and narrow in on viable solutions. This letter has raised a lot of awareness, which Dr. Hoicka is very pleased with. As she says, “It can be hard to get academics to agree on things. So, when you look at something like the IPCC or the fact that over 400 scholars and counting have signed this letter, that’s important to pay attention to.”
If any researchers are still interested in signing the letter, Dr. Hoicka says that they are still taking additional names and to contact any of the top eight signatories to get on the list.
Haley Alcock is the editor of the CMOS Bulletin. They hold a masters of science in micrometeorology from McGill University. Haley splits their time between doing climate science, communicating science, organic farming and working towards climate justice.
Dr. Christina Hoicka is an associate professor at the University of Victoria and a Canada Research Chair in for urban planning and climate change. She has degrees in engineering, environmental studies and geography, and she combines these perspectives into both teaching and research. Her current areas of focus are to combine the fields of energy geography and sustainability transitions in order to investigate the actions of communities and the demand-side (households, firms, organizations) in mitigating climate change.