All Hands

I have a guilty pleasure: House Hunters International. It’s a TV show about people moving from Saskatoon or Salt Lake City to Santiago or Seville. Viewers get to see what the new city looks like and follow the house hunters while a real estate agent shows them a few options. North Americans almost always complain about the small living quarters everywhere else in the world. Where are we going to put all of our guests? How are we going to entertain? Oh, that fridge is so small! It drives me a bit crazy because I think we need to get out of supersize mode.

We need to start building for everyday use, not maximum potential use. We have a whole hospitality industry – hotels and restaurants – built for guests and entertaining. When I talk to the TV, I tell those house hunters: “Put your guests in a hotel and buy that one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with the small fridge. That’s all you really need.”

In just two generations, we’ve gone from “1,000 square feet is good enough for a family of eight” to “2,000 square feet is too small for the two of us”. The extra building costs, the extra furniture and carpeting, the extra heating costs, the extra cooling costs all add up – and most of it is “nice” to have, but not necessary. (Disclosure: My house is 2,000 square feet.) If we built houses half the size, they would cost less and reduce the carbon footprint per person.

The Government of Canada recognized the housing efficiency issue in its December 2020 plan called A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy – which has dozens of steps organized into five pillars to reduce emissions and increase efficiency. Pillar one is about better, more efficient homes and buildings. It reads, “Together, homes and buildings account for 13 percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. Electricity use for cooling, lighting and appliances brings the total to 18 percent.”

Pillar two is about transportation and power generation. Everyone needs to get to work. Everyone needs their groceries trucked to stores. The plan is about finding efficiencies in this system. The transportation sector accounts for 25 percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

All of these words so far have been a set up for my point: So, what about agriculture?

Agriculture does not get any special mention until page 44, quite a few pages into pillar four: Building Canada’s Clean Industrial Advantage. The first line under the ‘Climate-smart agriculture’ heading is, “Canadian farmers, ranchers and agri-food businesses are constantly innovating to improve their practices so that they are more sustainable, making greater use of inputs, developing bio-based products and increasing their energy efficiency.”

A few inches later comes this now familiar action statement: “Set a national emission reduction target of 30 percent below 2020 levels from fertilizers and work with fertilizer manufacturers, farmers, provinces and territories, to develop an approach to meet it.”

A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy was launched just over a year ago and we’ve had an election in between. I checked with Environment and Climate Change Canada to see if the plan is still on the table. On November 16, a spokesperson replied, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy remains a key plan to support the achievement of Canada’s enhanced 2030 emissions reduction target of 40-45 percent below 2005 levels.”

When I asked about the fertilizer plan, the spokesperson wrote: “The Government of Canada is striving to meet the emissions reduction target through voluntary measures, such as adopting new products and employing beneficial management practices. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is committed to working with the sector and other stakeholders to find ways to improve nutrient management.”

That work has begun. The point I want to make is that farmers are not being singled out for the emissions situation. The government is not putting the blame on farmers, as is clear from the comprehensive plan. Canadians are in this together. The world is in this together. We need all hands-on deck…though hopefully, it’s a modest deck of more reasonable proportions.